Jobs Cuts At USA Today

From the Associated Press:

USA Today, the highest circulation newspaper in the country and the flagship of McLean's Gannett Co., announced plans Thursday to eliminate about 45 newsroom jobs.

The job losses reflect a cut of almost 9 percent to a current newsroom staff of about 500, USA Today spokeswoman Alexandra Nicholson said. They will be scattered throughout news, money, sports and lifestyle sections.

In a memo to staff, USA Today Editor Ken Paulson said the paper hopes to reduce the staff through voluntary buyouts, but layoffs are possible.

"It's unfortunate that we have to take these steps, particularly when our newspaper circulation is growing," Paulson said in the memo. "Unfortunately, revenue has not kept pace and we're now facing the same cutbacks that so many other news organizations have already experienced."

Like other newspapers, USA Today has struggled with declining revenue as advertisers shift spending to the Internet. So far this year, the company has reported quarterly revenue drops at the paper ranging from 1 to 8 percent.

Unlike other papers, though, its circulation numbers have held strong. According to figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations released earlier this month, USA Today was one of only three papers among the 20 largest in the nation to report circulation increases in the last six months, along with the Los Angeles Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

By Dan Beyers  |  November 16, 2007; 8:14 AM ET
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Seems like USA Today is using smoke-and-mirrors language. How ironic that a newspaper editor/company is using less than accurate language to describe this so-called buyout. The company is only offering two weeks of pay per one year of service. And there is some strange arrangement being laid out for younger online workers which raises all kinds of red flags. This buyout seems more like a cheap severance package for those taking voluntary layoffs more than an generous buyout. It's another trick. Another way of making ruthlessness appear sympathetic. Also interesting that the newspaper is gaining in circulation yet laying people off who help build readership. The circulation department and editorial staffs are doing their jobs. Maybe the people who aren't performing well in other departments should lose their paychecks. That includes the six and seven-figure income top managers who sit in their glass tower. From what I know from friends and have read, the whole situation at USA Today has been in decline for several years. And the company as a whole is in a deceitful mode that seems to be snowballing at a record rate. When will "corporate America" learn that it isn't the layoffs, salary or hiring freezes that create a toxic environment... it's the lies that do the real damage and eventually reduce even the most might companies to second-rate outfits. From the few people who I know in the Northern Virginia area who have worked for USA Today, the situation there sounds dire. The fancy building is nothing more than an illusion. The current ad campaign promoting the newspaper is almost laughable. "We're all in this together." Oh really? Who is this we? Not the folks who got laid off. Not the folks who didn't get fired and who will now work even harder to fill in for their lost coworkers. And the credibility of the journalism that comes from the McLean office will now be questioned. Good luck, USA Today, attracting top journalists. It's not like people were flocking to work their before, were they? The company that owns USA Today has made classic mistakes for years, but as usual, the little guy is the one who will pay. Hey, USA Today management, how about a little more truth and explanation about why revenue is down? My guess is that greed and gross mismanagment are the reasons why the layoffs are coming and the deteroriation of all its products, including it's online site, will go the way of GM, AOL and other once mighty and innovative companies. USA Today editors will lose their newsroom if they keep blaming this vague other forces for these reductions. Within 5-10 years, USA Today will lose all credibility it worked for many years to build (I've actually been ready the paper the last few years) because lies have a way of catching up to even the most prosperous corporations. USA Today is just another example of corporte America at is worst, not just because of these layoffs, but because of the way business is done through this mega media company. Gannett, the parent company, is the plague of all media companies, according to my journalist friends. Gannett's dirty laundry is no longer a secret. Large-scale layoffs aren't just going to get lost in the news of other media troubles. A new light will be shined on the towers along the Dulles toll road. Sad that journalism was once somewhat exempt from all the corportant nonsense, but is now a part of the machine. Editors with backbone won't accept this. Reporters who are the naive types, need to smell the coffee and stand up for their profession. While not a journalist myself, I have a lot of respect for what the honest media ideally means to this country. If newspapers just become another arm of empty suits, we all lose something as a democracy.

Posted by: NeilT | November 17, 2007 12:04 AM

I have to agree whole-heartedly with NeilT. Three days prior to this announcement, layoffs occured throughout the rest of the paper, including three in the Information Technology group, where two senior analysts working for the group that directly supports the paper's publishing system were cut, with no buyout offered (both had under 15 yrs with the paper). The other IT layoff was in Planning and Fulfillment; that person had over 17 yrs with the paper and was also NOT offered the buyout, though by Editorial standards he was eligible.

Another sad fact: Neither of the direct managers involved were told their direct reports were being laid off - they found out AFTER the fact. Real classy!

