Buyouts Hit The Ann Arbor News

Copy editing and design desks consolidating in Grand Rapids

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.


  1. November 12, 2008 at 3:06 pm | permalink

    I’ve never heard of a “lifetime pledge” of employment before (but I am wholly unfamiliar with newspaper and media jobs!) Is it like school tenure, where you get tenure after so many years (4 years at the district for us) and it’s very difficult to fire you?

    My heart goes out to your former colleagues, too, Mary (even though I don’t know any of them).

  2. By Steve T
    November 12, 2008 at 5:06 pm | permalink

    I was at the Ann Arbor News for more than a decade. I’m sure that the current woes will be attributed to “what’s happening in the newspaper business,” but the people running the joint deserve the lion’s share of the blame. Worst management I’ve encountered in my 30+ years in the work force. And my current employer is Chrysler. Circulation remained flat during an unprecedented surge in population in the area and the product was flat, too. During the newspaper war in Detroit the AAN had a golden opportunity to pick up readers and advertisers in the area between the two cities, many of whom found themselves identifying more with Ann Arbor than Detroit. Nope. The few attempts to capitalize on that were lame at best. And if you want an example of how well they understand the information revolution, take a look at their pathetic Web site — probably the worst in the business for a paper that size. They can’t entirely take the blame for that. I’m sure it’s dictated by the mothership. But they should’ve dug in their heels and said, “We CAN’T have a site this bad. This is Ann Arbor!” The locals could at least update it more frequently. Oh, well. I feel for the troops working there. Good people in a bad situation.

  3. By russms
    November 12, 2008 at 5:39 pm | permalink

    The lifetime pledge is not something you see in the media world; it’s unique to Newhouse-owned properties. Basically, Newhouse has implemented a no-layoffs policy for its full-time newsroom employees in exchange agreements that those employees not unionize. This is almost certainly the only reason that its papers have not resorted to layoffs and have instead cut costs with hiring and wage freezes and, especially, massive buyout campaigns.

    Also, Steve T. is right about the website. It’s awful! I don’t understand why newspaper chains don’t give their papers more independence with what their websites look like. Only Gannett has managed to put together a decent set of newspaper websites — but they’re devoid of content because Gannett’s newspapers all stink. Newhouse papers all have absolutely dreadful websites, and many don’t even have independent sites at all — they’re stuck on regional sites with sister papers, as is the case with the News.

  4. By JT
    November 12, 2008 at 7:17 pm | permalink

    I’ve never heard of a centralized copy desk before. That’s just weird.

  5. November 13, 2008 at 12:20 am | permalink

    Industrywide, more than 13,000 jobs have been cut at U.S. newspapers.

  6. By Leah Gunn
    November 13, 2008 at 7:39 am | permalink

    The AA News has stopped covering local government happenings, and now I understand why. I agree with the others that it is no doubt the fault of the “mothership” – and that also includes the gutless decision not to endorse in the Presidential race. Of course, I can’t express MY opinion because they refuse to print letters to their paper from elected officials, as well as people who are members of community boards and commissions.

    If you want to know what in going on in this area, you must read the AA Chronicle. Kudos to Mary & Dave and your guest reporters. This is the first time I have found that when I attend a meeting the report is accurate and thorough. And I love “Stop and Watch”, as well as the variety of topics covered. (It’s not all just meeting watch.)

    To everyone: go to “Tip Jar” and make a contribution to keep Mary and Dave in business!

  7. By Dave Askins
    November 13, 2008 at 8:37 am | permalink

    Would just like to note that the link Erica provides in comment 5 above goes to a custom GoogleMap of the U.S. with color-coded pushpins and is well-worth looking at. Here’s the link to the map of job losses at newspapers again.

  8. November 13, 2008 at 8:53 am | permalink

    Most newspapers seem not to realize that coverage of national and international affairs can be gotten for free (to the consumer) at any time of day online. The Ann Arbor News’ international coverage is never likely to be competitive with (for example) CNN. The one big opportunity newspapers have to attract readers is local coverage, and that seems like one of the first things cut.

  9. By IndustryInsider
    November 13, 2008 at 3:50 pm | permalink

    Regarding the comment about it “just being weird” to have a centralized copy desk in Grand Rapids, consider this: There are newspapers and other publications that now have some of their pages and ad design work being done by shops set up in India! There is an online news service in California that was experimenting with reporters IN INDIA phoning and covering small-town council/board meetings IN CALIFORNIA via teleconference. It is about nothing more than $$$$$ and how much corporate can save and how efficient it can be regardless of the quality of the product.

  10. By IndustryInsider
    November 13, 2008 at 3:56 pm | permalink
  11. By a reader
    November 13, 2008 at 5:23 pm | permalink

    I don’t know how the AA News decision not to endorse would be a Booth dictate since other Booth papers did endorse (some for McCain, some for Obama).

  12. By newzbizescapee
    November 14, 2008 at 4:31 pm | permalink

    Interesting google map, but I suspect it’s missing more than a few layoffs and cutbacks. For instance, the Toledo Blade staff shrunk massively during nasty negotiations. That still wasn’t enough for the company. They followed the departure of 40 newsroom people in 18 months with layoffs. That doesn’t show on the map.

  13. By Tim Martin
    November 14, 2008 at 7:47 pm | permalink

    Mary (and you, too, JC),

    Thanks for the updates.
    It’s making me sick to read about my former colleagues, and the decisions they will have to make.
    After 17 years at the Ann Arbor News, I left four years ago, and little did I know, it would be the best thing to happen to me.
    While I hang on here in South Florida (where things aren’t good, either, but at least seem stabalized for now), I will be thinking of all my former Newsies, and all those in the Booth chain.

    Best of luck.


  14. November 16, 2008 at 11:19 pm | permalink

    this story notes other newspaper cuts statewide

    Will online media report the obituary of newspapers?
    Posted on November 16th, 2008 by aribadler

    It seems that while newspapers are worried about online media killing them, the reality is they are killing themselves and online media will be reporting about it.

  15. By Another Reader
    November 21, 2008 at 2:19 pm | permalink

    Strange times. Well, at least there’s, in my opinion, just about no better place to relocate (within the state) right now than Grand Rapids…

  16. By Miriam Meisler
    March 29, 2009 at 8:42 pm | permalink

    So glad to have discovered the
    Chronicle today – but still very
    sad about the loss of the Ann Arbor
    News. A newspaper keeps the
    community together. We should never
    have allowed our papers to be so
    dependent on advertising revenue.
    I heard that a bill has been
    introduced into Congress that
    somehow would enable newspapers to function
    as non-profit organizations.
    I think there are too many people without
    internet access to make this a functional
    substitute. A very sad time for
    Ann Arbor and the country.