‘We’re simply looking to turn a modest profit,’ Boston Globe editor says in buyouts memo

The Boston Globe and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are offering more buyouts. “I think the following line is on the save/get key of every editor in America: This may be the last buyout we offer,” writes Globe editor Brian McGrory. “At some point, good or bad, that statement will be true.”

The upbeat part of his memo: “The company has no debt. We have no pension obligations, which were left with the New York Times. We don’t have an owner looking to ratchet up margins. We have an innovative spirit. We have a deep, deep reservoir of talent and ambition. We’re simply looking to turn a modest profit, which the ownership will then invest in the enterprise.”

The Post-Gazette union’s memo follows McGrory’s.

From: “McGrory, Brian”
Date: July 29, 2015 at 1:39:06 PM EDT
To: [Boston Globe staff]
Subject: Buyouts

Dear colleagues,

In the worst kept secrets category, the Globe is launching another buyout program next week, this one specific to the newsroom. Similar to last year’s, we’ll use it as an opportunity to direct more resources to digital, a vital undertaking. Different than last year, it will also help us cut costs as we continue our transformation into a predominantly digital, subscriber-based news operation that will thrive for many years to come. If we fail in our savings goal through buyouts, we’ll be faced with the difficult prospect of layoffs in September.

Everyone in the newsroom will receive a buyout letter as early as next week. There’ll be nothing terribly fancy about the math. It’s two weeks for every year of service – the same as severance. I think the following line is on the save/get key of every editor in America: This may be the last buyout we offer. At some point, good or bad, that statement will be true./CONTINUES

Over the coming weeks, the plan is to focus change, in part, on the production end of the newsroom, including our copy editing, page layout, and web production functions. We’re proposing a new job category of “multiplatform editor,” someone who can copy edit, post to the web, and design web pages, morning through night. Some editors and producers will roll into that category quickly, but we expect all copy editors and layout/makeup/slot editors to take on significant web responsibilities in the very near future.

Our copy and layout desks have served this organization exceptionally well over many, many years. Every reporter and line editor at the Globe can point at specific instances where eagle-eyed desk editors have spared us from unspeakable embarrassment. Night after night, the desk improves our copy and makes the paper gleam. The issue, though, is that we can’t afford the kind of print-centric copy editing operation that we have maintained for too long. We can’t afford it financially, and we can’t afford what it does to our larger enterprise, which is to implicitly put an undue focus on print when we’re otherwise making such significant strides emphasizing digital.

So what does it mean, practically? Details are being worked out, but it will mean a streamlined copy editing operation. It will mean that most stories will get fewer reads, placing more responsibility on reporters and line editors to make sure they’re in good shape. It means that rather than a copy desk, we will have a multiplatform production desk where stories are copy edited, posted on line, perhaps placed in the social stream, and later set on pages for print. The Sports desk is already doing this. Now we need to bring it to the Universal and Features desks.

Since we spoke about our digital ambitions in April, progress has been steady. We’re up about 15 percent in page views from this time last year, when we had a record-breaking summer. We’re posting far more stories far earlier in the day, including hefty enterprise stories slated for the next day’s print front page. Our digital first reporters have made a deep and meaningful mark in terms of tone, speed, and quality. Our newsletters in sports and politics are uncommonly well done and popular. And in truth, ever more reporters and editors are seeing themselves as digital first, which is exactly as it should be. This talented newsroom needs to focus even more on the journalism, not the platform. Readers will consume us in whatever form they choose.

But we need to do more. We need to be crisper in our execution of stories. We need to continue to hire more reporters and graphic artists who are native to the web. We need to go department by department, looking to redirect our talent and focus to digital – meaning that jobs will likely change in the coming weeks and months. We need to further break the long-held rhythms of a print operation. We need to be more thoughtful and structured in how we roll out our enterprise, our most widely read work. On that last point, Jason Tuohey has developed a release schedule that will help guide us every day, dictating when enterprise is put online and in the social stream to maximize readership. Jason and David Skok will be meeting soon with department heads and web editors to elaborate.

Amid this transition, the realities of the industry dictate that more cuts be made, and we’re looking around the newsroom and across the company, always with an eye to protect our journalism. We’ve frozen most open positions, though not all, throughout the building. There have already been layoffs in other parts of the building, and those will continue. We’re looking at some modest page reductions in the newsroom. We’re cutting back on freelance spending, which the page reductions will make easier.

All of this is an effort not only to live within our means, but to create a sustainable news organization, one that depends far more on digital subscriptions, where revenue is rising, than on print advertising, where our industry faces inexorable declines. In this effort, we are well positioned for success. The company has no debt. We have no pension obligations, which were left with the New York Times. We don’t have an owner looking to ratchet up margins. We have an innovative spirit. We have a deep, deep reservoir of talent and ambition. We’re simply looking to turn a modest profit, which the ownership will then invest in the enterprise.

On so many fronts here, we’ve already seen significant progress. Print circulation has been largely stable, with nominal declines. In terms of digital circulation, we have more subscribers than any other news organization outside of New York – and those readers are paying more money for a subscription than any other place besides the Times or Wall Street Journal. The site reads and looks terrific, with an increasing emphasis on web-only graphics and stories, work that thrives in the moment and is geared to our online readership.

For that matter, your work in the paper has been equally compelling. In fact, many of our investments have paid off, not in jackpot fashion, but in upward movement. The standalone Business section has been a major hit with readers and advertisers. The premium Sunday magazines are leading to a major revenue increase from last year. Some big-ticket advertisers are pushing to bring Capital back to a freestanding section in September, which we’ll likely do. Sunday Travel and Address are two absurdly readable sections that have succeeded in stemming declines or are seeing category increases. Sunday Arts is a source of weekly pride and reader enjoyment. For the first time, regional and national brands are partnering with us in novel, cross-platform advertising campaigns that include event sponsorships.

