Friday, May 8, 2009

The Mourning Sun

Buttons, bumper stickers were party favors at union-sponsored wake for fired staffers.

Employees find no news
in publisher Ryan’s talk
on newspaper’s future

Closest executives come
to any layoffs apology is 'regret'
and 'could have been handled better'

In case you were wondering, there was no apology Thursday from top Baltimore Sun executives for the mass firings without notice last week of nearly a third of the news staff.

The question of an apology was posed at a companywide meeting in the newspaper building’s cafeteria Thursday morning and, according to several accounts from staff survivors who attended, the best that CEO/president/publisher Timothy E. Ryan and editor J. Montgomery Cook could offer was regret at the layoffs.

Employees crowded shoulder to shoulder for the meeting at which newspaper CEO/president/publisher Timothy E. Ryan was to present a vision of the future for The Baltimore Sun, and there was an undercurrent of anger evident in the audience. What Ryan had to offer, several said, was no more than contained in statements already issued by the company about the turn toward alternative platforms brought on by new technology.

“Basically, it was just BS,” one employee said later at another gathering – a wake, of sorts, held by the newspaper union Thursday night to honor and celebrate the careers of the more than five dozen people sent packing last week in the Tuesday evening and Wednesday afternoon bloodletting carried out under the watchful eyes of extra security guards brought in for the occasion.

Some of those fired, as noted in earlier postings at The Real Muck, had worked more than 30 years for the newspaper. The action partially targeted older, more experienced and higher-paid staffers, as the newspaper shielded others much less senior with moves into newly-created nonunion jobs.

According to another employee's account of the meeting, it was Ryan who said he regretted the way the layoffs were handled -- and that "had to be dragged out of him like blood from the proverbial stone."

"He said it 'could have been handled better' in 'some' instances. When pressed as to whether he would actually apologize to those former employees, he simply said, "That's my position," referring to the "handled better" statement."

Ryan confirmed at the cafeteria meeting that Monday, as reported here earlier, will be “Font Day” – when readers find the typographical style of The Baltimore Sun uniformly changed to match that of other newspapers in the Tribune chain, discarding the work of earlier redesigns that had taken months of work, including presentations to reader focus groups for their opinions.

This blogger was never a big fan of the results from focus groups, feeling that many people participating would have a tendency to do what was expected – to say they liked something, even when they would have misgivings. But the style that came out of all that work was far more attractive and readable than what the public will find in The Sun on Monday.

The key to the change is expedience – making it easier for the newspaper to be largely filled with “content” created in Chicago and distributed throughout the Tribune empire in page modules that leave holes for local advertising and local news. While local news takes over the front page, what national and world news is seen on inside pages in The Baltimore Sun may depend more on the number of pages available that day than on news judgment. Larger Tribune newspapers likely will have more pages, and more of the modules.

Also coming Monday will be expanded roles for newly named local content editors, who will be editing stories, moving them electronically into modules and writing the headlines – with the likelihood that no copy editor will be available for a second look before the newspaper starts spinning off the presses at the Sun Park printing plant three miles away.

The result, say surviving staffers and those who lost jobs, will inevitably be more errors in the newspaper and increased danger of inadvertent libel – the kind of mistake that brings lawyers with threats of lawsuits. So a little advice to Tim Ryan: Don’t skimp on the insurance.

Unfortunately, the pain of layoffs is unlikely to end – with the possibility of longtime newsroom employees exercising bumping rights to reclaim jobs they formerly held in other classifications. Copy editors who held higher designations as slot editors or makeup editors may seek to move down, and some copy editors may opt to return to earlier jobs as reporters.

The result would be some going back to work, and others being bumped into the ranks of the unemployed.

Trouble is, they’re all like family, and it’s tough to decide the worth of pushing out a colleague in order to keep working in the uncertain employ of the Tribune Company, which has owned The Baltimore Sun for a decade and is seen by many as running the newspaper into the ground.

Some at the party hold the newly-created jobs that took them out of the union, and others find themselves worrying about losing jobs in the bumps that could come. Yet they joined in fellowship even with those at the party whose decisions could push them out of jobs.

It is none of their fault. They are just victims of Tribune – whether inside or outside for now. And they hug each other, all feeling the same pain from an ill wind out of Chicago.

1 comment:

Dr. Spaulding said...

A link back for you from

"Towson graduate and 30-year Sun veteran Dave Ettlin is doing a wonderful job blogging the Sun's most recent troubles. Check him out over at The Real Muck. (Hey, Dave, let's do an interview for New Media Mobtown!)"

Hope you are well!