Times-Picayune staff memo to editors: ‘Will there be quotas for online entries?’ + 60 more questions

New Orleans Times-Picayune staffers are expected to start hearing next week how their jobs will change — if they have jobs — once the newspaper shifts to printing only three days a week with an emphasis on digital publishing. Today, staffers sent an open letter to editor Jim Amoss and online editor Lynn Cunningham with questions they want the company to answer “in writing before anyone is asked to attend an individual meeting concerning their employment status.” Among their questions:

  • Who will decide which employees get job offers and how those decisions will be made
  • Whether reporters will be paid based on how many posts they write or how many page views they get
  • Whether any bureaus will remain open
  • What will become of photography and graphics departments
  • Whether Amoss will direct news coverage, how long he plans to stay, and who will succeed him

The questions reflect concern about how the news operation will handle complicated stories requiring several days’ work and government coverage that may not get as many page views as other stories:

If compensation is based on or influenced in any way by the number of clicks, what safeguards, if any, will be in place to avoid a slide to the sensational, to avoid dissension among reporters/content producers with similar job descriptions?

Mr. Amoss, under this compensation scenario, how would [you] anticipate dealing with low morale among staff members whose job it is to focus on government and other areas of coverage that are not as popular online on a day-to-day basis?

In a staff memo sent Thursday, Amoss tried to dispel employees’ fears about their future pay and reporting resources.

The complete letter from the staff follows.

TO: Jim Amoss, Lynn Cunningham

FROM: Editorial employees of The Times-Picayune

RE: Questions concerning reorganization, layoffs

DATE: June 1, 2012

The following are questions conceived by several employees of The Times-Picayune. We ask that you, Advance executives and/or members of the Newhouse family provide answers to all company employees in writing before anyone is asked to attend an individual meeting concerning their employment status. The questions are divided topically, the first category dealing with the employment transition, compensation and benefits, the second concerning operations of the new Advance enterprises.

*TRANSITION, EMPLOYMENT, BENEFITS***

Who will conduct the upcoming one-on-one meetings?

Who will decide/has decided whether an employee gets an offer of continued employment? On what basis is that decision made?

Who will decide/has decided compensation packages for those offered employment with one of the new companies?

How long will an employee have to consider a continued employment offer?

Must an employee sign in writing their intentions? At what point will Advance Publications consider that decision binding? Please disclose a copy of any form an employee will be expected to sign in order to obtain severance.

What is the severance plan? Please disclose the formula and terms in writing.

Please disclose an organizational chart of NOLA Media Group, along with job titles and descriptions, including the number of each position and where they will be based.

For reporters/content producers, will any factor of compensation be the number of online entries under the employee’s name? The number of hits those items receive? Please explain whether these “pay-per-click” or “pay-per-post” factors are part of base pay or a bonus structure.

Will employees who are now hourly remain so in commensurate jobs? Will the pay week be 37.5 hours or 40 hours? Please describe shift structure. Can employees who accept similar positions also expect to work hours comparable to their current jobs?

Please explain whether each of the following will be part of compensation packages in the new company, including the terms as compared to existing Times-Picayune policy: health insurance, 401(k) match, automobile stipend, personal phone stipends, and reimbursement of on-the-job expenses?

Please address, specifically, the employee contribution rates for health insurance. Will it increase upon launch of the new companies? Is so, by how much?

Please address, specifically, parking expenses for downtown employees.

Will an employee’s accrued sick time, vacation rights and any health benefits (BENNY account balance, health savings account balance), as determined by their tenure with The Times-Picayune, be honored by the new companies?

What is the company’s understanding of whether existing pensions for active employees will be honored? What are the changes, if any, to pension eligibility and benefits because of the reorganization?

Will qualified employees be able to collect a pension earned as a Times-Picayune employee while still working for one of the new companies?

Will severance be paid in lump sum or in weekly installments?

Are health care benefits extended through a severance period?

With The Times-Picayune ceasing to exist as a corporate entity, are severed employees eligible to extend their existing health insurance policies under COBRA?

Are the severance terms the same for employees who do not receive an offer of continued employment and those who reject an offer?

