People working at The Ann Arbor News are facing some life-changing decisions today: This morning, management at The News and all seven other newspapers owned by the Newhouse family in Michigan announced a massive round of buyouts and plans to consolidate some operations in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.
Paperwork for the buyout won’t be given to employees until Friday, according to several sources. But in broad strokes, they were told that most employees in the newsroom will be offered buyouts, which will likely include two weeks of pay for every year of service and some kind of health care coverage. Some of the people eligible for the buyout need only have a minimum five years of service. It’s unclear if that will apply to all buyout offers. People who don’t take the offer risk being reassigned to another paper.
Copy editors, page designers and graphic artists – essentially, the production staff – are being told that if they don’t accept a buyout, they’ll have to work from the Grand Rapids Press office. The Press is the largest of the Newhouse papers in Michigan. Advertorial products will be centralized at the Kalamazoo Gazette. Other papers in the group are the Jackson Citizen Patriot, Flint Journal, Bay City Times, Muskegon Chronicle and Saginaw News. The Newhouse holdings also include Michigan Live, which operates an online presence for all the papers, and the Michigan Business Review weekly publications.
Part-time employees are not eligible for a buyout, and do not enjoy the benefit of the job pledge given to full-time staffers, which is essentially a no-layoff policy. If part-timers are let go, however, they apparently will be given severance pay.
It’s unclear how many people will take the buyouts or what the target is for staff reduction. A previous buyout offer two years ago and reductions from attrition have significantly reduced the staff size during that period.
The News also recently announced plans to close its Ypsilanti bureau on Michigan Avenue later this month. And plans are underway to slash newsprint costs by cutting the number of sections in the newspaper, dramatically reducing the number of pages and consequently the amount of content published.
Like other traditional news publications nationwide, The Ann Arbor News has struggled with declining advertising revenue and circulation, coupled with increased newsprint and personnel costs. (I’ve written about the situation and its impact previously.) Because the Newhouse newspapers have maintained a lifetime job pledge for full-time employees – even in a challenging economy – the paper has been buffered to some extent from the epidemic of layoffs and buyouts seen elsewhere, including in the Detroit market.
But knowing that they’re not alone doesn’t make it easier for remaining employees. They’ve been running on fumes for a long time, asked to do more work with fewer resources. It hasn’t been an easy work environment, to say the least – even with the job pledge.
My heart goes out to my former colleagues, many of whom will be upending their lives over the next few weeks in ways they never imagined. As I’ve written and said before, there are many talented, hard-working people at The News – journalists who increasingly will not have the opportunity to reach their potential and help our local print newspaper thrive.
Other coverage: Former News sports columnist Jim Carty is writing about the buyouts on his blog, Paper Tiger No More.