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Pruning or slashing?

Wednesday, Oct 17, 2007

* Well, you had to know this was coming

Springfield’s daily newspaper is offering a voluntary severance program to nearly half its staff. The State Journal-Register cites the need for flexibility as it adjusts to rapid changes in the newspaper industry.

The company says it sent letters at the end of last week to 149 full-time employees who are not in the union and have been with the newspaper for at least a year. It’s also negotiating with its collective bargaining units to be able to make the same offer to 47 union employees. […]

The newspaper has a work force of 345, including part-time employees.

* Billy Dennis has been closely following the SJ-R’s parent company GateHouse for some time now, and isn’t really surprised

Just this morning, I left a comment at Rich Miller’s site about how I was worried that by not replacing workers who leave, GateHouse Media was making it harder to practice newspaper journalism at the Peoria Journal Star. […]

They wouldn’t be offering early retirement to people they plan to replace. So this means more beats won’t be covered (or will be covered poorly as workloads increase). It probably means earlier deadlines because fewer people will need more time to get their jobs done.

* And one of his commenters had this to say…

There are two really odd things about this buyout offer — or at least what we know about it:

1. The huge number of people involved. One wonders how many buyouts they are really willing to accept. I can’t believe it’s all 149. There appears to be a rather extensive (but not revealed) list of reserved positions. For example, if every copy editor or every photog quit, that would be a problem.

2. The short service that makes an employee eligible for the offer. None of the dozens of newspaper buyouts I have read about in the past year or so has been offered to employees with only one year of service.

It’s an odd one. One can only guess at how overstaffed the bean-counters think the place is.

* A while back, I posted this map of GateHouse’s papers in Illinois [click for a larger image]…


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Ghost - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 10:41 am:

    SJ-R INMHO has been trying to move towards a web based model. Most of the paper is online, and free, paid for with banner ads etc. This looks like they may be reducing staff and relying mostly on AP stories to cut costs.

  2. - Joe Schmoe - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 10:53 am:

    Is there a rumor that they’ll combine a few of the Central Illinois papers and produce a USA Today type rag and then add a local zoned insert?

  3. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 11:00 am:

    I think what’s happening at the SJ-R/GateHouse is emblematic of what’s happening at these local/micro-regional dailies elsewhere.

    Take the Daily Southtown for example. After becoming part of the Sun-Times News Group (which obviously wanted to squeeze it for every penny it could), the quality of the paper has diminished significantly. Its gotten so bad that I’ve cancelled my subscription. The paper is too reliant on wire stories, sun-times stories, big graphics/images, and feel good “fluff” stories (that are obviously much easier to write and could be written by some kid right out of college).

    Their Web site, like the Sun-Times (its the same) is a joke.

    After the Southtown ran a front page story (complete with full-page picture) on its sports writer who participated in a golf-outing, I swore-off the paper.

    Recently, the Southtown announced that they would no longer carry professional sports coverage at the same time it said that it would no longer print its “local” ‘Star’ newspaper.

    The Southtown has quickly become the type of paper that (notwithstanding the subscription and occassional Rich Miller articles) has become too similar to those free weekly papers that show up at your doorstep, complete with pictures of the local boy scout troop and an article written by some senior citizen about her Christmas wreath.

    Eventually, I think you’re going to see the collapse of dailies like the SJ-R, Peoria Journal-Star and Daily Southtown and see regional dailies pop up.

    It’s a sad state of affairs in the newspaper biz.

  4. - Lainer - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 11:14 am:

    This is, for better or worse, the direction of journalism these days. Eventually the “dead tree” newspaper edition will simply be a supplement to the online edition, not the other way around.

  5. - Bill - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 11:18 am:

    Kristen McQueary and Rich make the Southtown worth $.50 twicw a week. Otherwise Anon is right. I’d never buy it.

  6. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 11:23 am:

    Can we please stop bashing the Southtown before my publlsher calls? lol

  7. - DeepFriedOnAStick - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 11:33 am:

    The SJ-R is offering a week and a day of pay for every year served. Plus, outgoing staffers can get up to three months of health care coverage. Not much of a “severance” package.

  8. - BehindTheScenes - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 11:37 am:

    The word on the street in Springfield is the SJ-R is offering staffers a week’s pay for each year of tenure, and continued health benefits for 90 days. They (while not commenting on how may takers they expect for this offer) reportedly will send notices to staff on Dec, 9 (Merry Christmas!!) if they don’t receive enough voluntary departures. So, its another case of take out the higher salaried people and bring on less experience at lower wages. Bean counters rule.

