Guild official worries today’s Free Press will look like ‘gold standard’ after buyouts

M.L. Elrick, vice chairman of the Free Press unit of the Detroit Newspaper Guild, says he’s worried about the talent the paper will lose after its next round of buyouts. On Monday, management offered buyouts to 155 people at the Free Press, the Detroit News and the Detroit Media Partnership, which oversees their joint business operations.

In an email interview, Elrick said:

While I applaud the company for finding a humane, even generous, plan to reduce costs, I dread thinking of the experience and institutional knowledge that we will lose. I am also concerned that those who remember what the Free Press once was — a dynamic newspaper with a landmark building, bureaus all over the world, scintillating columnists and page after page stuffed with fun and fascinating stories and features — are disappearing. We’re still doing great work, despite the challenges, but I shudder to think that for every new employee, the diminished Free Press of today will be considered the gold standard against which they measure the newspaper in the future.

Elrick also wonders how the buyouts will affect diversity at the Free Press. Several news organizations, including The Washington Post, The Times-Picayune and the Philadelphia Daily News, have seen a decrease in newsroom diversity this year due to staff reductions.

“One of the great casualties of the newspaper economic crisis has been staff diversity. We used to hear about it all the time. Now? Never,” Elrick said. “It is, of course, possible that folks talked about diversity when I was out of earshot, but it’s definitely not like it was. It seems these days that bosses mainly care about color when it comes to inks: red, black and green.”

Here’s the memo that Free Press Editor and Publisher Paul Anger sent to staffers Monday.

This is to make you aware that the Free Press is offering a voluntary Early Retirement Opportunity Program (EROP) to some employees who are at least 56 years old and have completed 20 years of service as of June 30, 2012. The program is also being announced at the Detroit Media Partnership and the Detroit News.

The early retirement offer to Free Pressers is completely voluntary and is being made across all bargaining-unit job classifications and NBU job groups to employees who meet the eligibility requirements. For some jobs, we do expect to limit the number of employees we can accept into the EROP, based on the needs of the newsroom and the demands of producing a robust report on all platforms.

The offer includes two weeks of pay per completed year of service, with a maximum of 52 weeks. The payment will be made by continuing the person’s salary through the number of eligible weeks. During that period, health insurance will also continue, on the same basis as that of an active employee.

Those eligible to participate in the EROP will receive a letter within the next day. Eligible employees will have 45 days to consider whether they desire to be included in the EROP. At the end of that period, we will review the list of employees who have offered to be included in the program and will notify employees whether their offers have been accepted.

Free Pressers who have contributed much over the years may find this program an attractive way to make retirement possible, and we’re pleased to make it available. If you have any questions, please contact Human Resources.

Thanks, Paul

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