Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A painful path to a productive future

McClatchy has just announced the loss of still more jobs in newsrooms and newspapers across the company, only a few months after the first widespread layoffs in our history. Some announcements were made today and others will be finalized shortly. FTEs Employees representing about 1,150 full time jobs are involved.

We believed the painful cuts made earlier would see us through the sharp revenue declines we’re experiencing, but conditions continued to get worse.

It can be hard to keep the faith through times like these. Nobody suffers as much as people who lose their jobs, of course, but those who remain at work suffer too. Staffers are working harder, with fewer colleagues and less certainty. Pay has been frozen for a year. There are worries about whether the company has a plan to get through this transition and regain a stable footing. Are people making a mistake for sticking with us?

For those of us who love being in the news business – in other words, nearly all of us at McClatchy – such doubts are especially troubling. Will journalists be equipped to do the job our communities depend on us to do? Can we retain the critical core of talented employees upon whom success rests, and provide them the tools they need?

We can. As the national economic news plainly demonstrates, it's impossible to know when the economic tide will turn, but we know it will. We will keep the company safe until then, because despite these painful decisions, that is the foundation of security for all of us, and the only way to ensure we can sustain our mission.

Upon that foundation we are building a new structure that reflects the realities of today's media environment. A great deal of impressive change has already occurred, though it has been masked and obscured by the pall of the revenue declines. We truly are reinventing what kind of enterprise we are, transforming a newspaper company into a hybrid, multimedia information source. I want to outline some of the key components here, and to be as frank about our plans as I legally and prudently can be.

William Gibson observed, “The future has already arrived; it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” If you look closely across the broad range of McClatchy papers, you can see the outlines of our restructured future already taking shape. We will be smaller, more efficient and more sophisticated. Like most other American companies, we will concentrate resources on our core functions – in our case, providing information and selling advertising. We can do so across a broader range of platforms than anybody else in our communities, and growing audiences attest to our success there.

Even something as traditional as printing papers can often be done cheaper and better outside the core newspaper. As you know, we will shortly be printing The Modesto Bee in Sacramento, and have contracted to print Boise and Bellingham at non-McClatchy printers in the Northwest.

In other regions, we are finding ways to cooperate with other newspapers to share costs and hold down expenses. The Miami Herald in now delivering the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Miami-Dade county, and that newspaper delivers the Herald to the north. Miami’s newsroom is testing a content sharing plan with former rivals in the region. Many other such opportunities are possible, and while we can't talk about them all in advance, you can be sure we are looking for them actively all over the country.

You will have noticed that we're selling real estate, our share of a newsprint company and other assets that aren't central to the mission. Knight Ridder sold a very valuable Miami parking lot, and we are working to close that deal. Smaller parcels elsewhere are being marketed; we sold the Knight Ridder jet a long time time ago, and have likewise sold our plane.

All of this helps pay down the debt we undertook in buying Knight Ridder. Reducing that burden – particularly some bank loans amounting to about a billion dollars – is the single most important thing we can do to ensure stability. Until revenues bottom out and begin to improve, the pressure to pay down debt is significant.

You can also see new ways of doing business emerging at various newspapers; as these new practices prove out, you can expect to see them adopted more widely. We know not every newspaper or market is the same, so we won't look for pure cookie-cutter solutions, but we will move emphatically to embrace operations that make sense. In Charlotte and Raleigh, several newsroom departments have been merged. When Raleigh gets the technology to do so around the first of the year, page and perhaps even section production duties can be shared, and we look to extend that as quickly as possible amongst our Carolina newspapers. These moves will allow the papers to devote more of their resources to unique local coverage while common jobs are done once instead of many times.

A small staff working with our new advertising vice president at corporate is expected to return many times its cost in new advertising revenue by leveraging our size and multiplatform reach with national customers. Advertising sales staffs at all papers are being trained and incentivized to sell digital products better. McClatchy Interactive is optimizing its operations, too, handling things like digital ad placements, our Yahoo partnership and social networking tools that build audience.