And then there’s the daily journalism – accountability reporting, narrative writing, elaborate beat reporting, stories that inform and entertain. We have set the agenda with our even-handed yet penetrating coverage of the Olympics bid, from birth to this week’s death. Nobody’s been better at chronicling the downfall of the Red Sox and the meaning of Deflategate. Nobody has more accessible and insightful critics. Our DC bureau has reported and written like a dream, from Vienna to Iowa. Our Tsarnaev trial coverage caught the attention of the world. Exceptional online presentations and graphics, from Pedro Martinez to the impact of global warming on the Arctic Ocean, are becoming wonderfully commonplace. The list could go on. Which is to say, again, the business model for journalism may be broken, but the journalism, specifically your journalism, is not.

Change is exciting, but the nasty sibling of change is uncertainty, and that can be scary as hell. Please remember that this newsroom has accomplished extraordinary journalism in the face of enormous uncertainty for many years running. We’ve been threatened with closure. We’ve been twice put up for sale – before fortunately landing with a deeply committed owner. We, like everyone else, have seen significant staff reductions. And through it all, you’ve created cutting edge and thriving websites. You’ve won Pulitzer Prizes and every other award under the sun. You produce one of the most thoughtful and provocative daily reports in the nation. The next couple of months will carry another dose of pain, again in the departure of prized colleagues. But please don’t doubt that we’ll emerge as a healthy and forward-looking enterprise, primed for continued excellence.

I’ll be in the Winship Room next Tuesday at 11, 2, and 6 to hear your thoughts and take your questions. I’m of course available any time before then; just reach out. Meantime, thanks as always for all you do.

Brian

In other Boston Globe news today….

The memo to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Guild members:

From: Jon Silver
Date: Tue, Jul 28, 2015 at 5:34 PM
Subject: IMPORTANT INFORMATION REGARDING BUYOUTS

Dear Guild members:

The rumored buyout — euphemistically referred to as “Cheetos” in some quarters — is finally here.

Despite the best cost-cutting efforts of the Post-Gazette’s unions during the last round of contract negotiations, BCI once again believes that weak revenue and a difficult advertising climate have created economic conditions dire enough to require thinning the newsroom.

As a result, if you are receiving this email, you are one of the 120-odd Guild members eligible for a buyout that Guild leaders hammered out with the company over the past several weeks. You are eligible if you have at least three years of service and your age and years of service total at least 42. As always, the goal of a voluntary buyout program is to eliminate the company’s need for layoffs.

This email is a preliminary notification; please look to your mailboxes at home over the next several days for an 8 1/2 x 11 PG envelope that will include the formal buyout packet and a cover letter.

Here are the key points:

* The buyout is 1.5 weeks of pay for every year of service up to a maximum of 39 weeks of pay (at 26 years of service)
* Despite the Guild’s best efforts, there is NO health insurance as part of the buyout
* Payments will be monthly
* The company will NOT deduct the usual 10% wage diversion, but it WILL deduct the typical 2% to shore up the Guild’s pension plan
* Any payments for unused and/or accrued vacation are entirely separate from the buyout and are typically paid along with the employee’s final paycheck
* The company reserves the right to deny the buyout to an eligible employee
* The buyout is open to Guild members as well as managers
* The maximum number of participants in the buyout program is 21
* Former Pittsburgh Press employees do NOT get their Press time counted as part of their years of service, which is the same as in previous buyouts (so all former Press employees will basically have 22 years of service, or 33 weeks of pay).

To put things in perspective, this is the most lucrative buyout package we have negotiated for the newsroom in roughly a decade, and it is 50% richer than the last one offered.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT THE TIMETABLE

As you will read in your buyout packet, if you wish to be considered for the buyout, you must fill out the enclosed application form and submit it to Sue Smith by 5 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 7, 2015. THIS IS MERELY AN EXPRESSION OF INTEREST, NOT A BINDING OBLIGATION. However, it is a critical document. If you have even the slightest inkling you might be interested in a buyout, you ABSOLUTELY MUST hand this in. If you do not, no changes of heart will be entertained after the above-listed deadline, and you will no longer be eligible for the buyout.

After Aug. 7, you will have 45 days to formally sign up for the buyout. Once you submit the paperwork during that 45-day period, if you change your mind you will have seven days to revoke it before the buyout becomes final. The company’s goal is to have the buyout completed with people out the door by Sept. 29.

The Guild and Human Resources will jointly hold two informational meetings Aug. 5 and Aug. 6 (next Wednesday and Thursday) at 6 p.m. each day here in the new Crystal Palace.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Colleagues, we wish that buyouts were unnecessary. We were distraught to learn that the newsroom would not be spared cuts after all, even after 18 months of contract negotiations, nearly a decade without a raise and tremendous cost savings to BCI through job reductions in the trade unions. However, reality is what it is. Decisions to reduce staff are entirely up to the company. All we can do is try to negotiate the best buyout package possible. We believe we have done that. Our contract language provides that the company may offer voluntary incentives, not that they must do so. The only other option for the company would be to go to layoffs, which would trigger our strong security language and necessitate cuts that would be painful to all. We hope that this package will be beneficial for those of you already thinking about retirement or contemplating other job possibilities.

As always, please feel free to contact Mike or Jon with any questions in advance of the informational meetings.




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