Archive for the ‘Layoffs’ Category

Detroit to address reports of ‘significant changes’ Big print, circ shift rumored | Stock plunges 12%

December 11, 2008

Gannett’s Detroit operations early next week will address newly published accounts of a secret project, designed to save the city’s two struggling newspapers. Speculation is focused on a rumored plan to end home delivery of the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News for all but two or three days a week.

This would make the 300,000-circulation Free Press and the 177,000 News by far the biggest U.S. papers yet to drop, or effectively drop, a day’s publication, Editor & Publisher is now reporting. Such a switch, I wrote this morning, would represent an enormous gamble by Gannett and its partner, MediaNews Group, to stanch multimillion-dollar losses in a city whose economy is cratering around the auto industry crisis. Hanging in the balance are the jobs of perhaps 2,000 employees.

Wall Street investors weren’t happy: Gannett’s stock plunged 11.9% this afternoon, closing at $7.59 a share, down $1.02. Meanwhile, the widely watched S&P-500 index fell a smaller 2.9%.

Hunke: ‘Reposition’ for growth
In a memo regarding a plan reportedly named “Project Griffon,” CEO Dave Hunke said the Detroit Media Partnership has been “exploring various scenarios” to “ensure two strong newspaper voices in the community.” Gannett has controlled 95% of the partnership through a joint operating agreement, reorganized in 2005.

Hunke’s memo: “In the past 24 hours you have no doubt heard a lot of rumors and several news reports about significant changes at the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News. Clearly, over the past months we have been exploring various scenarios to reposition the companies for growth and to ensure two strong newspaper voices in the community. We plan to share details early next week with you, as well as with readers, advertisers, unions and the community. In the meantime, let’s continue to focus on doing the best job we can and on building the strongest relationships we can among ourselves and with our customers.”

Tuesday announcement?
Hunke’s memo follows my post this morning, speculating that an announcement on Project Griffon could come as early as Tuesday. Looks like this story has legs after all.

A tipster says the vice president of circulation also advised employees: “Just wanted to remind everyone that all inquiries from media should be directed to Susie Ellwoods office.” (Gannettland is an even smaller world than I thought: Ellwood and I worked together at The Arkansas Gazette in the late 1980s, when Craig Moon — now USA Today publisher — was the Little Rock paper’s chief executive. Of course, back then, she had a different surname.)

Earlier: Motown, Project Griffon — and that secret PM code

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: this morning’s Freep and News, Newseum]

Tip: Small papers drafting two new contingencies

December 11, 2008

An occasional correspondent just sent the following in an e-mail; as always, proceed with caution, because I haven’t corroborated any of this: “Publishers at Gannett’s ‘non-top 30’ dailies have been tasked with preparing two new contingency plans re: total operating expenses — a 2% reduction, and a 4% reduction. Implementation, if necessary, would take place in the first quarter of 2009.”

Gannett owns 85 U.S. dailies, so this latest demand from Corporate covers about 65% of the community newspaper division.

Can anyone confirm — and add details? 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.

Crain’s: Detroit ready to lay off up to 300 staffers

December 11, 2008

The business-news weekly says Gannett’s Detroit operations are expected to make job cuts of “possibly up to 300 staffers.” Crain’s does not source that information, however. It reports that Detroit Media Partnership CEO Dave Hunke said last month that staffing levels would be addressed as part a first-quarter strategic plan, “which is what next week’s announcement is expected to detail.”

Crain‘s says today that calls to Hunke’s office were referred to Leland Bassett, CEO of public-relations firm Bassett & Bassett in Detroit. “The Detroit Media Partnership is looking at everything right now. No decisions have been made,” he told Crain’s.

Detroit employs as many as 2,000 workers, making it one of Gannett’s single-biggest worksites. Any cuts there would follow nearly 2,000 newspaper jobs eliminated last week in GCI’s ongoing mass layoff.