Pains from contraction and restructuring are being felt across the company, including the corporate offices. As you know, our corporate staff is much smaller than the Knight Ridder staff that handled about the same number of papers, and we have saved a lot of money by eliminating duplicate services and keeping tight rein on expansion. Pay freezes and other programs affect corporate employees like all others.

Some of you have questioned whether well-paid senior staff are sharing the pain. Our salaries were frozen a year earlier than other employees, and because a larger percentage of senior staff pay comes as bonus, stock appreciation rights and the like, total pay goes down dramatically when the company performs poorly. The average corporate vice president's compensation has been significantly reduced over the past two years, and will surely be lower still this year.

I have faith in our combined efforts to see us through to a profitable, stable future. There is no question of our ability to survive as a business, or to produce public service journalism that serves our communities. Both require some sacrifice and patience, but both are true.

Because we will be smaller, we need our smartest, most dedicated and most capable employees to move us forward. We intend to make sure you are well paid and well treated over the course of your career at McClatchy, and as revenue conditions improve, that will be a top priority.

Don’t give into pessimism. Times are tough, but they won’t be tough forever. We have important, essential work to do, and we need to be about it every day.

61 comments:

  1. hi howard, please pass this message along to whomever you can in the higher-ups:

    "please get your sh*t together and come up with a long term game plan that's pro-active and not a scenario where we (news business) react to the world at the same time Joe Reader finds out about it. if you already have a long term plan, share it with the properties...we'll execute it, but then it had better be right..or else the next round of layoffs will be yours."

    thanks,
    Dave

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  2. Anonymous6:30 PM

    One thing I'm trying to figure out here...what exactly do the publishers at our newspapers do? Does anyone know? I look at ours and see an empty suit, with perks out the ass and a total lack of touch with the reality of those in this business. And on another note about the corporate level...I (and EVERY single McClatchy employee I have spoken with find it laughable that we should have sympathy for the corporate "sacrifice". Gary Pruitt took a 20% pay cut? So what?!!? He still makes $4.5 MILLION!!! That. sir, is entirely laughable considering most of the employees who actually WORK get paid just a little less.

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  3. Anonymous6:52 PM

    Thank you for your encouragement and steady attitude.

    Even as a fan, however, I have to take exception to this: "...we will need our smartest, most dedicated and most capable employees to move us forward."

    You're right that we need smart, hard-working people with McClatchy.

    But Howard, if only you would take a look around and realize how unfortunate it is that some of the smartest, most capable employees at Sac Bee just took the buyout. (If you've seen the final list, I don't need to name names. Some of them were people who relied on your advice while at the Bee.)

    I'm guessing the same thing has happened throughout the chain.

    In any case, in urging current employees to hang in there with you, you have just insulted a number of your former employees and diminished their contributions. Unintentionally, I hope.

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  4. Anonymous7:43 PM

    I would love to share your optimism about keeping the critical core of talented employees. Possibly that will happen in editorial I don't know I realize that is your focus. However I have watched in advertising as the best and brightest have either left of their own accord or taken buyouts. The most employable are the first to go in our division.

    The sales staff that is being trained and incentivized to sell new products at our property is probably as weak as I have seen it in my nearly 20 years. Our ability to hire in the marketplace is hampered by the fact that the upside pay for sales in newspapers is below other sales organizations in the region especially in the skill sets that we need most.

    I am trying to maintain optimism but every week brings another blow and it just gets harder. So in the words of one of the best and brightest ex employees I know for now I'm trying to keep my chin up while keeping my head down. Lets hope I'm viewed as one of the necessary and capable as time passes.

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  5. Anonymous8:36 PM

    At my paper, we're about to find out who goes in this rounds of cuts. I hope that, this time, every job lost won't be a production job (reporter, photographer, front-line manager, copyed). Surely there are fewer people to manage now, and we will need less upper management.

    Thank you for the forum and for your thoughtfulness. I think sometimes you shoot from the lip, but I'm glad that you're out here confronting the issues that we face.

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  6. Anon652: Man, I have to disagree 100% with your conclusion. I don't think there's anything insulting about asking the best employees who have stayed on to advance and honor the mission we've all served so hard for so many years.