  9. - Six Degrees of Separation - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 11:51 am:


    In light of the recent wave of media downsizing in IL, is Capitol Fax looking at downsizing?

    (Snark encouraged)

  10. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 11:55 am:

    ===is Capitol Fax looking at downsizing?===

    What, and lay myself off? lol

    Something new is in the works, however.

  11. - Seersucker - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 12:11 pm:

    Paul could do it cheaper.
    And then he could get an intern …

  12. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 12:12 pm:

    I’d still have to pay myself.

  13. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 12:33 pm:

    Miller should outsource himself to some sap in Taiwan. lol

    CapFax would then be developed, printed, faxed and e-mailed from Asia.

  14. - Team Sleep - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 12:44 pm:

    Too many papers are being purchased by larger entities and/or publishers who live half of the country away. This needs to stop. The FCC has really dropped the ball and eventually there are only going to be 2 or 3 major newspaper groups - and maybe only 1 if Rupert the Aussie has anything to say about it.

    The SJ-R is awful. I only read it to keep up on weekly columns and to read some of the ridiculous editorials, OP-EDs and letters to the editor. Other than that it’s a boring read and it deserves the 1 star rating it has been downgraded to.

  15. - Truthful James - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 12:47 pm:

    Team Sleep has got it. Gateway is pruning for a sale.

  16. - Ghost - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 12:51 pm:

    Rich is going the other way…he is trippling the number of employees he currently has on the payroll.

  17. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 12:54 pm:


  18. - Lainer - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 12:59 pm:

    So where are all those people (in the biz journals) who were gloating last year about Gatehouse’s amazing growth and stock market performance… oh yeah, perhaps they didn’t notice the enormous amount of debt Gatehouse ran up buying newspapers which they can’t afford to operate.
    I just hope the SJ-R’s online editor doesn’t quit and allow its comment boards to deteriorate to the “quality” level of the Pantagraph :)

  19. - Kiyoshi Martinez - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 1:29 pm:

    I found this quotation by David Simon, a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun to be a good statement on slash and burn tactics lots of media companies are using these days:

    “There used to be 500 reporters; now there are 300. They keep telling us they can do the same job, they just need to be more effective. [deleted] Five hundred reporters is 500; 300 is 300; you can’t cover the city the same way with fewer people.” [Slate]

    Lainer: Check out Google Finance (ticker: GHS). They have a total long-term debt of ~$1.5 billion and ever since they announced their second quarter 2007 results, their stock price as taken a downturn. Six months ago they were trading at ~$21, now it’s ~$11. You don’t have to be a financial guru to figure out what’s ahead.

  20. - BehindTheScenes - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 1:42 pm:

    On a serious note, Rich. Have you ever considered a subscription rate for retirees? Besides the money, and the people I worked with, I probably miss having “Capitol Fax” on my desk every morning by 10:30 the most since I left the State. I promise I won’t make a few hundred copies and distribute them around my neighborhood as my office (and I’m sure most offices do) with a single subscription.

  21. - Lainer - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 1:47 pm:

    Believe it or not (jeez, I just can’t shut up today) some newspaper in Pasadena, CA, did actually advertise in INDIA seeking a “reporter” to cover city council meetings… their rationale was that the reporter could watch the meetings online.

  22. - Linus - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 1:49 pm:

    To the bashers of the J-R: PPBBLLLLTTT! (

  23. - Ghost - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 2:11 pm:

    Rich, I had intended that to be read as 3 x 0 :)

  24. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 2:14 pm:


  25. - Levois - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 3:23 pm:

    That smiley would work better if there were graphic emoticons here. Hopefully it won’t be a distraction.

    Oh and honestly though my mom has a subscripton to a newspaper I don’t even read it anymore and get most of my news online. ;-)

  26. - Man Who Grew Up Reading Chicago Today - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 3:34 pm:

    This phenomenon is not limited to the SJ-R. The Tribune has downsized and gets more worthless every single day. The Sun-Times used to be better on local news, still is to an extent but is marred by stories that don’t support the headlines, and worse, non-stories. (Aldermen being-gasp-allowed to purchase Cub playoff tickets, with a front page color photo of all aldermen. Point being what?) The remainder of the paper is car ads, car ads, car ads. And table pads, next day carpet and all kinds of things we can’t do without.
    The actual news and worthwhile columnists could be a pamphlet–they got rid of most of the thoughtful ones in their zeal to go back to some ersatz “liberal tradition” which today’s editors frankly, would not even understand if they knew what it even meant. Good lord.

