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My Thoughts About the St. Pete Times Layoffs

Posted By Ester Venouziou, Saturday, October 22, 2011
A few days ago the St. Petersburg Times announced that the "bulk of reductions should be completed by now." The news was first posted by Times media critic Eric Deggans in his blog, and the next day the Times published a short story, pretty much repeating what Deggans had written:

• The Times cut its full-time work force by about 6 percent, mostly from the newsroom and operation departments. The Times did not identify those whose jobs were cut.

• The recession — and resulting big drop in national advertising  — is to blame.

• This kind of thing is happening at newspapers all over the country.

• The "job reductions" started about six weeks ago, following across-the-board 5 percent pay cuts for its full-time staffers. The pay is supposed to be restored early next year. Staffers were given five paid days to compensate for the pay cuts.

• • •

I've been struggling trying to decide what, if anything, I should post about the news. I was laid off from the Times a couple of weeks ago, but still have many friends there, and I have much respect for their talent and dedication. I still believe the Times is devoted to quality journalism, and that it will continue to be one of the area's top sources for news, despite dwindling resources and a skeleton staff. ...  I still catch myself referring to the Times as "we," instead of "they."

But ...

From what I can see, not a single person laid off was management level. Not wishing ill will on management -- most, too, are super-talented journalists -- but it seems odd that more than a dozen newsroom staffers lost their jobs, but not one single manager ...

Also ...

It bothers me that the St. Petersburg Times wasn't more upfront of the news. The newspaper is supposed to be transparent, unbiased, and should report all news, even news that might put it in a negative light. The Times didn't write anything about the layoffs until after its main rival, the Tampa Tribune, published a story about them.

It bothers me that the St. Petersburg Times did not once use the word "layoff" in its story.  One of the rules of Journalism 101 is to be direct when reporting hard news. In obituaries, the Times writes "died," not "passed away." In stories announcing cuts at other newspapers and other companies, the Times writes "layoffs," not "expense reductions."  It bothers me knowing that the story about the Times layoffs most likely was dictated by Times executives and lawyers, rather than have it been reported by real Times journalists.

It bothers me that the St. Petersburg Times instituted the 5 percent pay cuts right before announcing layoffs, thereby reducing the amount of severance it had to pay the people it let go. (The Times' severance policy is two weeks per year of service, capped at 30 or so weeks, I think.)

• • •

Mostly, what bothers me is the dry, cold tone of the story. Among those laid off were veteran journalists who had been loyal to the company for many years.  But at the end, we become nameless staffers, victims of the economy, just part of the 6 percent.

I think we deserve a little more than that. This blog is dedicated to the Times staffers who were laid off. I don't know if this is the full list:

  1. Kathy Lang, copy editor/designer
  2. Phyllis Bailey, copy editor/designer
  3. Bill Serne, photo editor
  4. Caesar (I don't know his last name), page management
  5. Joe Walles, photo editor
  6. Desiree Perry,
  7. Luis Perez, reporter
  8. Jack Rowland, tech department
  9. Greg Hamilton, editor
  10. John Chamless, copy editor
  11. Demorris Lee, reporter
  12. Andrew DeLong, editorial assistant
  13. Meg Laughlin, reporter
  14. and me.

• • •

This was the story that appeared in the Times:

The St. Petersburg Times has reduced its full-time work force by about 6 percent, company officials said Wednesday.

The recession — particularly a drop in national advertising this summer —has prompted new expense reductions at various newspaper companies.

The Times began eliminating some jobs about six weeks ago and left other positions vacant. Last month the company also announced that full-time staffers would have their pay cut 5 percent for the next five months, with five additional paid days off in return.

Times officials declined to identify specific job reductions but said most jobs came from operations, which handles printing and delivery, and the newsroom.

• • •

This was the message editor Neil Brown posted to its staff in early October, announcing that layoffs were under way.

As you no doubt are aware, the work is underway to restructure our newsroom, adjust our leadership ranks and lower our costs in this terrible economy. In announcing the recent pay-cut/extra days off program, Paul Tash said some job eliminations could be expected; they have begun around the company. In the newsroom, we will say goodbye to some dear co-workers and friends over the next couple weeks.
The nature of the St. Pete Times -- we are privately held and strongly believe in discretion around personnel matters -- means there is little we can share beyond the periodic notes of farewell. While the staff will be somewhat smaller, we remain committed to producing a first-class metropolitan newspaper and Web site that puts service to the residents of Tampa Bay as our top priority.
We understand the anxiety that such uncertain circumstances produce and share the sadness at seeing friends go. We aim to do this work quickly and treat our staff with respect and dignity. The economy affords us no guarantees, but we hope to wrap up these staffing decisions by the middle of October and then move forward and fully focus on great journalism the rest of the year and in 2012."

Tags:  andrew delong  bill serne  ester venouziou  greg hamilton  kathy lang  phyllis bailey  st. petersburg times layoffs  staff cuts 

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