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Next To The Gallows ... St. Pete Times

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Moondoggy, May 28, 2008.

  1. Moondoggy

    Moondoggy Member

    Just up on their web site....


    ST. PETERSBURG – The St. Petersburg Times will offer an enhanced retirement option to reduce its payroll and, depending on response, could resort to layoffs later this year. The newspaper also is imposing a one-year wage freeze for remaining employees.

    In a letter to staff, Times editor and chairman Paul Tash said the measures were a response to a “difficult economic climate” that has been especially hard on advertising, the largest source of newspaper revenue. Over the last two years, the Times’ fulltime staff has dropped from more than 1,500 to fewer than 1,300, mostly by attrition.

    “We are navigating a period of historic change and challenge,” Tash said. “Getting through this stretch will not be easy, and it will take everyone’s best efforts, but I remain fully confident about our prospects."
     
  2. Moondoggy

    Moondoggy Member

    UPDATED: Here's a memo on the situation from the publisher from one of the SP blogs.

    St. Petersburg Times announces yearlong pay freeze for all staff, buyout offer for staffers over age 50

    The St. Petersburg Times announced this morning a yearlong pay freeze for its staff, along with an offer for "enhanced pension benefits" for staffers over age 50 with more than five years' service at the company. This was a long-rumored move, particularly after the slimming of the paper this month created an edition which requires fewer people to produce.

    The goal, said Times editor, CEO and Chairman Paul Tash in a letter to staffers this morning, is to find "a graceful and humane way for the company to reduce its staffing levels." If the buyout offer doesn't produce enough cost savings -- Tash did not outline specific savings goals or staffing reductions in the letter -- the company may have to use layoffs to cut staff costs further.

    Already, the Times has reduced staff from 1,500 people two years ago to below 1,300 currently. Staffers have until July 28 to sign up for the program, and must retire by Aug. 31.

    The pay freeze begins June 1; only staffers promoted to new jobs with expanded responsibilities will get pay raises, which must be approved personally by the company's top executives. Those who have already received pay raises this year will forego them in 2009. Tash also noted he has elected to reduce his pay by five percent while the pay freeze is in place, and that times executives have had a pay freeze in effect since the start of 2008.

    "Some of you know my aversion to a general pay freeze, for example,. though I have come to believe that circumstances require it," Tash writes today. "As difficult as these steps are, they also demonstrate our resolve to meet these challenges and surmount them."

    Click below to read the full memo:

    Dear Colleagues,

    As you know, we are navigating a period of historic change and challenge. The new architecture of the daily Times – known internally as Project Flagship – is a major effort to adapt our efforts to the needs of our customers while reducing our expenses. I am extremely encouraged by the early reaction and results.

    The new daily edition, in combination with other steps we have already taken, requires fewer people to produce it. Over the last few years, we have relied mostly on attrition – the routine departure of people to other jobs, other places or retirement – to reduce the size of our staff. Two years ago, the Times employed more than 1,500 fulltime staffers. Today, that figure stands below 1,300. Nevertheless, payroll and benefits remain our biggest single expense.

    The recent changes to the daily Times provide the opportunity to further reduce staff levels, and this difficult economic climate demands that we move faster than the pace of normal attrition.

    As a result, the company will offer a program of enhanced pension benefits for eligible staffers who sign up by July 28 and retire by Aug. 31. The Human Resources department will provide complete information about this program, with specific detail for staffers who are eligible: those at least 50 years old, with at least five years of service. Once this offer expires, the standard retirement benefits resume.

    In my view, this voluntary program is a graceful and humane way for the company to reduce its staffing levels. I believe it will be attractive to many staffers, especially to some who may be considering retirement already. Depending on response, however, we may still need further reductions in our payroll costs, and that could include lay-offs. We would come to that result with reluctance, having taken other steps.

    Those of us who remain Times staffers – and that will be the great majority of those on the staff today – will make our own contribution to the common good by giving up pay increases for one year. Starting this coming Sunday (June 1), there will be no raises except for staffers promoted to new jobs with bigger responsibilities, and those exceptions must be approved personally by Marty, Neil or me. Those who have already received raises this year will forego them in 2009.

    In a time of rising prices for medical care, fuel and food, I understand that this pay freeze will cause hardship for some staffers. I deeply regret that reality, but as staffers, our economic security depends ultimately on the health of our company. For Times executives, a pay freeze has been in place since the beginning of this year. To honor my personal responsibilities, I have instructed the finance department to reduce my pay by five percent while this freeze is in place.

    You would be right to see these actions as a measure of the challenges before us. Some of you know my aversion to a general pay freeze, for example, though I have come to believe that circumstances require it. And yet, as difficult as these steps are, they also demonstrate our resolve to meet these challenges and surmount them.

    Getting through this stretch will not be easy, and it will take everyone’s best efforts, but I remain fully confident about our prospects. This is a great company, with a proud history and a strong voice in the Tampa Bay region. Thanks for your contributions to its future.
     
  3. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Active Member

    If they really want to be "graceful and humane," why don't they offer buyout terms to those UNDER age 50, too, so that people have a choice in their staying/leaving? It sounds as if layoffs soon will follow, so why have the arbitrary cutoff at age 50? If someone 37 or 44 or whatever is willing to leave with a little cash (or "enhanced pension benefits," whatever that means), isn't that better than laying off someone who wants or even needs to stay?

    Realistically, I understand that the folks further along in their careers -- 50s, 60s -- can best afford to step away from full-time jobs. But that ought to be the employee's call, if the company really is trying to cut costs in a fair, across-the-board way. Better that it offer the buyouts to everyone and end up only with takers who are age 50 and older, than to not offer it to younger people.

    This stuff doesn't pass my smell test when it is age-driven, rather than years of service-driven or newsroom-at-large driven. There's another agenda at work, and it seems dishonest when someone's claiming to be "graceful and humane."
     
  4. Herbert Anchovy

    Herbert Anchovy Active Member

    The language used in these memoranda is worth writing about alone.
     
  5. GuessWho

    GuessWho Active Member

    Can any insiders there define "enhanced"? As someone who more than meets these qualifications at my place, I'm inordinately curious.
     
  6. EE94

    EE94 Guest

    usually it involves improving the bridge between early retirement and getting full pension.

    So possibly, taking the buyout if 60 or over gives you full pension, and the reductions are less for those younger
     
  7. VJ

    VJ Member

    The pay freeze is bullshit. At least without layoffs a minimal amount of employees will suffer -- now you aren't even providing cost of living increases to the entire company. That's bullshit.
     
  8. Moondoggy

    Moondoggy Member

    Wonder how much they're paying annually to put their name on the St. Pete Times Forum? That can't be cheap.
     
  9. Birdscribe

    Birdscribe Active Member

    And keep in mind folks, this is one of the "humane" owners -- Poynter -- resorting to this "graceful and humane way for the company to reduce its staffing levels."

    In otherwords, if a paper owned by the "think-tank of journalism" is playing follow-the-leaders into the abyss...
     
  10. Armchair_QB

    Armchair_QB Well-Known Member

    "graceful and humane" makes it sound like they'll be putting some employees to sleep.
     
  11. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Active Member

    That's it exactly. All the great thinkers and innovators, and all they can do is march lemming-like toward staff cuts. Dismantle the product, that's the ticket! Monkeys see, monkeys do.

    The cumulative intelligent leadership in this industry could fill a Dixie cup.
     
  12. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Papers would rather have younger workers leave on their own. I bet it pisses off the bean counters to no end to give $20,000 to some young buck who was ready to bolt anyway.

    And a one-year wage freeze? There goes that 1.5 percent raise everyone was counting on.
     
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