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Buh-bye columnists: the buyout memo

A few more details from the Strib’s buyout memo, issued today:

♦ Sports, business and arts columnists and arts reviewers will get a good night’s sleep. Management specifically excludes them from participating in the buyout program. (The downside: this may mean going down with a bankrupt ship.)

♦ Speaking of bankruptcy, buyouts are lump sum — and “volunteers” better get checks cut right away. Call this the “Chicago Tribune” principle; several bought-out Windy City newsies discovered to their horror that they became unsecured creditors in the Trib’s bankruptcy. The Strib set a Jan. 5 deadline for buyout sign-ups, but threatens a mid-January bankruptcy filing; the window for a cashable check seems tight.

♦ Although management notes the program is “completely voluntary,” they have a largely unfettered right to reassign employees to new jobs. That’s at play in the Coleman and Kersten cases, but I don’t know about any others (including editorial cartoonist Steve Sack’s which I mentioned in the same post). If the bosses want you to go, and you don’t want to, you could find yourself working the Annandale night cops beat. Expect the newsroom’s guild to contest this within their contract’s limits.

♦ The numbers listed in the categories below are maximums; there may well be fewer layoffs in any individual category.

♦ Best blog headline reactiing to my story earlier today about Coleman and Kersten losing their columns: “And 97 percent of local blog content just evaporated,” from Truth v. the Machine.

Here’s the text, with excerpts where noted:

As you know, the Star Tribune has announced that it will be offering a voluntary separation program to certain employees.

The voluntary program is open to certain Newsroom independent employees, and to all Guild-represented regular employees in the following Departments: News, Interactive Media (Star Tribune.com), Editorial, Marketing Creative (Promotion) and Metro Circulation.

However, Guild-represented employees in the Imaging Center and Guild-represented columnists outside of Metro are not eligible for this Program. Temporary employees are also not eligible for this program.

Specifically, the following job caregories, including the number of volunteers Star Tribune will consider for each category, are as follows:

“A” scale Reporter and Editorial Writer — up to two

“A” scale Editorial Cartoonist — up to one

“A” scale Metro Columnist — up to three

“A” scale Copy Editor & Newsroom Systems Application Specialist — up to five

“A” scale Photographer and Videographer — up to three

“A” scale News Designer/Artist, “H” scale News Designer and “K” scale News Designer — up to four

All “H” scale job titles/categories, except News Page Designer — up to five but no more than two Team Leaders

“B” scale Reference Librarian & “C” scale Library Classifier — up to two

“F” scale Clerk/Receptionist — up to two

“I” scale Promotion Graphic Artist — up to one

“I” scale Promotion Copywriter — up to one

“J” scale Metro District Sales Manager — up to three

“T” scale Graphic Composing Tech — up to one

Newsroom Independent management positions — up to five

… one week base pay for each six-month period of continuous service … with a maximum of 40 weeks. Severance will be paid out in a lump sum payment and payment of up to three months of your COBRA premium for continued group medical and dental coverage under the Company’s group plan.

… If you are interesting in participating in the Program, you must complete, sign and return the attached Election Form by 5:00 p.m. January 5, 2009.

… Please note that even if you volunteer, it is possible that you may not be accepted for participation in the Program. Star Tribune reserves the right to limit the number of participants from any job position, category, function or department.

… It is important to keep in mind whether to participate in the Program and resign your employement is completely voluntary.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Doug Hamlin on 12/15/2008 - 04:19 pm.

    Up to five copy editors? I’m not surprised, but disappointed. Credibility is the only currency newspapers have, and copy editors are the protectors there of.

  2. Submitted by John Olson on 12/15/2008 - 04:52 pm.

    If the price goes low enough, would Sid be able to buy the Strib outright? 😉

  3. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 12/15/2008 - 05:30 pm.

    This seems a lot like the Chicago Tribune bankruptcy. Zell went private on borrowed money, then threw the debt on the media properties which couldn’t be profitable with debt service added. Avista bought the Star Tribune on borrowed money, …

    Newspapers seem to do fine in some other countries. This was never inevitable.

  4. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 12/15/2008 - 06:36 pm.

    It’s hard to see what actual value the Strib has. Deadtree publishing is still very much alive but the demand for huge printing presses is pretty that of scrap metal. Other than the real estate it’s hard to see what assets the Strib has other than talent and those presses which are only of value if you want to print a newspaper in the Twin Cities. (Anyone want to figure out the cost of taking apart, transporting and reassembling those presses, or how many are or will shortly be on the market?)

    The true value of the Strib is the value of its talent plus the rapidly depreciating value of their printing equipment. In other words, the Strib isn’t worth any more than an ad agency. Once the talent walks out the door, you ain’t got nothing ‘cept office furniture.

    It would be great if the new Congress passed legislation making it easy for employees to buy bankrupt newspapers (or any kind of business). Employee-owned newspapers could survive the transition from deadtree to pixel-based journalism.

  5. Submitted by Chip Drewry on 12/16/2008 - 04:12 pm.

    Whatever you guys here at MinnPost do, please, please,please. Do not bring Nikolai Colmanov here to do a column.

  6. Submitted by John Fitzgerald on 12/23/2008 - 12:20 pm.

    Sorry I’m late on this thread, but I have to add that I covered Annandale night cops back in the day and it’s not such a bad job. Kersten or Coleman might enjoy it as well.

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