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It's called thinning the herd

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by jaredk, Feb 16, 2008.

  1. jaredk

    jaredk Member

    How many of you work in a shop with mediocrities, iincompetents, and/or deadwood old farts who just don't care?

    I have read on this board many times that you would like those people to get out of the way so good people can do good work.

    Yet now that newspapers are getting rid of people, all I hear is moaning, groaning, and gnashing of teeth about Doomsday Is Here.

    Granted, not all the people leaving are the incompetents. At the same time, I would bet that the 7 percent who will leave the NYT are not the best 7 percent. Maybe a handful of the 100 will be great journalists. But most will not be missed in any long-term meaningful way. To me, it's like saying, OK, the bottom 7 percent of the class is dismissed, everyone with over a 1.0 GPA can stay.

    Is that a cold way to put it? Yeah. It's a cold world. Legally, union rules and all, you probably can't just lay off everyone you'd like. Morally, you probably wouldn't want to. So the alternative is to have early-retirement packages. Better to be a little humane than have the corporate Trump figure walk through the newsroom, point to the incompetents, and say, "You're fired."

    Every newsroom I have been in is about twice the size it was in the mid-'70s. Losing 7 percent of a 100 percent increase is not Doomsday. It may even make sense.
  2. Michael_ Gee

    Michael_ Gee Well-Known Member

    Jared, you're obviously young. Buyouts affect two categories of people, those with seniority, and those who have other options, meaning they're good. There is overlap between the two groups, as well.
    There are people who settle into a rut and never get better in any line of work. There are as many, in fact, more, who take their work seriously, try to learn each day, and continue to improve, even if they've been doing it for decades.
    A newspaper whose editorial staff was all over 50 would suck. So would one with all the staff under 30.
  3. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Well-Known Member

    Second dat, what Mike Gee wrote. If it's a buyout, you're most likely to lose people close to retiring anyway or people who have other employment options. You're least likely to lose deadwood, who like their easy situations now and who probably realize their next employment options are slim. Those folks are most likely to cling to the jobs they have for as long as they can.

    If it's a layoff, it most likely will get done according to reverse seniority, which usually gets rid of younger people and people the current bosses hired and favor. About the only way that you would shed more deadwood than true talent and effort is if it were a surgical layoff, targeting only the slackers regardless of age or seniority. But we hardly ever hear of such a thing in this business.

    And that's probably a good thing. If managers aren't actively assessing and dealing with poor performers all the time -- generating whatever paper trail might be needed to actually dump a person, but better still, working to maximize their strengths, minimize their weaknesses and just serve notice that they face expectations -- then they shouldn't be able to hide behind an industry crisis to do their managing (i.e., firing) for them. It would be a pretty piss-poor boss who lets deadwood steal money from his department, hoping for the day that mass layoffs fix the problem for him.
  4. Some Guy

    Some Guy Active Member

    Here's the other thing ... there are incompetents everywhere, and we've gotten rid of a good bit of deadwood in our two rounds of buyouts -- but we don't replace them.

    To me, the frightening part of this is not that we're knocking off people who were on cruise control for the paycheck, it's that we're not replacing the bodies. We're just being asked to do more with less. So we've got stringers covering college basketball and editors covering pro hockey in their downtime, or we just blow off more things -- and I work at a 200K. Not Podunkville by any means.

    To me, that's where the pissing and moaning comes in. We're combating our decline in circulation by ... putting out a product that's worse.
  5. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Well-Known Member

    Y'know what, I'll take this a step further: If you have access to a buyout and don't seriously consider it these days, it might say something about your risk tolerance and your self-esteem.

    It was one thing when journalists accepted, within themselves, the idea that they would never get rich and might have to do basically the same old thing for 30 years or more, but made the tradeoff because they love the work. It seems to me it's quite another thing to have management actively breathing down our necks, reminding us daily that we're simply drains on the bottom line, demonstrating that hopes of career growth are a big joke and lusting to replace us with someone less experienced to save $10K or $20K a year on our already modest (way less than the bosses', for one thing) salaries.

    Funny how the $190K managing editor can't wait to replace several $50K reporters/copy editors with people making $40K. Gee, maybe if the managing editor "only" made $150K, that might help, too.

    The indignities of this business have never been more out in the open. To many of us, the attitude from on high is, "You are not valued" and "You are more pricey than we like." Not to mention the ol' "We can make your life even more miserable overnight -- you're assigned to cover the West Podunk city council -- and there's not one thing you can do about it."

    If you're any good, at journalism's meager prices, and you wouldn't think long and hard about grabbing a buyout and pursuing something more lucrative, more secure and less insulting, well, maybe you love the abuse or you don't have faith in yourself. That's how I'm feeling today anyway.
  6. Some Guy

    Some Guy Active Member

    I hadn't been at my current shop long enough to consider the buyout the last time it was offered. That said, not sure I would have taken it, unless I was close to retirement.

    I still love what I do, and I've decided I'm going down with the ship. I'm like the last guy on the Titanic, clinging for life to a deck chair with one hand, a mai tai in the other, and wondering when the hell the next round of Bingo is going to start.

    I'll figure out the next phase of my life from the bottom of the ocean. But that's just me. I don't have it as bad as (apparently) you do. At least not yet.
  7. Johnny Dangerously

    Johnny Dangerously Well-Known Member

    Things our paper does today that it didn't do in the '70s:

    -- Cover women's basketball at our two Division I colleges.
    -- Cover girls prep sports (more than 50 schools).
    -- Send a full-timer to every baseball game of the big school, home and away.
    -- Staff baseball games of the smaller school when possible.
    -- Cover softball at the big school.
    -- Cover gymnastics at the big school.
    -- Have a full-timer assigned to recruiting.
    -- Cover select NASCAR races and the Masters.
    -- Cover a national championship track program.
    -- Post breaking news on a Web site that didn't exist in the '70s.
    -- Maintain bureaus that didn't exist in the '70s.
    -- A lot of minor stuff that adds up to at least another big beat.

    Area teams that came out of nowhere in the '90s and 2000s:
    -- Minor league hockey
    -- JUCO baseball
    -- Indoor football
    -- Semi-pro football
    -- Minor league baseball

    Our staff is not twice the size it was in the '70s, and in fact, we have less production help than in those days.
  8. Diabeetus

    Diabeetus Active Member

    I interned at a major metro this summer that had just gone through a round of buyouts. The sports department, which had employed about 110 in the mid-80s (its peak) was down to around 40 people. Do you have any evidence to support your claims of staff growth?
  9. sportschick

    sportschick Active Member

    Very few papers have a bigger newsroom now then they did in 70s or even the 80s.
  10. Starman

    Starman Well-Known Member

    You've been in some very unusual newsrooms, then.

    In other words, I'm calling bullshit. Repeat: Bull Shit.

    I've worked at six different papers over a 20+-year career, and know people at a few dozen others. Every single one has a newsroom staff dramatically (at least 25%) smaller now than 20 years ago. Repeat: Every Single One.
  11. spnited

    spnited Active Member

    Our sports staff is a little larger than it was 10 years ago.
  12. hockeybeat

    hockeybeat Guest

    This is plenty obvious. There are lazy people in every age group. I don't know how Jared's shop operates, but I'd rather work with vets because they have the experience to help young writers and young deskers improve their craft.
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