Newsroom leader on Strib’s ‘six weeks to bankruptcy’ memo

Just got off the phone with Star Tribune Newspaper Guild leader Graydon Royce.

Publisher Chris Harte, who sent what I’m now calling the “six weeks to bankruptcy” memo Tuesday afternoon, wasn’t at a meeting Royce and other Guild leaders shortly before the communication was released. Instead, the Guild types found representatives of the Blackstone Group — the Strib’s “restructuring consultant” — and “a couple, three lawyers,” Royce says.

Management, which seeks $20 million in cuts from the Strib’s unions, met its major locals separately. I asked Royce if he received the newsroom’s expected share; he declined to comment.

The question for readers, of course, is how many journalists will be left after the wreckage clears.

Not knowing the cuts’ specific breakdown makes what follows an exercise in speculation, but there are some reference points worth knowing.

The Strib had a $25 million newsroom budget before the Guild accepted a 10 percent cut this summer. At the time, management stressed it did not want to lose bodies. That’s mostly how it worked out.

Newsroom troops found management $2.5 million via a 16-month pay freeze and 1 percent hikes at the back end of the three-year deal. Out-of-pocket healthcare costs rose. There was a loosening of seniority in return for mandatory buyouts.

If the newsroom is being asked to take a bigger pounding now, fewer bodies seems inevitable. In the last big round of buyouts in 2007, newsroom headcount fell from 380 to 300. That sort of drop could happen again.

But if the newsroom cuts are somehow smaller than this summer’s — and again, management has aggressively targeted drivers, mailroom workers and pressmen recently — the Guild may get the unsavory choice of job reductions, actual salary cuts, or a blend.

That is, of course, if labor wants to go there at all. I asked Royce if he accepted Harte’s hair-on-fire paradigm, which also includes $10 million in cuts from non-union sources.

“I’m not passing judgment on that, but you look around and see what’s happening in the business world, the stock market, lending market,” he says. “Those judgments lead to me to say these are perilous economic times, especially in a distressed industry.”

Expect more this week and labor leaders meet with their members.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Aaron Petty on 12/02/2008 - 09:28 pm.

    I just need to know if Sid will make the cut.

  2. Submitted by B Maginnis on 12/03/2008 - 02:39 pm.

    Like the auto industry with their union albatross, the Strib must re-invent itself without the ridiculous burden of the “Guild”.

    Why in heaven’s name does a newspaper need / have a “Guild”?

    Radio doesn’t. TV doesn’t. Magazine publishers don’t. The internets are union free.

    What makes some scribe in a dying newsroom any different from any other “content” provider in the media?

  3. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 12/03/2008 - 07:28 pm.

    Why does anyone need to make a living wage? Health Care? Sick Leave? Maternity Leave? 40 hr week? Vacation time? (It’ll only be wasted on children’s activities.) For that matter why are we wasting money on schools when those kids could be out working? Dump those unions and lets get back to business here. Five six bucks an hour is good enough for lazy ass reporters, truck drivers, printers, whomever. More is just less for management and stock holders: the real strenght of any business.

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