Can employees who are departing choose to have vacation paid out at the conclusion of their employment or will the company force them to use vacation in advance of their termination date?

Can an employee who accepts a severance ever be rehired by either of the new companies? Is there a waiting period?

*OPERATIONS OF THE NEW FIRMS***

Mr. Amoss, you will be chief executive of NOLA Media Group. Does that mean you will direct overall news coverage? If so, how involved will you be?

In Alabama, an unnamed media company, which appears to be the new equivalent of NOLA Media Group, posted a job application solicitation for “Director of State News.” It read:

In the Director of State News role, you will lead coverage of a passion topic for our audience, college football, and you’ll be doing it in a digital role where you’re not tied to the planning and daily grind of print. As Director of State News, you’ll be tasked with growing online audience in sports coverage and also re-inventing statewide enterprise reporting for our digital news venture. Your goal will be to drive page views for college sports and other content that garners statewide interest, such as the environment, big industry and politics. If you enjoy a fast-paced environment where the deadline is immediate, you love news and sports in particular, and you have an entrepreneurial spirit and a make-it-happen attitude, then we want to hear from you!

While we are not at liberty to disclose our company name until you have been fully qualified, we are a private media company in a major market in the Southeast U.S.

To be a good fit for the Director of State News opportunity you will have:

7+ years experience in print and digital media, with some experience as a department head or editor.
A proven ability to lead and manage a team that is spread across multiple locations.
Strong business acumen and analytical ability, with a proven ability to manage change throughout the organization.
Great communication and presentation skills, and the ability to collaborate effectively with a variety of stakeholders.
An interest in sports, and a desire to spend a good deal of your time on sports news.
The willingness and flexibility to work outside of traditional office hours as needed to get the job done.

You’ll travel about 30% of your time to meet with the teams in our hubs and bureaus.

This follows what Mr. Amoss has said about Advance-wide strategy. Given your comments, Mr. Amoss, and this advertisement for what appears a top editorial position in Alabama, please describe how news coverage fits into NOLA Media Group strategy?

Please describe zoning strategy. Which bureaus, if any, will remain open? Will any new bureaus be launched? If so, where?

On a day-to-day basis, when a reporter/news gatherer/content producer has an idea, who will he or she talk to about it? Who will do front-end and intermediate editing?

If an idea involves a complicated or time-consuming reporting strategy, will it be approved? What if it means several days without any or many posts under the reporter’s online byline?

Will there be quotas for online entries?

If compensation is based on or influenced in any way by the number of clicks, what safeguards, if any, will be in place to avoid a slide to the sensational, to avoid dissension among reporters/content producers with similar job descriptions?

Mr. Amoss, under this compensation scenario, how would anticipate dealing with low morale among staff members whose job it is to focus on government and other areas of coverage that are not as popular online on a day-to-day basis?

Who will edit online articles? Will any stories be conceived, reported and edited with the print edition in mind or is that medium absolutely secondary?

Will reporters/content producers have any influence over NOLA.com design, features and content placement?

Who will decide what the print edition looks like? For print stories that are effectively compilations of items already published online, who will do the aggregation and compiling? If it is not the original reporter/writer, will the writer have input into the final print version? Will he/she even be made aware or must he/she await the paper on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday mornings?

What will become of the photography and graphics departments? Will their work be a component of our online presentation or do reporters now become photographers with the Droids that the company issued in 2010? What will become of the copy desk?

Will employees face any formal evaluation? On what terms? On what schedule?

How would compensation and benefits at NOLA Media Group be influenced by the fact that the overwhelming share of revenues – print advertising and paid circulation – will, in our understanding, flow to another legal entity? Will that negatively affect NOLA Media Group employees?

Mr. Amoss: How long do you plan to stay? Who do you anticipate as your successor? If you cannot offer a name, what is your appreciation for whether the ownership family would hire someone with print newsroom experience or whether they would prefer the Cindy Martin model being implemented immediately in Alabama?

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  • Anonymous

    Mary Hebert, Which questions were answered and what were those answers?

  • mary hebert

    Like everything else that has happened thus far, why should I be surprised that I am learning of this via the Internet? Who exactly contributed to this memo? Some of these questions were answered in the meeting I attended on May 24.