Jobs site CareerBuilder finally concedes mass layoff

December 11, 2008

It took a telephone call from the Chicago Tribune to get the big Gannett-controlled employment website to fess up about axing more than 300 jobs last Friday. (This is why I don’t trust publicists any further than I can throw ’em.) The firm is pushing ahead with plans for a big promotional splash during the 2009 Super Bowl, chief marketing officer Richard Castellini told the newspaper.

Cincy: News hole slashed; at least 30 said laid off

December 10, 2008

The amount of Cincinnati Enquirer space allotted for content other than ads — the “news hole” — will be reduced by six pages on Sundays and a combined 30 pages across other weekdays beginning the week of Dec. 28, top editor Tom Callinan told CityBeat in a story out today.

Callinan also acknowledged that his paper didn’t publish details of a recent layoff at the paper — even though many smaller Gannett papers mustered the resources to disclose their own plans. CityBeat, citing sources it doesn’t identify, says “at least 30 people — including 13 in the newsroom — were let go.”

CityBeat‘s figure would bring jobs cut in Gannett’s latest layoff to a total of 1,934, based on Gannett Blog reader reports for 68 of 85 newspapers.

Callinan says the news hole reduction “most likely will be accomplished by eliminating the newspaper’s separate Life section, once known as Tempo, and folding it into the Local News section. The Enquirer already eliminated its stand-alone Business section last year as part of cost-cutting moves.”

[Image: today’s front page, Newseum]

GCI girds for ’09 newspaper job losses in ‘low teens’

December 10, 2008

CEO Craig Dubow told a Wall Street media conference today that Gannett is prepared to cut more jobs next year, following the recent mass layoff in the troubled newspaper division.

Yet, in a new statement that sounds more definitive, the company says it assumes “headcount” will fall next year in the following business segments, by these percentage amounts:

  • U.S. papers (excluding USA Today): down in the “low teens.”
  • USAT: down in the “mid single digits.”
  • U.K. division Newsquest: down in the “mid teens.”
  • TV division: down in the “mid to high single digits.”

The statement doesn’t say how these reductions would occur: whether by more layoffs, attrition or other means. The recent layoff targeted 10% of the newspaper workforce.

Debating GCI’s intentions
Some readers challenge my interpretation of the statement, and the remarks by Dubow (left).

“Did Dubow say there would be ADDITIONAL job cuts in the ‘low teens’ in 2009?” asks Anonymous@2:12 p.m. “I took a look at the Gannett statement and I think they are saying that the number of employees working in that division at the end of 2009 will be 12%, 13%, 14% (‘low teens’) less than in 2008. Given there have been three or four rounds of cuts in 2008 at most newspapers, I think this really says they are NOT projecting additional job cuts in 2009. The 2008 cuts plus retirements/attrition will probably add up to ‘low teens’ that’s mentioned.”

Dubow: ‘Sizing to revenue’
I suspect Gannett was already planning to reduce newspaper employment again next year — on top of what happened this year — before the economy deep-dived. Now, with a full-on recession, it’s hard to see any other choice. Remember what Dubow told the conference earlier:

“We are always going to size to the revenue that is there,” he said, adding that decisions will be made market-by-market. “We’re going to have to see where and how the economy reacts next year.”

The Associated Press has now moved a story.

Chief Financial Officer Gracia Martore (left) said holiday-related advertising sales are key to what happens next. “The next three weeks are crucial to our results,” she told the conference. In the first two months of the current quarter, she said, total revenue is down about 14% from a year ago.

Their remarks came on the third and final day of the 36th annual media week conference in New York City. I listened to the Webcast (replay here; scroll to Gannett link), but didn’t live-blog quite like I did last year. UBS investment bank was the sponsor.

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.

Connell: CareerBuilder, other tax breaks ‘common’

December 9, 2008

The notion that Gannett used a tax break to create jobs in one city, while simultaneously eliminating jobs elsewhere is misleading, company spokeswoman Tara Connell told Dow Jones Newswires this afternoon. “It’s common business practice when enlarging or moving a corporate headquarters or consolidating business units to get a tax break and change headcount in one place while building it in another,” the news service quotes Connell saying.