    SJ-Rs challenges are emblematic of the industry. The Chicago Reader is now one section (actually an improvement for article readers as opposed to apartment and fetish seekers.) Many newspapers have trimmed their physical size in an attempt to stay economically feasible.

    I had to kill some time earlier today and had the misfortune of reading the Tribune’s Red Eye. A columnist told me more than what I wanted to know about his experience with condoms. Is this where the Tribune itself is going? Are they already there?

    No wonder outlets such as The Capitol Fax Blog are getting stronger and more popular…

    And do not get me started on USA Today, which I believe is one of the most disgusting developments in the history of journalism.


  27. - Amazing.... - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 3:46 pm:

    …..How the SJ-R didn’t think it’s staff downsizing by nearly 1/2 was news enough to put in any place I can see on its’ Website.
    “Too many papers are being purchased by larger entities and/or publishers who live half of the country away.” - Unfortunately, most of the ‘entities’ are not ‘publishers’ but merely holding companies looking for a quick buck or a way to increase their ’stock value’.

  28. - Lainer - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 3:48 pm:

    Deep Fried: A week’s pay for every year worked doesn’t sound like much of a severance package; but I once lost a job of 14 years at a weekly publication and got only a week of unused vacation pay. 14 weeks of severance pay would have sounded pretty good to me.
    On the other hand, I did draw unemployment benefits for 2 months until I got another job… which actually paid less than what I was getting from unemployment. In retrospect, I should have kept looking instead of jumping on the first job offer that came along; but that’s another story.
    If I were an SJ-R staffer right now and were offered this buyout, which would be the wiser choice: take the severance pay and run, and risk not being able to get unemployment when it runs out (because you quit voluntarily and were not laid off through no fault of your own) or turn it down, take the risk of getting fired and then go on unemployment?

  29. - Kiyoshi Martinez - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 3:50 pm:

    Man Who Grew Up Reading Chicago Today: “-30-”

    Nice. Here’s a related article.

  30. - Lainer - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 3:54 pm:

    I should point out that the job which paid less than my unemployment benefits was with a publication owned by Liberty Publishing, the predecessor of GateHouse Media. If I’d known then what I know now…

  31. - jerry 101 - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 3:58 pm:

    bleed the papers dry.

    they are cash cows now, slowly being drained.

    no interest in maintaining the viability of the papers long term, just sucking every penny out now.

    newspapers refuse to adapt, try to find younger readers. they just continuously try to maintain market share amongst older readers.

    reading the newspaper is a waste of time.

    the only paper with any value left is the NYTimes, and thats still going downhill.

    For local coverage, the Reader is still good for us Chicagoans, and Rich Miller has the market cornered on state news.

    The Trib and that other paper are worthless. But I will scroll over to that other papers website and click on a few ads when a certain columnist makes his appearance.

  32. - Anon from BB - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 4:06 pm:

    I was talking with a stringer for the Tribune’s Metro section and they told me the directive from on high was to cut back on copy.

    I joked that they were told to use four letter words instead of five.

    They told me that I wasn’t too far off the mark.

  33. - Ken in Aurora - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 4:17 pm:

    I made the choice in 1984 to walk away from a six year photojournalism career and get a “real job”. I get almost daily confirmation that this was a wise decision!

  34. - Six Degrees of Separation - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 4:43 pm:

    My only regret in the demise of printed news is that talented in-depth reporters like Paul Salopek and the late Steve Neal may have less of an outlet for their talents against the backdrop of the wasteland. On-lines and magazines might take up the slack, but maybe not.

  35. - Anonymous reader - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 6:57 pm:

    The sjr’s story about it was on their web site here
    or from the main page click on “business” on the left and scroll down.

  36. - Chatty Boy - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 7:10 pm:

    From what I understand the sales staff at the SJ-R has been excluded from the severance package… hmmmm, they must need to keep selling to keep it running… or will the sales staff turn come later?

  37. - A Citizen - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 7:29 pm:

    - Chatty Boy -
    Go to their website and click on “Jobs at SJ-R” - They want very aggressive sales types. Good luck in your job hunting ?

  38. - A Citizen - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 7:33 pm:

    - Chatty Boy -
    Show how aggressive you are by Demanding your entire first year’s salary in advance, that should impress them!

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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