Posted by: ITPubGuy | November 23, 2007 5:35 PM

Forty-three of the 45 buyouts were obtained. That apparently will suffice, according to the editor of the paper. There will be no layoffs for the time being. However, things will never be the same at USA TODAY. Folks who are staying, who didn't qualify for a buyout, are already looking for the exit door. Trust is broken in the newsroom, first by merger-mania (and gosh, if this isn't one of the worst-handled mergers of all time, I don't know what is) and now staff reductions. The top managing editors are already giving pep speeches about the remaining staff having to work harder, be positive, etc. A lot of good people took the buyouts and ran. Unfortunately, lesser-talented folks didn't. The mood is dreary, although the managers will never admit to that because they don't see it. Many of them were surprised by the folks who took the buyouts, meaning many of them continue to stick their heads in the sand and are so disconnected from their staffs that it's scary. Some of the buyout-takers were considered top employees. In fact, at least two were Employees of the Year in recent years. They were thought to be engaged, content and great proponents of the paper, and in some ways were. Yet, now we see how deeply the discontent was and is at USA Today. It's ashame that the powers that be are bent on speeding up the destruction of a newspaper that was just beginning to shine, at least editorially. Twenty-five years and done. I feel sorry for the remaining print staffers, of which I am one. We are second-class citizens compared to the online staff. It's horribly uncomfortable going to work every day, sitting with or near online folks who seemingly are salivating to put one of their own into your seat. The merger has been made worse by their being absolutely no plan. Upper management has thrown us together, seemingly with the intent of driving print staffers into the ground through humiliation and favoritism for our online counterparts. Print resources are drying up or are being transferred to online, yet there is no reduction in workload for the people putting out the newspaper. To say print journalists don't trust a single thing being said by upper management, is a gross understatement. We might smile and agree and try to play along in order to survive, but when our day comes (as it did for the volunteers who left), you will see the nation's newspaper plummet. My hats off to my soon-to-be former colleagues who said enough is enough. We all see the folly in this modern day gold rush. Is the future for online bright? Probably. Does the newspaper deserve or warrant this sort of death? No! Gannett is watching their flagship sink, and have bought into slick-talking thinkers who portray themselves as visionaries. Well, believe me, these folks aren't visionaries. It's the 11th hour, and if corporate doesn't step in and start to see through what is really going on, the paper will decay to the point that it will never recover. The variety of ways that the print operation is being assaulted boggles the mind. It's not just the staff reductions. It's the mind games. It's the lack of integrity in the newsroom. It's all the dead wood that is accumulating. Good people were leaving long before the buyouts. The level of talent remaining at USA Today is at an all-time low. People who wouldn't have been hired 15 years ago are stumbling through their jobs each and every day. Even if times are bad financially, this all (the merger, buyouts, etc.) could have been handled much better. But there is no leadership in the newsroom, only mistrust and fear. And that fear is also embedded in the managing editors who seemingly have little courage to fight the good fight. Honor escapes many USA Today editors. They only care about one thing and that's hanging on to their jobs at any cost. The very folks who could make a difference, remain silent.

Posted by: TS | December 7, 2007 12:06 PM

It's been a well-known fact for years that Gannett, and all its newspapers including USA Today, are not desirable places to work. Most who leave say it's the best thing they ever did in their careers. So the folks who took this buyout are already rejoicing, not because it's all that lucrative, but because they are just happy to be leaving a place that has lost its way, lost its honor and whatever common decency once existed there. USA Today, as the largest newspaper owned by Gannett, was once somewhat insulated from how the company ran its smaller properties. Now it has just been absorbed into the system and become unbearable for anyone with half a brain and ethical standards. As with most companies that are on the decline, it's the subtle things that will eventually lead to the downfall of this newspaper. The buyouts make the headlines, but what's going on in the mind of each employee is what will lead to the fall. Just as other U.S. companies have become second-rate, so will USA Today. It's sad, because journalist do generally want to do what is right. Gannett has done what so many companies do. They take the heart out of their employees. The company is blind to what is really eating at the core of the workers. No consultants, no surveys will get at the root of what is wrong at USA Today. No buyouts will make things better. What is wrong is right in front of the noses of the leaders, but they don't see it because they choose not to.

Posted by: HenR | December 7, 2007 12:18 PM

I worked for a Gannett outpost for 10 years.
Because upper management didn't know their heads from a hole in the ground, the paper lost money.
Was it my fault? No.
Did I lose my job? Yes.
Gannett is the most backward thinking company in America.
Instead of investing in Internet ventures, they continue to buy up small newspapers and run them into the ground.

Posted by: ScottEPhoto | December 7, 2007 4:22 PM

Another thing that's incredible is the fact that it's not about talented people working at Gannett; it's about who's the cheapest.
A friend of mine with over 24 years of service found out that after the first of the year, he will be without a job.
He's 52 and fortunately very talented.
Now the paper is left with only one talented full-time photographer and he's over 50.
Upper management has promoted so many people not based on talent but on how much ass they kissed.
Unfortunately, Gannett has created a monopoly on newspapers in smaller towns across America.
It's too bad because most of them have really good employees but crappy managers.

Posted by: ScottEPhoto | December 7, 2007 4:49 PM

Gannett editors are horrendous. They don't back their staff. They rise up based on everything except managerial ability. USA Today's are some of the least inspirational people I have ever known in any walk of life. Backwards doesn't begin to describe their lack of integrity. The ones who try to display some sort of honor are crushed by upper management. USA Today is truly a toxic place to work because of the underlying lack of talent and over-inflated egos of upper management, particularly top editors. Years of bad hiring and faulty promotions has driven this place into the ground. It's an ugly, ugly secret. The executives have no clue as to what is really going on in the newsroom.

Posted by: arniee | December 16, 2007 10:54 PM

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