Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli this morning announced another round of buyouts—the fifth since 2003—but this one sounds more like a layoff.
For one, the Post will offer the buyouts to selected individuals. And this time, Brauchli explicitly says, “We may turn down some volunteers if we feel their departure would impair our journalism.”
More than a few Post writers were taken off guard by Brauchli’s buyout alert. Asked last week in chats with reporters if rumors of a buyout were true, he put them down.
“He lied,” says one reporter.
No doubt the Post must reduce its costs. Revenues for the Post Company plunged last year due to declining enrollment in Kaplan, the company’s for-profit college. And the newspaper division continued to lose advertising revenue and readers. In the third quarter of 2011, print advertising revenue was down 13 percent. Daily circulation fell 5.4 percent.
Brauchli said, “It is important that we achieve real savings.”
For veteran reporters, those savings will come by lopping off higher salaries. Brauchli mentioned that “we will continue making tactical hires, so that even as we get smaller, we get stronger.”
In the newsroom, that means hiring younger, less expensive staffers.
Brauchli’s memo was short on details, but he called for two “Town Hall meetings,” one at 11 AM and another at 4:30 today.
He has some explaining to do.
Read the full text of the memo below:
From: Marcus Brauchli
Date: Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Subject: Announcement to newsroom staff
To: NEWS–All Newsroom <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To the staff:
Today, we are announcing that we will offer a voluntary buyout to some Newsroom employees. Our objective is a limited staff reduction that won’t affect the quality, ambition or authority of our journalism. We believe this is possible, given the changes in how we work and the great successes we have had building our digital readership lately.
To preserve that momentum, we do not intend to offer this program to every department or individual in the Newsroom. The reality is that we’re able to absorb staffing changes better in some areas than in others. In those departments where we do offer the buyout, there will be caps on the number of people who can participate, in order to moderate the impact and preserve our competitiveness in core coverage areas. In addition, we may turn down some volunteers if we feel their departure would impair our journalism.
That said, it is important that we achieve real savings.
The exact details of the buyout, technically a voluntary Separation Incentive Program, will come later, after the company talks to the Guild about its proposed terms. Here’s what we can tell you now: The program does not accelerate pension benefits. It will include enhanced separation payments and company-paid COBRA (health insurance) premiums for eligible fulltime employees. Post representatives will be discussing the proposed program with the Guild over the next two weeks, consistent with the terms of the labor contract. The terms they agree on also will be included in an offer to Newsroom editors in eligible departments.
This program will be available for a specified period of time only; employees will have 45 days to study this offer and decide whether to accept it or decline it. The Post will schedule the final date of employment for those who elect to resign as part of this program; for most employees this will mean a resignation date of May 31, 2012.
Any measure like this is difficult. But we believe this approach is a sensible and effective way of addressing the economic forces affecting our industry. We constantly rethink how we do certain things in order to become more efficient, agile and competitive; this will require more such thinking. The Post’s Newsroom remains formidable, and we will continue making tactical hires so that even as we get smaller, we get stronger.
We plan to distribute SIP packages to eligible employees in a few weeks. We will have two Town Hall meetings today, at 11 a.m. in the Community Room and at 4:30 p.m. in the Auditorium, to answer your questions.