Connell responded to Dow Jones’s questions after the service followed my reports that leading employment website CareerBuilder had laid off more than 300 employees — and possibly as many as 400 — at its Chicago headquarters on Friday. Those cuts came just two months after the company got a $2.9 million tax break from the city of Chicago to enlarge its headquarters there. Majority-owned by Gannett, CareerBuilder had promised to add 185 jobs as part of the expansion.

Connell and other Gannett officials rarely communicate with Gannett Blog. Now, call me crazy, but isn’t Connell — a former USA Today managing editor — confirming what I wrote? The distinction she seems to be drawing is that everyone does this, so it’s misleading for me to suggest this is news. (Trust me: Anytime a publicist tells a reporter that something “isn’t news” — it almost always is.)

‘No information’ about layoffs
Asked today about any layoffs, a CareerBuilder spokesperson told Dow Jones: “I have no information.”

The Dow Jones stories are not online, so I cannot link to them. CareerBuilder has not returned my calls seeking more information. I’m also still waiting for a response from Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development; it granted the tax giveaway in early October. With these layoffs, however, it’s unclear whether CareerBuilder has lost the tax break. The company had threatened to leave Chicago without the public money.

As I noted yesterday, this is at least the second time a Gannett business has won a tax break for creating jobs in one city, while reducing jobs elsewhere.

A tale of two rooms
How Friday’s mass layoff went down, according to recruitment blog Cheezhead: “Certain groups were alerted via e-mail at 12:50 p.m. CT that at 1 p.m. they were to go to a conference. Those going to one room were safe, while those in the other were cut.”

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.

Ohio law firm launches site devoted to GCI layoffs

December 9, 2008

(Updated.) Minnillo & Jenkins of Cincinnati almost certainly started the website — GannettLayoffs.com — to gather new clients. Although the firm says it specializes in personal bankruptcies, the new site highlights the rights of laid-off employees under state and federal law.

“Signing a release, separation agreement, severance agreement or similar document may waive these rights and bar you from enforcing your legal rights, so it is important to understand the rights you may be waiving,” the firm says on GannettLayoffs.com.

Minnillo & Jenkins is at least the second law firm that has shown particular interest in Gannett and labor law, including possible violations of wage and hour regulations. Note: I’m not endorsing either firms’ work.

Attorney: Cincy laid off my wife
After this post went up, several readers accused me of promoting a law firm trying to make money off the misery of Gannett employees. Now, an attorney at the firm, Erik Laursen, has jumped in.

“My wife was just laid off by The Cincinnati Enquirer,” he writes, in a comment. “I also worked as a journalist before becoming a lawyer. As my wife asked me questions about her severance, I thought that she can’t be the only person with questions. This is why, after careful consideration, we chose to focus some of our efforts toward Gannett employees.”

Ethics 101 — Commercial interests
There’s an interesting debate in this post’s comments section, over the ethics of my posting anything about law firms soliciting business from unhappy current and former employees. Join in; you’ll be glad you did!

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.

Blog: CareerBuilder layoffs are ‘closer to 400’

December 9, 2008

Employee recruitment blog Cheezhead is swarming today with comments from CareerBuilder workers who say they were laid off Friday in a big downsizing at Chicago headquarters — cuts the Gannett-controlled website hasn’t formally acknowledged. A published report yesterday put the number of jobs cut at more than 300 — just two months after CareerBuilder won a $2.9 million city tax break to add jobs at its main office.

A Cheezhead poster wrote today: “The number is actually closer to 400. They have been laying/firing small numbers since August to avoid a mass layoff. There were several executives and managers laid off. Job losses were not just from sales — but from all areas of the company. With the Tribune filing for bankruptcy, there will be more.”

