In USAT layoffs, is Corporate sending a message?

Many USA Today employees have dreaded the day when Corporate starts bringing the undisciplined paper to heel, forcing it to budget more like the dozens of smaller, down-market dailies in the field.

Perhaps that day is here, given the strange way Corporate is reportedly forcing USAT to trim its workforce amid the big company-wide newspaper layoff next week. Top editor Ken Paulson told a newsroom staff meeting that Corporate has insisted he lay off 20 employees from the 450-person newsroom.

In what sounds like a heartless decision, Corporate would not consider other avenues to reach targeted savings; 20 employees would be forced to walk the plank before their colleagues. And those are just the newsroom’s layoffs, at a paper with perhaps 1,500 employees. Still to be heard from: circulation, production, ad services and other departments.

Now, a cynic might conclude the Gannett Tower is putting the fear of Corporate into a paper that historically behaved like it’s not part of the bigger Gannett company. Compared to the smaller papers out in the field, USA Today staffers have it easy: Full-service on-site cafeteria and gym. Modern, well-lit offices with proper work spaces. Fairly up-to-date laptops and other technologies. Acres of convenient (and covered!) parking.

Plus, it’s not unusual for USA Today reporters and editors to pull down annual pay of $100,000 and up — more than double and triple what smaller papers pay. (On the pay question, factor in the cost of living in northern Virginia and places like San Francisco, where I worked. A small, three-bedroom house around the corner from where we live just hit the market for nearly $1 million. It needs a lot of work, but I bet the sellers get it.)

‘Uppity USAT folks’
Some Gannett Blog readers left Monday’s staff meeting, suspicious about Corporate’s motives. The executives who made this call “are about as cold as they come,” Anonymous@9:40 a.m. said in a comment.

Sounding unconvinced, Anonymous@11:26 a.m. asked skeptically: “Do you think it’s a Corporate beatdown to teach uppity USAT folks who’s boss?”

Yes, indeed, said Anonymous@3:59 p.m.: “There is someone at the top, maybe in Corporate, who sees us as numbers rather than people.”

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 front page, Newseum]

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