    Like you, I grieve the loss of so much talent and so many capable colleagues. There's no other way to see most of these departures. But I don't see any insult here at all. On the contrary, I will do the best I can to honor them by continuing the efforts they also served, and I have no hesitation in encouraging you and others to do likewise.

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  7. Anonymous6:26 AM

    What you actually want is not your smartest, most dedicated and most capable employees. You want to keep your newest, most inexperienced, cheapest employees -- or at least, that's what all the company's actions have expressed. Talk is cheap.

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  8. Anonymous7:07 AM

    I appreciate the direct approach in this post. I question this, though: "We intend to make sure you are well paid and well treated over the course of your career at McClatchy, and as revenue conditions improve, that will be a top priority."

    It's commonly understood that McClatchy didn't pay well *before* the wage freeze. It used to be that this was offset by good benefits, which is no longer the case. I think people will be leaving in droves at the first opportunity.

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  9. Anonymous7:08 AM

    You are great. Thank you for your words of encouragement. Everyone I have talked to today agrees that this is a necessary reduction of less productive employees given the economic realities we all face. Keep up the good work.

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  10. Anonymous7:09 AM

    It seems that the fundamental strategy here is to cut costs and staff and hope that the economy rebounds. That is the textbook that papers have followed for years. Looking at the McClatchy product in my town, the current offering basically involves doing everything as before, but just half as well plus adding in some staff blogs,podcasts and posting some updates throughout the day. There is no fundamental change and the kind of in-depth analysis that makes newspapers worthwhile is almost entirely absent.

    Years ago the mantra was "local, local local." But the weekly local zoned edition is now virutally nil.

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  11. Anonymous7:09 AM

    I read that the Sacbee is increasing its sales price. Honest question, no snark intended: is the content going to improve? Asking more for a thin product may not bring the desired results.

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  12. Anonymous7:28 AM

    Weaver's probably not a bad dude. He's just been forced to play corporate lackey by Gary Pruitt, who was foolish enough to arrange for the McClatchy minnow to swallow the Knight Ridder whale. Now the McClatchy employees get to pay for that boneheaded mistake with their jobs and paychecks.

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  13. Anonymous7:49 AM

    Mr. Weaver, at what point in time do you and Mr. Pruitt owe up to your responsibility and resign from the company?

    It is hypocritical of your newspapers to demand accountability from others in the business community or in politics yet refuse to apply that accountability to those in your company.

    Ever publisher, every executive editor and every corporate executive should offer to resign immediately. You have sent thousands of Americans to the unemployment line, you are turning your papers into nothing more than blotter scandal sheets, and you are doing nothing to radically alter what you are doing to address the situation. You are in a death spiral.

    Perhaps if McClatchy and other papers had spent just a fraction of their profits during the good times in the last 15 years you would have been positioned to deal with the new reality.

    Unfortunately, transforming your product and delivery sytems won't work now. It's too late. You will continue to diminish the quality of your product to the point that no one will want it anymore, even if it's given away for free online.

    Seriously, resign today. That would at least show that you accept just a modicum of responsibility for the lives you have wrecked.

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  14. Anonymous8:30 AM

    Howard, please tell us what specific additional duties you and other corporate officers are taking on, especially any that actually help get a daily paper out the door. If you know of any specific additional duties local publishers have taken on, please share them as well.

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  15. Anonymous8:32 AM

    Regarding the future of the McClatchy Hybrid News:

    Advertising and marketing are evolving as fast as the viewership. McClatchy or any other news media cannot be certain if aggregating audience and selling that as value to advertisers -- will remain a viable business model at whatever scale.

    McClatchy may be able to re-train it's sales force to sell it's digital products. But, what if those advertisers have already figured out cheaper and more direct marketing to interact with their customers?

    Where will the revenue come from to support a 19th century media business model?

