Buyouts at the Washington Post

More hard times ahead at the Washington Post, which you may recall is the money-losing newspaper division of the Kaplan test prep and for-profit education empire. This morning, editors sent staff a memo offering a voluntary buyout, at least the fifth since 2004. All the staff reductions have apparently taught the Posties a lesson in efficiency; editor Marcus Brauchli reports that the latest cuts "won’t affect the quality, ambition or authority of our journalism. We believe this is possible, given the changes in how we work and the great successes we have had building our digital readership lately." As denizens of a smaller newsroom than in the past ourselves at Washington City Paper, we're curious to see how that works out for the Post.

UPDATE: Postie and former City Paper and editor Erik Wemple has more details from the meeting the paper held to discuss the buyout offer. "We did feel there were coverage areas where we could afford to absorb reductions," Brauchli told staffers. "In general we want to maintain a strong newsroom across all of our core areas." What are those core areas? According to Jim Romenesko, "National politics, National enterprise, National security, Foreign, the Sports columnists, Capital Business, the Style critics, digital designers, graphic designers, Outlook and Weekend." What that list doesn't include? "Business, Metro, the Magazine, Style, news designers and copy editors on the Universal desk." Only staffers in the latter group of departments are eligible for the buyouts. Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton says the paper is looking to eliminate 48 jobs out of about 200 eligible positions.

Which means the Post doesn't consider local news coverage a "core area" for the paper anymore.

Read the full memo announcing the buyouts below:

To the staff:

Today, we are announcing that we will offer a voluntary buyout to some Newsroom employees. Our objective is a limited staff reduction that won’t affect the quality, ambition or authority of our journalism. We believe this is possible, given the changes in how we work and the great successes we have had building our digital readership lately.

To preserve that momentum, we do not intend to offer this program to every department or individual in the Newsroom. The reality is that we’re able to absorb staffing changes better in some areas than in others. In those departments where we do offer the buyout, there will be caps on the number of people who can participate, in order to moderate the impact and preserve our competitiveness in core coverage areas. In addition, we may turn down some volunteers if we feel their departure would impair our journalism. That said, it is important that we achieve real savings.

The exact details of the buyout, technically a voluntary Separation Incentive Program, will come later, after the company talks to the Guild about its proposed terms. Here’s what we can tell you now: The program does not accelerate pension benefits. It will include enhanced separation payments and company-paid COBRA (health insurance) premiums for eligible fulltime employees. Post representatives will be discussing the proposed program with the Guild over the next two weeks, consistent with the terms of the labor contract. The terms they agree on also will be included in an offer to Newsroom editors in eligible departments.

This program will be available for a specified period of time only; employees will have 45 days to study this offer and decide whether to accept it or decline it. The Post will schedule the final date of employment for those who elect to resign as part of this program; for most employees this will mean a resignation date of May 31, 2012.

Any measure like this is difficult. But we believe this approach is a sensible and effective way of addressing the economic forces affecting our industry. We constantly rethink how we do certain things in order to become more efficient, agile and competitive; this will require more such thinking. The Post’s Newsroom remains formidable, and we will continue making tactical hires so that even as we get smaller, we get stronger.

We plan to distribute SIP packages to eligible employees in a few weeks. We will have two Town Hall meetings today, at 11 a.m. in the Community Room and at 4:30 p.m. in the Auditorium, to answer your questions.

Marcus Liz Shirley Peter

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