Melting Icebergs in the Northland

Pioneer Press

More evidence of continued economic difficulty for traditional media due to declining circulation and resulting loss of ad sales. This morning’s Minneapolis Star Tribune, reporting (registration required) on crosstown rival Pioneer Press, says the St. Paul paper has had a land rush for the buyouts offered to senior newsroom staffers.

Twenty-one senior members of the St. Paul Pioneer Press newsroom have been offered buyouts as part of the company’s decision to downsize in the wake of slumping ad sales, editor Thom Fladung said Thursday.
The number was higher than the 10 originally called for in the paper’s cost-cutting moves, because more staffers sought the buyouts, Fladung said.

“When you have a lot of veteran journalists come forward and they sincerely want [a buyout], then it’s incumbent on me to try really hard to give them that. I felt I owed them,” he said.

The 21 employees could rescind their buyout requests, but most are expected to be gone by today.

The Pioneer Press says the cutbacks amount to 30 in total, including the 21 newsroom staff. The newsroom will be reduced by 10 percent.

The people taking buyouts “have been peers, coaches and friends to us,” he said in an e-mail to the newsroom. Today is the last day at the paper for the people taking buyouts. The package amounts to two weeks worth of pay for every year of service at the paper, up to 52 weeks.

Early next week Fladung said he’ll pass on more information about how the buyouts will affect the workers who remain. The changes will put a higher premium on communication in the newsroom and identifying the best stories, he said.

“This was so fast,” said Don Effenberger, 57, an editor at the paper with 28 years of experience. Employees had about three weeks to decide whether to take the buyout. Effenberger says he’s not retiring, though, and will look for another job.

In his short book/fable, Our Iceberg is Melting, which I reviewed here, John Kotter says complacency is the number one barrier to businesses making necessary changes in a rapidly changing environment. That point, and Kotter’s other 8 steps to successful transformation, are examined in more detail in his Leading Change, written in 1996. I picked up a used copy on Amazon and am reading it now. It is helpful background to his more recent book about the nomadic penguins, and I recommend it as well.

It seems the Pioneer Press (and senior newsroom staffers) are well beyond complacency. And earlier this week, Ford announced that 38,000 hourly employees had accepted buyouts, and in October NBC announced 700 job cuts. It seems a sense of urgency to find new ways of providing value to consumers, combined with reasonable means of getting paid for it, would behoove us all. As I’ve said before, whatever you think of the climatological phenomenon of global warning, from an economic perspective it’s here already. Icebergs are melting everywhere.

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Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 15. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. Emeritus staff of Mayo Clinic. Founder of HELPcare and Administrator for HELPcare Clinic.

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