Guild plans to fight layoffs of 19 Philadelphia journalists, after 21 take buyouts

Journalists at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com are learning this week whether or not they’ll be laid off. Twenty-one people have accepted the buyout offer, called “voluntary” but “some were under duress — as in management told them, ‘You’re going to be laid off and you can get a bigger payout if you sign,’ ” a Guild official told me. In addition, 19 people have been targeted for layoffs. In a new letter to members, Guild President Dan Gross and Executive Director Bill Ross say they will fight the layoffs.

The letter (in full below) rips into publisher Greg Osberg:

“Perhaps instead of killing stories he didn’t like about the sale of the company and trying to be seen as some sort of digital visionary by holding press conferences at the Academy of Natural Sciences, giving free rent to start-up companies who play ping pong on the 5th floor at 400 N. Broad, creating a poorly-launched tablet and worrying about apps that make a few dollars, Osberg should be focused on properly staffing the newspapers in a manner that will allow more copies to be sold.”

Spokesman Mark Block told WHYY’s Dave Davies, “This level of concern by the leadership was a surprise, because they’ve never approached Greg with any of these specific issues … he would be responsive to any meeting request that either Dan (Guild President Dan Gross) or Bill (Executive Director Bill Ross) would make.”

Managers met this morning to review the buyouts and then begin the involuntary layoff process. They will also “reassign workers to fill in gaps.”

Daily News cartoonist Signe Wilkinson was told last week that her job was vulnerable, even though the Inquirer’s cartoonist, Tony Auth, is taking the buyout and going to work at WHYY.

Pat Loeb, a reporter with the local CBS affiliate, checked in with Wilkinson yesterday:

“While I’m not taking the buyout, I am not sure what my position at the paper will be after all these cuts are made,” she said today.

The staff has rallied around Wilkinson, arguing that her unique voice is one of the paper’s chief selling points.

Two people tell me that Wilkinson’s job is now safe.

Who is leaving

Natalie Pompilio, who worked for the Daily News for two years as a general assignment reporter, confirmed via email that she was laid off, effective at the end of the month. “Obviously, I’m devastated. I’m going to miss the newsroom,” she said. She’d like to stay in journalism: “We’ll see what happens next,” she told Steve Myers by email.

Photojournalist Sarah Glover decided to take the buyout rather than being laid off. Glover, president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, said in a note to Facebook friends that she is “concerned that by the end of the staff reduction process at PMN this week that the newsrooms will take another step back to looking like 1962 rather than more like what a newsroom should look like in 2012.”

Ironically, in 1962, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Acel Moore was the first black hired by The Philadelphia Inquirer. Progress over the decades was all but washed away with the layoffs of 2007, when 30 blacks and Asians were laid off disproportionately out of a total of the 71 laid off. Who would of thought a simple catch phrase by the former Knight Ridder company would still resonate and hold true today… “Diversity. No Excuses.” Prior to this week’s staff reductions, there were already too few ethnic minorities at the papers and website. It’s embarrassing, particularly in a city that is majority minority. U.S. census data says 62 percent of the city’s 1.5 million residents are ethnic minorities. All news organizations should have staffs that represent the communities they serve. It is quite frankly a no-brainer, and a good business decision. I’m glad to see representation among women to be good, but ethnic minority representation is abysmal.

I was the sole woman of color on the photo staffs of the Inquirer/Daily News. I’m the first black woman to work as a photographer at the Daily News (2008 to present), and the second black woman to have been hired by the Inquirer (1999-2008). In the Philadelphia market, I believe I’m the only black woman working as a full-time photojournalist at a news organization.

Glover, who joined the Inquirer in 1999 and then moved to the Daily News in 2008, said her “most poignant video work was what [I] contributed to the 2010 Pulitzer Prize journalism led by Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker.” Her final assignment was photographing the Temple basketball team leave for the NCAA tournament yesterday. “A radio journalist said to one of the ballers walking by… slow down, I can’t get a shot with this camera,” she writes. “That to me speaks to the pressing need for photojournalists… you can’t hand a camera to a reporter and expect them to make photographs. It is a craft.”

Glover had her first paper route at age 9, and when she was 14 got a second part-time job to buy a camera — “my first SLR, a Nikon 4004s, and the rest was kinda like history. I’ve been making photographs ever since.”