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  16. Anonymous9:09 AM

    Who are these FTEs you talk about? We don't have any FTEs working at our place. We have human beings, some with families, here. No FTEs

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  17. Okay, take a deep breath:

    Anon626: This is demonstrably untrue. Even if you don’t believe me or trust our intentions, you must know that involuntary layoffs face stiff legal tests to ensure against just such discrimination, and all are reviewed by legal and HR to ensure compliance. In unionized environments, “last hired, first fired” is often the rule, which ensures the reverse of what you’re claiming. Cheap shot.

    Anon708: H.L. Mencken once suggested the invention of a new typeface. Unlike italics, this one would lean to the right and be called “ironics.” Writers could then use it to signal when they were intending irony or sarcasm.

    Anon709: Cutting costs to survive until the economy improves is certainly a tactic, one of the few we can can control. But it is not our strategy, which I’ve outlined here and others have discussed broadly: to evolve into a hybrid, multiplatform news, information and advertising company in select markets that employs efficiencies in technology and partnerships to operate profitably in a much more competitive world.

    Anon830: In simplest form, my duties changed by growing to cover 30 newspapers instead of 11. Knight Ridder had several people to do what I am charged with; we didn’t hire anybody else in my area. My responsibilities to the newsrooms are the same, and thus my work has increased to match that (about three times). If you don’t think what I do adds value, then that won’t impress you, but it’s true nevertheless.

    Anon832: This is a perceptive question, and a troubling one. The simple answer is that nobody – not me, not McClatchy, not Google – knows the long-term future of advertising with any clarity. When a merchant gets enough people to visit his own site or request his own email marketing, he doesn’t need any of us to aggregate an audience for traditional advertising. Some of that is happening now. But it’s not a zero-sum game, and it is far from an instantaneous transition. In the medium run – many years, I believe – we need to master online and other digital selling to ensure we get our share of revenue from the growing audiences we are producing; the partnership with Yahoo, which enables us to sell demographic and behavorially targeted ads, is a big step. We alone can sell packages that combine paid circulation print, niche print, targeted mail, online, email and mobile ads. We’re not as good as we must be in doing so, but it’s an advantage we can profit from as we get better. I won’t pretend to know what happens in the long run. But as John Maynard Keynes observed, “In the long run, we’re all dead.” In a future era in which aggregating audiences isn’t a profitable business (quite a long time away, in my guess), smart people will build news companies on different models, be they micropayments, shared revenue from transactions (Amazon), pure subscriptions, or something we can’t even envision.

    Anon909: Point well made, and I apologize. I cited “ftes” as shorthand, since the calculation aggregated full and part-time employees to translate into dollar savings. It was insensitive and a mistake on my part.

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  18. Anonymous9:59 AM

    Does no one realize in corporate that slashing staff and "reorganizing" our newsroom is only making our product worse? Yes, we still do the isolated project here and there, and win awards but this is isolated and overall, our product has suffered. And because our paper has become the laughing stock of our city, in return, no one wants to buy ads from us. You must have a good news product, to get advertisers. Bottom line.

    At our paper we all but gotten rid of our regional sections, which seems like the dumbest move of all. Those regionals, are the one product in which we provided super local news that NO ONE else could duplicate. People in the smaller communities craved these sections because they can find out news that's NOT on the Internet. People can get national, even state news anywhere. The only way we are going to survive is to go local, local, local. We have somehow lost that vision in this chaotic corporate mess. We had fantastic regional sections at our paper, that readers (not to mention adverstisers) loved. Now, I constantly hear readers wonder what the hell happened. We are shooting ourselves in the foot.

    Maybe if it gets bad enough we can get the government to bail us out of our mess...

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  19. Howard, i do have to hand it to you, you put yourself out there. for whatever it's worth these days, that's something.

    pruitt, however, was in our town and couldn't even be bothered to visit the newsroom. that's pretty weak, even for a bass-faced CEO. can't always get what you want i guess...(ps: loose the corp. account for license to those songs. thanks)

    Dave

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  20. Howard, i do have to hand it to you, you put yourself out there. for whatever it's worth these days, that's something.

    pruitt, however, was in our town and couldn't even be bothered to visit the newsroom. that's pretty weak, even for a bass-faced CEO. can't always get what you want i guess...(ps: loose the corp. account for license to those songs. thanks)

    Dave

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  21. Sisuanna10:12 AM

    Howard, you great bucket of hot air. Does it occur to you that you sound like John McCain and George Bush reassuring the country that the economy is sound? You, my friend, need to stand up from the management table, stick a pencil behind your ear, Velcro up your sneakers and get back into the business.

