Detroit: Only 116 volunteers for 150 buyouts

Raising the specter of layoffs, the Detroit Free Press and two sister operations fell well short of their target to reduce employment by 150, according to memos sent yesterday by senior executives. The buyouts, among the biggest by any Gannett business, originally came with a starkly worded warning about possible layoffs if there weren’t enough volunteers by the July 18 deadline — last Friday.

The Gannett-owned Freep, plus The Detroit News and the joint operating agency publishing both papers, first appealed for volunteers in late June. At the time, CEO Dave Hunke warned that “the environment in which newspapers operate continues to worsen rapidly.” His June 23 note also said: “If the voluntary offer doesn’t result in a sufficient number of volunteers, or if in the future, economic conditions worsen, it may be necessary to consider layoffs.”

Yesterday’s memos did not mention involuntary layoffs. Also, the memos reported conflicting totals on the number of volunteers, and did not give a complete breakdown of where the buyouts were falling by department. Human resources chief Kristi Bowden of the Detroit Media Partnership said 116 volunteers had offered to be voluntarily laid off. (The joint operating agreement partnership publishes the Freep and the formerly Gannett-owned Detroit News.) News Publisher Jon Wolman cited 115 volunteers. Both memos said all buyout applications had been accepted.

There are plenty of other questions, too: “What are the terms of the buyout? What are they offering?” a reader asks in a new comment, below.

I’ve e-mailed Bowden, asking if layoffs are now being planned.

Wolman said 11 of the 115 applications came from the News. Bowden’s memo didn’t say how the other applications were divided among the Freep and the Detroit Media Partnership’s executive staff. (Gannett sold the News three years ago to MediaNews Group as part of a complicated deal that included Knight Ridder papers.)

Buyouts amid rapid retrenchment
In his memo, Wolman said the buyouts come as the news industry overall shrinks to contend with a worsening economy. “Even so,” he wrote, “the public’s appetite for news content is enormous and growing, and we will reorganize our efforts here to maintain strong coverage. Even with a smaller staff size, I’m confident we can develop innovations that drive our coverage even higher than it is today.”

Last week alone across Gannett:

  • The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., laid off 36 and eliminated 10 unfilled jobs.
  • Three Central New York papers cut about 10 jobs in a consolidation of ad sales and online operations.
  • The Arizona Republic offered a second round of buyouts.
  • The Honolulu Advertiser laid off 54.
In Detroit, eligible staff were active, benefit-eligible employees who were at least 45 years old, with 10 years’ service as of Friday, July 18.

Is your Gannett paper, TV station or other business cutting staff through buyouts or layoffs? Please post your replies — along with relevant memos — in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

Earlier: My advice on why you should take a Gannett buyout. Plus: Next buyouts won’t be so generous

[Image: today’s Freep, Newseum]

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13 Responses to “Detroit: Only 116 volunteers for 150 buyouts”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    That’s a better percentage than the NJ papers. A very small amount of folks took the buyout and not even a week later, they did a round of layoffs. Waiting for the other shoe to drop in the Garden State!

  2. Anonymous Says:

    What are the terms of the buyout? What are they offering?

  3. Anonymous Says:

    There will probably be more buyouts at the Freep because its staff is somewhat bigger than that of the News (266 to 220.) And there are still a large number of Freep people in shock that Gannett bought the paper.

  4. Dave Mastio Says:

    I think this is going to get worse and worse. As the job situation gets impossible for laid off journalists it is going to take either bigger inducements to get people to volunteer or people are just going to get the boot.

    This is a really bad sign.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    The inducement is that Gannett newspapers, including the flagship, are becoming impossible places to work.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    How do you know it’s “about 10 jobs” at the Central NY papers? The original post didn’t indicate how many jobs.

  7. Jim Hopkins Says:

    @2:59 pm: I got that figure from a reader after the post went up; I’ll update it later.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    The buyout terms were: 2 weeks’ salary for every year of service, up to a year’s salary. Qualfying were everyone 45 and older with at least 10 years’ service.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    In NJ, only about 50 or so took the original buyout: 15 years service or more/55 years and older. There were about 155-160 buyouts offered. They got 2 weeks of pay for every year of service, capping out at 26 weeks. Subsequently, the next layoff came less than a week later. Might have been elimination/consolidation of position. May have been last in first out. Don’t know if they got anything in the way of a severance package. The graphic designers eliminated due to outsourcing got a week of pay for every year of service. Let’s hit the beach!

  10. Jim Hopkins Says:

    @12:35 p.m.: I assume your figures are just for the paper’s newsrooms, right? What’s overall employment at the two papers, and at the agency? In other words, a loss of 150 jobs would be what % of overall employment at the three Detroit businesses?

  11. Anonymous Says:

    A loss of 150 jobs at The Detroit News, Detroit Free Press and Detroit Media Partnership would be a loss of about 7 percent of staff. The whole operation employs about 2,000 people.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    “The buyout terms were: 2 weeks’ salary for every year of service, up to a year’s salary. Qualfying were everyone 45 and older with at least 10 years’ service.”

    At The Arizona Republic, it’s one week of salary for every year of service, and the offers are to those 52 and older with at least 12 years of service. They’re getting an extra three years on the pension, too, so a 57-year-old would be treated as if he or she were 60. A lot more might have gone for a two-weeks-per-year deal. We’ll see at the end of August if they reach their target.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Can anyone tell me how some Gannett papers can offer two weeks salary for each year of service, while others offer only one week of salary for each year served?

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