Letter: Newspapers guilty of age discrimination?

From R.G. RATCLIFFE: Perhaps I’ve missed it, but has anyone done a story on how the newsroom layoffs of the past decade have been one of the greatest exercises in age discrimination in U.S. history?

This doesn’t count me because I quit in disgust after 33 years in the business. But every round of layoffs at every newspaper I’ve been personally familiar with have focused on the oldest of the employees, those between 50 and 65, with just a smattering of young people thrown in. Now, I know the argument is these people are targeted not because of their age but because of their high salaries. However, the result is that thousands of journalists who are beyond prime hiring age are being pushed out onto the streets. Some land well, some don’t. It just strikes me that if this was any business in America other than journalism, there’d be exposes done on it.

Anyway, just a thought.

R.G. Ratcliffe
Formerly of Houston Chronicle, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Florida Times-Union, and Beaumont Enterprise



  1. Jake said:

    Certainly fits with my experience – and the others let go by our Gannett paper around the same time.

  2. Nobody gives a damn if tens of thousands of old employees are laid off at newspapers, but let one transexual african-American receptionist with a gay partner who sports a tattoo of a spider web on s/he’s forhead be let go and you will hear about it without stop.

  3. Jared said:

    Young vs. old in the newsroom strikes me as a false choice. Even an old reporter who’s slow to understand (much less embrace) blogging/twitter/multimedia can still turn in great content for the paper (or website). In fact, an older reporter might be best suited to keep doing what they do: chasing down leads, finding interesting stories and reporting them to the readership.

    If we want to look at a place to cut at the newspaper let’s start with the marketing, sales and IT operations (which, for the sake of brevity we’ll call “dead weight”).

    What I saw at the three papers I worked was the non-newsroom was barely able to understand the basic business principles of the print operation (let alone the future of an online operation). It floors, offices and corridors stacked with people who got paid way more than the newsroom to do way less. Sales people who couldn’t sell, marketing departments which brew only the lamest of concepts and IT departments who are universally disagreeable, unhelpful and resistent to change.

    Why not start there?

  4. N.G. said:

    Hold on here, Jared. Do you mean “buyouts,” rather than “layoffs?” I think you do. If so, the reason the older people go is that they have the most years in, and get the best deal. Plus buyouts always start at a certain advanced level of service, arguably to be fair. Many people who take buyouts welcome them.

  5. James Geluso said:

    I saw the opposite. Because reporters got a week’s pay for a year of “service” at my last paper, they kept the old guy who was a year from retirement and got of rid of only newer people. They also offered buyouts only to departments where tenure was about equal.

  6. Mark Thompson said:

    I agree with R.G., an ol’ S-T colleague. If you don’t, be sure to listen to Fred Jones, Part 2, by Ben Folds…

  7. R.S. said:

    R.G., I applaud your stand and have read your work for years at the Chronicle. Unfortunately, I signed a non-disclosure contract which literally gags me. One thing it was full of was clauses noting that I would agree not to sue for age discrimination. I wonder why that is? Could it be I had some tenure and in my late 40s while most of the reporter hired after me were young kids? When that same paper did layoffs a few years later, one of the longest-tenured employees was let go. Makes you wonder. And an employee at that same paper — we didn’t work together — expresses a belief that age discrimination doesn’t exist.

  8. R.S. said:

    Sorry, I meant to say that employee at the same paper where I worked expresses a belief in a comment on this story that age discrimination doesn’t exist.

  9. Brian White said:

    I’m sure all my 20-something friends who have been laid off with a week’s severance within a few years of graduating will be happy to know they were in fact just thrown in with all the older people being given several years’ salary to leave and start taking their pensions early. Give me a break.

  10. Brian White said:

    And look, I know that a lot of older people got squeezed out too when they weren’t ready to leave or prepared to look for new jobs. The reality is that everyone has gotten screwed over. But to suggest that younger journalists are somehow being treated better is silly. Start by looking at how low starting salaries are now compared to what people used to get out of college.

  11. but let one transexual african-American receptionist with a gay partner who sports a tattoo of a spider web on s/he’s forhead be let go and you will hear about it without stop.

    What! African Americans don’t age? We don’t get RIFFED? Wow Vanderleun, thanks for the information. Let me guess:you’re a bitter white male.

  12. A guy said:

    At my newspaper, the opposite is true. Nearly everyone left is 40 or older. Everyone younger was caught up in layoffs, which were based on seniority as mandated by the guild contract.

  13. Now now scruggs don’t be a sensitive new age guy.

  14. Bill Hogan said:

    There’s a lesson here for those who think unions are no longer necessary.

  15. Cheryl said:

    It’s not just high salaries, it’s healthcare costs. Older workers in general have more medical expenses and that can raise plan costs for the company based on claims history.

  16. corvid said:

    At my paper it was mostly older people who got axed, although I can see it happening to younger people in some situations as well. You never know what twisted, feverish calculations are pulsating through management’s moldy little minds that would cause them to cast off the young or old at any given time.

    One telling moment for me among several waves of layoffs was when they let go an older woman who was, hands down, the best photo editor at the paper. She was a delight to work with and absolutely fantastic at every aspect of her job. None of her colleagues — some around her age, some younger — ever came close. She was a mainstay, a real go-to person in that department.

    Yet, she was the first from photo to go, and rather reluctantly. When I saw that, I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that competence alone wasn’t enough to save any of us. Thus, when I got the notice, I could at least console myself with that knowledge.

  17. Nancy Imperiale said:

    I can’t speak for the entire country, but you’re on the money as far as Orlando, Florida, is concerned.