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  22. Anonymous10:16 AM

    God, I hope you're right, Howard. As one of those "most inexperienced, cheapest employees" who will be involved in the paper's new direction, I actually sometimes get excited about the future and the role I will play in it. Sometimes I think my bosses are finally getting it when it comes to the internet. And then it all comes crashing down. This place is still so riddled with micromanagement and fear that I'm asked to do things that are inefficient and wasteful so as not to upset the hierarchy. Until my bosses change that, we won't see real change or success and we will lose good employees. I hope you're right though. I hope that we can all step back enough to look at the future and make that our biggest priority and get through this.

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  23. Anonymous11:24 AM

    Does anyone KNOW what the profit margins are at individual papers? Are they in the red or just not making enough money?

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  24. McClatchy is a profitable company. I discussed the difference between margins and cash flow in this blog earlier, in this post: http://editor.blogspot.com/2008/06/time-is-fire-in-which-we-burn.html

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  25. Anonymous12:06 PM

    McClatchy was barely profitable recently.

    At this point in time, McClatchy is likely slipping into the cash flow negative area. With revenue falling between 15% to 20% (year over year) with each monthly update, it is only a matter of time before the losses overwhelm the budget.

    McClatchy cannot cut fast enough to keep up with the revenue declines.

    The real estate and auto markets are actually getting worse with the recent credit crisis. I expect the next 6 to 12 months to be even worse than we have had in the past year.

    If you have skills that transfer to another job, get out of the newspaper business while you can.

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  26. Anonymous12:23 PM

    Howard, how much of this optimism would you be expressing if YOU had been layed off?

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  27. Anonymous12:25 PM

    Some of McClatchy's papers are indeed not in the red. Unfortunately the smaller newspapers that generate significant revenue for their size are made to suffer due the excesses of the larger papers and McClatchy as a whole. I hope to see McClatchy succeed but as an employee who has risen through the ranks, I see mistake after mistake repeatedly being made. I think we still have much to offer as a company, I just hope we can find our niche before it is too late.

    And to one of the anonymous posters who made the statement that getting rid of the unproductive through buyouts or attrition is the way to go, let me assure you that my newspaper has lost or given up top talent through those processes.

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  28. Anonymous1:58 PM

    Within a typical primary school classroom, maybe two out of thirty students communicate well naturally.

    While college journalism teaches better communication, many other disciplines from an MBA to architecture, and all of the literature fields teach this as well.

    With the growth of blogs, and large news forums, people who happen to be in a place where something happens now have an outlet to disseminate events they witness. These same forums provide fact checking and clarification of any unclear writing.

    During a recent refinery explosion in Texas, I heard about the event and had commentary from engineers who once worked at the refinery...even before fire and police reached the scene.

    What is McClatchy's plan to compete with the fact that fact checked information is available to the public at large... before the company hears of it? And for free.

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  29. Anonymous2:23 PM

    To tag on to Anon 158's comment, case in point, we read of the latest McClatchy layoffs online, hours before the official announcement came out.

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  30. Anonymous3:01 PM

    Howard, with all due respect (I won't call you any names) but how are any of us on the chopping block to beleive anything you say. There is NO sign that anyone in upper management has been dealt a blow, except for their over inflated salaries being cut. We are watching upper management at our paper look out for their "buddies" and shuffling them to other jobs although they were pretty damn incompetent at the job they were doing. And please explain to me why if you're so much busier doing THREE times the work you have time to blog and surf the net as much as you apparently do?

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  31. Anonymous4:02 PM

    What I and others in talk to want to know is: is McClatchy going bankrupt? This is the second mass layoff this year and the stock price has collapsed. Are these layoffs a sign of the end?

