Miami Herald Cutting Staff Via Buyouts

It was only a matter of time. The Miami Herald, in an attempt to eliminate two percent of its staff, is offering buyouts to veteran employees, including at least a "handful" of photographers, "veteran writers" and other staff in the newsroom.

Executive Editor Anders Gyllenhaal sent out an email (full text below) to staff Tuesday in which he writes that buyouts of longtime workers are now "part of the reality of our business at the moment, and it cannot help but be an unsettling day." The two percent goal, he wrote, is company-wide across McClatchy's 31 newspapers.

In a Wall Street Journal story about the travails of the Miami Herald's owner, McClatchy Co., published this past December, Gyllenhaal pointed out that the Herald had managed not to offer buyouts despite the company's declining circulation and rising debt.

UPDATE: On her Frugalista blog, Herald staff writer Natalie McNeal writes this morning about how the buyout plan affected the newsroom:

All day Tuesday, I was pretty much a nervous wreck. Some of my coworkers cried after receiving an email that they were eligible. We watched as the main editor stopped by the desks of the workers and walked employees to the big office for a chat. The buyouts are voluntary for those who are eligible in my department. I didn't get offered one.

... The good thing about buyouts is that there is a financial cushion that one wouldn't get if they were simply "let go." The bad thing about buyouts is that it still means that you are unemployed. Getting a job in journalism is no walk in the park these days.

Here's what Gyllenhaal wrote to staff Tuesday:

This is to follow up the email that just went out from David Landsberg on the company's buyout plans. I wanted to summarize the newsroom’s portion of this and outline a series of meetings we’ll have today. This is part of the reality of our business at the moment, and it cannot help but be an unsettling day. Our hope is to explain the plan clearly to both those who are and aren’t eligible, answer all questions and do our best to keep our focus on our work throughout the day.

The buyouts will be available to three areas of the newsroom where the least attrition has come the past year or so. They include a portion of the photography staff, a group of veteran writers from several departments, and members of the administration staff, including news assistants, executive assistants and wire room staff. The group represents about a fifth of the newsroom. It will not be available to areas where we’ve had more turnover or are dealing with production pressures, such as the copy desk, design staff, graphics, online and most of the sports and business departments.

As David stressed in his note, this is an optional buyout and the company is looking for a limited number of positions. In the newsroom, the total available slots will come to no more than a handful of positions in line with the 2 percent figure that is the aim across the company. Decisions on which applicants will be accepted will be made after considering the number who volunteer, the tenure of their position and where we can best handle vacancies, since these positions will not be replaced.

We’ll have a series of meetings today to talk through this plan with those eligible, all of whom will receive an email this morning with details about when and where they can attend information sessions. We’ll also hold a short staff meeting at 11:15 a.m. near the Continuous News Desk for all interested newsroom staff to talk through the plans and answer questions. While that meeting is taking place, we’ll hold a conference call available to anyone away from the office. We’ll hold a second open staff meeting at 6 p.m. in the Knight Conference room to go over questions.

The information sessions for those eligible for buyouts will be at noon for members of the administrative staff; 1 p.m. for the photo staff; 2 and 4 p.m. for eligible reporters; and 5 p.m. for eligible staff members in Broward. Aside from the Broward session and photo session, which will be in the photo department, these information meetings will be in the Knight Conference Room.

Events like these raise questions that may come up after today. If you have questions or concerns of any kind, at any point, during the three weeks this plan is pending, please talk to me, Dave, Liza, Rick or Ali.

-Anders

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