The papers were originally aiming to eliminate 37 positions, which would have suggested 16 layoffs since 21 people took the buyout; however, the actual number is higher, with most of the layoffs affecting part-timers. The Guild criteria specifies that part-timers be laid off before full-timers and that the least senior staffers, within categories, be laid off before the more senior.

Inquirer business writer Diane Mastrull said by email, “It’s devastating. We are a completely stripped down version of ourselves at a time of ever-more competition.”

A staff meeting is expected today to announce who is affected by the buyouts and layoffs.

Newsroom changes

The papers are in the process of being sold, with two bids reported, but one receiving exclusive consideration — the one from a group formerly led by Ed Rendell but now headed by H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest. If the sale goes through, the papers will have their fifth owner in six years. The newsrooms are also in the midst of merging ahead of a move to the same physical space. In addition, they are transitioning to a new publishing system, with ongoing training under way.

In a letter to members, Guild leaders Gross and Ross say “enough is enough”:

Dear Guild member,

This morning the Guild received notice from Philadelphia Media Network that it plans to lay off 19 members on March 31.

Those targeted for layoff are: Two full-time Inquirer reporters, three part-time Inquirer reporters, four part-time Inquirer copy editors, one part-time Inquirer artist, one full-time Daily News reporter, one part-time Daily News reporter, three part-time Daily News copy editors, one part-time Daily News desk assistant, one Daily News part-time editorial clerk. and two part-time Philly.com multi-media content producers.

These layoffs come after 21 members applied for and were approved for voluntary separation. While many of the volunteers wanted to leave, others made the difficult decision to apply because they knew how vulnerable they would be in a layoff.

As per Article 28.1 of the Guild contract, layoffs are only to be made in the event of “good and reasonable cause,” and the Guild and company are to discuss the need for the layoffs. Over the next 15 days we will engage the company about why the layoffs are unnecessary. If they are still implemented we will challenge the layoffs through the contract’s grievance and arbitration procedure.

It is our position that between the significant savings of the salaries of the members who volunteered to leave, and the concessionary contract in 2010 that gave the new owners $6 million in cost cuts from our union, that enough is enough.

According to a recent Inquirer story, Philadelphia Media Network made a $4 million profit last year.

For the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com to remain a viable operation in the 24/7 digital media landscape we believe that more employees, not less are required.  Unfortunately CEO Greg Osberg, in efforts to make the books look more attractive to whatever investment group he has wrangled to buy the company, so long as they keep him on, believes that the region can be served with less journalists.

Perhaps instead of killing stories he didn’t like about the sale of the company and trying to be seen as some sort of digital visionary by holding press conferences at the Academy of Natural Sciences, giving free rent to start-up companies who play ping pong on the 5th floor at 400 N. Broad, creating a poorly-launched tablet and worrying about apps that make a few dollars, Osberg should be focused on properly staffing the newspapers in a manner that will allow more copies to be sold. The duplication of stories in both papers and the ongoing push to dump more and more content onto Philly.com will not solve any revenue problems.

Whether Osberg wants to admit it or not, the print editions of the Inquirer and Daily News, which he offensively labels “legacy products,” are responsible for generating more than 90 percent of the revenue.

Osberg speaks of something called “Project Liberty,” though nobody seems clear on exactly what that is. We believe our journalists should be given the liberty to continue working to serve the community that depends on us.

In solidarity,

Dan Gross, President,
Bill Ross, Executive Director,
and the Executive Board of the Newspaper Guild/Communications Workers of America Local 38010

Steve Myers contributed to this report.

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  • http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20120203002729AAKIhvK Overstock Coupon Code

    I would really use the term respected loosely when describing people who
    work for the Post or Daily News. Especially the Post. That “newspaper”
    is only a tiny step up from the National Enquirer.

  • http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20120203002729AAKIhvK Overstock Coupon Code

    I would really use the term respected loosely when describing people who
    work for the Post or Daily News. Especially the Post. That “newspaper”
    is only a tiny step up from the National Enquirer.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    We have the names of some people, but we’re not publishing them until we get confirmation directly from those involved. Hope to do those over the course of the day. –Julie

  • Anonymous

    Most of the layoffs affect part-timers? So what? Is that going to seriously harm the quality of the paper? The real question is who is taking the buyouts. Would be nice if poynter got a copy of that list.