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  32. Anonymous4:58 PM

    Howard, from E&P today.

    NEW YORK Just hours after McClatchy announced its second major job-cutting plan in three months, the Lexington (Ky.) Newspaper Guild took aim at the company with an attack that criticizes CEO Gary Pruitt's annual bonus and the company’s corporate jet, while Howard Weaver, McClatchy's vice president for news, urged workers on his blog to "keep the faith" through tough times.
    Although it notes the $23 million airplane was recently grounded, the union that represents 86 staffers at the Lexington Herald-Leader contends executives should have done without the air transport more than a year ago.
    "As McClatchy was making its employees bleed to pay off crushing debt incurred by corporate decisions, McClatchy executives were jet-setting in luxury," the guild said in a statement, which also includes what the union claims is a record of the jet's travel. "From April 16 to Aug. 5, the jet was flown 30 times, according to flightaware.com. Many of the destinations were only a one- or two-hour drive away."
    The Herald-Leader union, which said 22 Lexington employees would be laid-off -- including eight union members -- sent the release a day after McClatchy announced it would cut 1,150 jobs companywide. That announcement followed a previous June decision to lop off 1,400 workers.
    "In the last nine months, Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader journalists and employees have endured a wage freeze, seen their health insurance premiums skyrocket and had their short-term disability benefits gutted by 40 percent," the union added. "Yet McClatchy's corporate headquarters has been spared the brunt of cost cutting. In fact, McClatchy has added to its corporate bureaucracy. And not long ago CEO Gary Pruitt was even awarded an $800,000 performance bonus as the company's stock tanked.
    "Even when considering the wage freeze implemented for executives, corporate compensation is still excessive." It later added, "We find it deeply disturbing that the company looked to push loyal employees into the unemployment line before it forced its overpaid executives to sit in an hour or two of traffic."
    Seems as though you bent the truth a little bit when you said you guys were biting the bullet and had sold the company jet. Still flying it until a month ago? You fellas started axing the regular folks MONTHS ago. Wow....you're credibility with me just went down the toilet.

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  33. Anonymous5:05 PM

    Howard, this was just posted on the E&P website

    NEW YORK Just hours after McClatchy announced its second major job-cutting plan in three months, the Lexington (Ky.) Newspaper Guild took aim at the company with an attack that criticizes CEO Gary Pruitt's annual bonus and the company’s corporate jet, while Howard Weaver, McClatchy's vice president for news, urged workers on his blog to "keep the faith" through tough times.
    Although it notes the $23 million airplane was recently grounded, the union that represents 86 staffers at the Lexington Herald-Leader contends executives should have done without the air transport more than a year ago.
    "As McClatchy was making its employees bleed to pay off crushing debt incurred by corporate decisions, McClatchy executives were jet-setting in luxury," the guild said in a statement, which also includes what the union claims is a record of the jet's travel. "From April 16 to Aug. 5, the jet was flown 30 times, according to flightaware.com. Many of the destinations were only a one- or two-hour drive away."
    The Herald-Leader union, which said 22 Lexington employees would be laid-off -- including eight union members -- sent the release a day after McClatchy announced it would cut 1,150 jobs companywide. That announcement followed a previous June decision to lop off 1,400 workers.
    "In the last nine months, Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader journalists and employees have endured a wage freeze, seen their health insurance premiums skyrocket and had their short-term disability benefits gutted by 40 percent," the union added. "Yet McClatchy's corporate headquarters has been spared the brunt of cost cutting. In fact, McClatchy has added to its corporate bureaucracy. And not long ago CEO Gary Pruitt was even awarded an $800,000 performance bonus as the company's stock tanked.
    "Even when considering the wage freeze implemented for executives, corporate compensation is still excessive." It later added, "We find it deeply disturbing that the company looked to push loyal employees into the unemployment line before it forced its overpaid executives to sit in an hour or two of traffic."
    It seems to me you were a little disingenuous when you mentioned a while back the company jet had been sold. I find it appalling you and the rest of the executive posse were tooling around in the jet while axing hard working people because of poor corporate decisions. I will continue to read your blog but probably won't believe anything you say, since it seems you will bend the truth when it suits you.

