Quarter of newsroom staff
fired in a bloodbath
by bankrupt Tribune Co.
Tears, cheers for departees
on a dark day at The Sun
Tribune Company reapers whacked their way through the Baltimore Sun newsroom Tuesday evening and Wednesday afternoon in a bloodbath of layoffs that decimated the staff – editors, columnists, photographers, copy editors, page designers and support personnel.
Except in the sports department, the reporting staff seemed to remain mostly intact – but with some alterations in duties as the company reorients the newspaper toward an online and local news focus.
As much as I expected (and in my last blog posting foreshadowed) new layoffs at The Sun, my former home of 40 years, the extent of the slaughter was unimaginable: At least 15 editors, and 40 other staffers. The Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild issued a statement saying Tribune was cutting 27 percent of the already reduced newspaper staff. Online accounts put the total number of layoffs as high as 61.
With names of the casualties mounting in back-and-forth Facebook messages and updates, it seemed like waiting for word on passengers after an airline disaster. And with messages received overnight here at The Real Muck, names of more apparent victims have been added to this account Thursday morning.
Little more than a week ago, new top editor Monty Cook gave a talk at Johns Hopkins University about how The Baltimore Sun was no longer a newspaper company and had to adapt to the digital age. Nonetheless, he singled out a few particular employees for praise – including my longtime friend and colleague Ann LoLordo who, as opinion editor, oversaw the editorial page and the online “second opinion” blog.
Tuesday evening, LoLordo, the newspaper’s former Jerusalem Bureau chief among other key reporting positions in her storied career, was among at least 15 management people ushered out the door. Accounts that these key editors – some, like Ann, having dedicated more than a quarter-century of their lives to the newspaper – were given 15 minutes to get out of the building and watched over by a beefed-up contingent of security guards could not be confirmed.
But clearly there was not much notice. Ann LoLordo was still listed atop Wednesday’s Opinion page, along with deputy opinion editor Larry E. Williams, who also was sent packing. Of the four news and opinion editors listed under the names of publisher/CEO Timothy E. Ryan and editor J. Montgomery Cook, only Larry Williams’ wife, deputy managing editor Marcia Myers, seemed to have survived the purge. The other deputy, Paul M. Moore, was told earlier that he is leaving – but not immediately and he apparently remained on staff Wednesday.
Forget the Derby
Sports reporter Bill Ordine had his tickets and reservations to cover the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, but instead was packing up his desk Wednesday afternoon. Reached by phone, Ordine said he had been expecting to cover the race but was not surprised at the sudden change in plans because “I was pretty low on the [Newspaper] Guild seniority list.”
A longtime sportswriter in Philadelphia, Ordine came to the Baltimore paper as an assistant city editor before going back to his specialty and a Guild- jurisdiction job. His byline topped the lede story, on horse racing safety, in Wednesday’s sports section.
Below the fold of the morning newspaper was popular sports columnist Rick Maese. With the Los Angeles Angels in town, Maese was writing about the team’s Western Maryland-raised pitcher Nick Adenhart, whose anticipated return would never happen. Adenhart was killed in a car accident three weeks ago, hours after pitching his first game of the baseball season for the Angels. It may have been Maese’s last column in The Sun.
Wednesday afternoon, Maese was back at work at Oriole Park doing an interview when he got the news of his layoff by telephone, according to accounts from colleagues at the newspaper.
Also getting the ax, according to various accounts: Sports columnist David Steele, and sports editors Ray Frager and George VanDaniker.
Other casualties, according to word trickling out through Facebook messages among friends and through telephone interviews, are at least eight members of the newspaper’s stellar photographic staff: editor Chuck Weiss; photographers Monica Lopossay, Glenn Fawcett, Chiaki Kawajiri, Liz Malby and Doug Kapustin; and photo technicians Danielle Bradley and Denise Sanders.
Shopping bags and tears
Ellie Baublitz, who put in 22 years and four months as a Sun editorial assistant after a few years as a community news freelancer, wore a spritely yellow outfit to work Wednesday, to “cheer people up” -- but having heard from a newsroom confidant of the Tuesday Night Massacre, she came prepared.
“I stuffed two shopping bags into my briefcase, just in case I needed them.”
About 2 p.m., as the newsroom awaited an expected announcement, Ellie and fellow editorial assistant Fay Lande were summoned by a top editor into his office and told of their layoffs.
Ellie came out in tears and, by one reporter’s account, “That really broke the newsroom up, when Ellie broke up.”
In a telephone chat Wednesday night, Ellie acknowledged the account as “pretty accurate,” and recounted how colleagues cheered and applauded staffers leaving the building after getting the same fate.
“It was pretty ugly down there,” Ellie said. “They probably did me a favor. The last couple of years have been really bad.”
For Ellie, that included the death of one of her three children and transfer by the newspaper from one suburban office to another, in shutdown after shutdown, until she was commuting from her home in rural Carroll County into the city each day.
She had an interesting spin on the timing of the layoffs. “Friday [May 1] starts the new vacation year, so they had to get rid of us before then. I know how the jackals work.”
