Is it 10% fewer workers — or a 10% cut in payroll?

What did newspaper division chief Bob Dickey (left) mean when he told the unit’s approximately 30,000 employees earlier this week: “We will institute an involuntary staff reduction of approximately 10% by the first week of December.”

Well after Corporate dropped that layoff bombshell, many of you are still asking an essential question: “For the 9999th time,” one reader pleaded yesterday. “WHICH IS IT??? 10% FEWER EMPLOYEES OR 10% PAYROLL REDUCTION??? Anyone? Please?”

I now think Corporate intends to whack 10% of payroll, rather than going after 3,000 jobsmy initial conclusion when I began posting early Tuesday afternoon. I reach that new conclusion after recalling this reader tip, two weeks before; it warned of a range of expense cuts under consideration, all in percentages.

Based on payroll, Gannett could get to its targeted savings with less than 3,000 layoffs. All it need do is target higher-paid (translation: older, more experienced) employees. That’s likely how the Detroit Free Press and affiliates reached their target of 150 buyouts in July — with only 116 employees.

Confusing memo, without clarification
In hindsight, I think Dickey simply put out a poorly worded memo, one ripe for misinterpretation. Since then, official Gannett spokeswoman Tara Connell has done little to clarify the confusion. Seeking damage control, according to one blogger, Connell told Bloomberg News, Reuters, MarketWatch, and anyone else (except, of course, me) who’d listen that the final number of jobs cut will be “substantially” lower than 3,000. Problem is, she wouldn’t say how much lower.

Early reports from the field have only compounded the problem. Indianapolis Star Publisher Michael Kane reportedly told employees that his paper could lose 95 workers — about 9% of its workers. Since then, other readers have told me that one newspaper in the South, and another in a Western state, also are considering cuts equal to about 10% of workers — not payroll.

I have little hope Connell will address this vital question further. I asked her for clarification soon after Dickey’s memo became public. More than three days later, I’m still waiting.

Please post your replies 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.

[Image: today’s Star, Newseum]

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