At 400, the cuts would equal about 20% of the 13-year-old company’s more than 2,000 workers. I’ve left a second message today with CareerBuilder, seeking comment. I’ve also left a second message with the city of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development; it granted CareerBuilder the tax giveaway in early October, in return for promises it would add 185 jobs.

Blogger: How it went down
Cheezhead gave what it said was an inside account of Friday’s layoff:

“Apparently, certain groups were alerted via e-mail at 12:50 p.m., CT that at 1 p.m. they were to go to a conference. Those going to one room were safe, while those in the other were cut. Then, at 3:30 p.m., there was a company-wide conference call with CEO Matt Ferguson (left) who communicated the difficulty of the day.”

Cheezhead continues: “Most people cut were apparently from the small business units, which call on companies with less than 100 employees. However, every unit was said to be ‘affected in some capacity.’ Marketing was another department that may have been hit harder than most. Sources explained the firings were in large part due to the fact that ‘revenue is down 5%.’ One source expressed fear that if the economic decline continues, there will be more cuts.”

Annals of bad communication: Layoff memo, part 2

December 9, 2008

After last August’s big layoff, I told the company’s publishers that employees want to see one thing at the very top of a layoff memo: How many of us will lose our jobs?

What they don’t want is a lot of literary throat clearing, or references to news we already know. And, yet! We now have before us one such memo — forwarded by a reader who says they got it today from their TV station’s general manager. (It’s 548 words; I’ve put the real news in boldface type.)

Team —

Sunday on Meet the Press, President-elect Obama talked about the economy getting worse before it gets better. We are making distinct efforts to develop new revenue streams and new clients. Every day we are experiencing wins in those areas and our sales folks are doing impressive things. But it is a big gap to bridge as numerous large and perennial clients cut their spending dramatically. Automotive advertising alone is down by staggering amounts.

Most of you are well aware of the expense cuts we’ve made. Your efforts to do more with less, really get behind the Information Center model and to carefully limit overtime have gone a long way to minimize the need to cut positions. Even so, we have eliminated some positions and will likely need to eliminate some more in coming months.

Obama also mentioned that some Americans will need to “take a haircut,” meaning pay more to help our country get out of this mess. We have a parallel here; it is a station-wide pay cut that we will need to enact January 1st. This step will go a long way to minimize future layoffs, keep more of us employed and maintain as large a workforce as possible. Here is how it will work:

All employees, including department heads and managers, will take percentage cuts in their base pay rate beginning January 1st. There will be no scheduled raises throughout 2009. Pay cuts will be on a graduated scale as follows

  • Employees with base pay less than $25,000 annually — 2% cut
  • Employees with base pay between $25,001 and 50,000 — 3% cut
  • Employees with base pay between $50,001 and 75,000 — 4% cut
  • Employees with base pay more than $75,001 annually — 5% cut

For the group of staff who are contracted talent, individually negotiated cuts will be made at the appropriate anniversary of their contracts in 2009. For commissioned sales account executives, cuts will be incorporated into their base pay, but they will be given incentives to overcome those cuts in the categories of new, online and developed business. I’m sure all of you can see that their success in bringing in new clients is our hope for the future and a return to higher salary levels for all.

We announce these cuts with the full knowledge that some individuals may find it time to move on in their careers. While we hope that does not happen, it is a risk we must assume in these extraordinary times.

This pay cut does not mean we will suspend performance reviews. There are some amazing and appreciated things going on that need to be discussed and celebrated. That individual feedback is more important now than ever.

We are hopeful that these cuts will be reversed in future budget years. For the time being, we can only do our very best to remain vital to our viewers, online users, clients and communities. No matter how hard the times become, we are the best positioned of any Maine media company to do just this.

If you have any questions on this, please don’t hesitate talking to either of us or your department head.

On behalf of your managers, our sincere thanks for all you are doing and will continue to do for our stations’ success. Together we will survive these tough times and thrive in the times that will surely follow.

Got a memo on your mind? Post it in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar.

[Photo: Memo’s Mexican Food restaurant sign, Seattle Weekly]