After Ellie and Fay got the word, one reporter said, “it was like the Angel of Death walking around the newsroom.”
Designers done in
Staff artists Shirdell McDonald and Wes Harvey, former business editor Bernie Kohn, pop music critic Roshod Ollison, librarian Phyllis Kisner (40 years at The Sun)… all are said to be among the Tribune departees, as well as page designers Dave Zeiler (who also wrote an Apple a Day blog on Apple Computer news), Bill Wachsberger, Todd Windsor and Tracy Logsdon Dieter.
Wachsberger immediately fired off a Facebook message, saying: “it's done. i'm officially laid off and headed to o'sheas. good luck to the survivors.” Others joined the party at Mick O’Shea’s pub, celebrating what was left to celebrate – one another.
Bernie Kohn survived an earlier dismantling of his business section and its staff, and was overseeing what little investigative journalism remained at the paper. Until Monday, when his term in office ended, Kohn had been president of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.
Wednesday night, the copy desk was mostly vacant. Its chief, John McIntyre, who authored a highly-regarded Sun blog on editing and language, had been fired Tuesday night. According to an unofficial account from the newsroom, much of his current and former staff – some of my close friends in the newsroom, given my last six years there as night metropolitan editor – got the ax, among them: Mike Kane, Beth Hughes, Peggy Cunningham, Mark Fleming (copy editor on The Sun’s 1998 Pulitzer-winning Shipbreakers investigation), Paul Bendel-Simso, Jeffrey Landaw (who was on vacation in Prague). Also whacked: Connie Knox, former Guild president and longtime union activist.
However, the status of the copy editors remained murky, as all those listed appeared to have higher job titles and may have "bumping" rights to return to lesser status -- unfortunately, at the expense of colleagues with lesser seniority, newsroom sources said.
“There’s so few people [on the copy desk], I can’t tell who’s gone forever or who’s off,” a newsroom veteran said, quietly, in a brief telephone chat from the belly of the beast.
In his final posting for his blog at The Sun (http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog), McIntyre was gracious and eloquent despite being fired.
“I expect to continue blogging elsewhere, but you will no longer find me at my post here,” McIntyre ended. “In addition to colleagues who have been great fun, I have had the good fortune to collect a remarkable corps of loyal readers, and I salute you all with gratitude and affection. You have enriched my life.”
DCRTV.com appeared to have the first big listing of the toll of editors, which also included Patricia Fanning, who oversaw medical and science stories (and was held in highest regard by the reporters who worked with her); regional editor Jay Apperson and his counties editors Joe DeCarlo, Dan Clemens and Bill Caufield; and Eileen Canzian, a state editor and former reporter whose tenure at The Sun goes back three decades.
Fanning was said to be editing a story when she got the tap on her shoulder.
Who they gonna call?
Steve Auerweck, a longtime staffer who oversaw newsroom computer operations, was terminated – leaving no one instantly available to help reporters or editors unlock frozen stories or, in what he considered the most important element of his job, act as a liaison between the news operation and Information Technology departments.
So who they gonna call? “There’s the Help Desk in Orlando,” Auerweck said, adding that there was also “someone from IT” in the newspaper building during operational hours. “Clearly they made the decision that what I do can be handled by the Help Desk. It will work for some things; it will fall apart for others.”
Steve's first words after I reached him at home Wednesday night: "I didn't think they could shock me anymore, but they did."
High security for Exodus
Newspaper staffers confirmed that the added security Tuesday evening, as editors were canned, included a guard posted on the skywalk across Centre Street between the building and the employee garage.
“There were security guards stationed in the building and at the end of the bridge… different faces you don’t always see,” said DeCarlo, the editor for Anne Arundel County news. “Additional guards. You’ve got to stop and think, the people we’re talking about here -- nothing bad’s going to happen with that group. This is top- and mid-level management. It’s probably just procedure; they do this for any purge.”
Apperson met with DeCarlo and Clemens and told them he had been fired; they had been unable to find Caulfield, but learned soon after that he was in another office being told of his own termination.
Amid the growing turmoil and shock as colleagues gathered at desks of the departing, DeCarlo said he managed over about an hour and a half to pack up his stuff.
“When I walked out of the newsroom [Tuesday], I said to a couple of people, “The way we put out the paper Monday night will never happen again. It can’t be. Maybe Chicago [corporate home to Tribune and its flagship newspaper] thinks that’s a good idea. We’ll see.”
According to the Newspaper Guild, “Since Tribune acquired The Sun in 1999, the newsroom staff has been cut by more than 60 percent to currently 148 employees from roughly 420.
According to several newsroom sources, The Sun is expected to increase its dependence on content from Chicago – helped by a transition to a computer system that links all the newspapers in Tribune’s bankrupt empire. Some pages likely will have modules left open for local news which the remaining Sun staff will produce.
And that switch to the design style of the Chicago Tribune is coming soon to a newspaper near you.
Overnight messages since the initial "massacre" posting included this one from a friend still on the inside:
If you want a description of what it's like to be a survivor, you can use this unattributed quote:"It's a little like being the turkey who survives Thanksgiving but knows Christmas is a month away."