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  34. No, McClatchy isn't going bankrupt. As I have mentioned earlier, the company remains profitable and generates strong cash flow.

    What has changed is that cash flow is declining significantly. When it does, the only way to sustain the relationship between debt and cash flow is to cut expenses.

    We know that cyclical factors are playing a significant role in revenue declines, and we expect that to turn around when the economy recovers.

    The other way to influence these ratios is to pay down debt, which is our primary use of free cash. We will pay down about $400 million this year on top of $800 million paid down last year.

    We have sold numerous assets to accelerate debt repayment, including real estate, our interest in newsprint manufacturing and the company's remaining airplane. (That question is addressed in other comments critical of when it was sold.)

    The board of directors also cut the dividend paid to shareholders in half, which will produce $30 million annually that can go to retire more debt.

    Importantly, the McClatchy family, board and management remain unanimous in a shared commitment to keep our company independent and ensure that it has a sound future. All our efforts are focused on doing just that.

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  35. Addendum to Anon505, this comment also arrived about the same time with the Lexington item also reprinted. Here was the comment:

    Seems as though you bent the truth a little bit when you said you guys were biting the bullet and had sold the company jet. Still flying it until a month ago? You fellas started axing the regular folks MONTHS ago. Wow....you're credibility with me just went down the toilet.

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  36. Anonymous6:09 PM

    I feel like a lemming.

    It's as if all newspaper companies are playing the same game by the same rules, taking the same measures with the same results: a death spiral.

    Trim staffs: Check.
    Freeze salaries: Check.
    Diminish quality and size of product: Check
    Trim staffs again: Check.

    Perhaps it's time to be counterintuitive. Instead of cutting staff, let's hire MORE ad salespeople and seek ads that are big AND little, instead of just the large ones.

    Consider hiring enough help to make the local sections newsy again instead of vehicles loaded with little more than free content. Maybe then advertisers would be interested.

    If this doesn't work, we'll hit the same bottom that we're headed toward now anyway.

    But at least I won't feel like a lemming when I go splat.

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  37. Anonymous6:17 PM

    I feel like a lemming.

    It's as if all newspaper companies are playing the same game by the same rules, taking the same measures with the same results: a death spiral.

    Trim staffs: Check.
    Freeze salaries: Check.
    Diminish quality and size of product: Check
    Trim staffs again: Check.

    Perhaps it's time to be counterintuitive. Instead of cutting staff, let's hire MORE ad salespeople and seek ads that are big AND little, instead of just the large ones.

    Consider hiring enough help to make the local sections newsy again instead of vehicles loaded with little more than free content. Maybe then advertisers would be interested.

    If this doesn't work, we'll hit the same bottom that we're headed toward now anyway.

    But at least I won't feel like a lemming when I go splat.

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  38. Anonymous6:17 PM

    Some of journalism's "smartest, most dedicated and most capable employees" left long before buyouts and layoffs came into play. More will go. And at least at my local McClatchy paper -- where I worked as a reporter for many years -- layoff decisions were made not based on smarts, dedication or capability, but on seniority, plain and simple.

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  39. Anonymous6:27 PM

    I feel like a lemming.

    It's as if all newspaper companies are playing the same game by the same rules, taking the same measures with the same results: a death spiral.

    Trim staffs: Check.
    Freeze salaries: Check.
    Diminish quality and size of product: Check
    Trim staffs again: Check.

    Perhaps it's time to be counterintuitive. Instead of cutting staff, let's hire MORE ad salespeople and seek ads that are big AND little, instead of just the large ones.

    Consider hiring enough help to make the local sections newsy again instead of vehicles loaded with little more than free content. Maybe then advertisers would be interested.

    If this doesn't work, we'll hit the same bottom that we're headed toward now anyway.

    But at least I won't feel like a lemming when I go splat.

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  40. Anonymous7:53 PM

    I certainly don't envy your task of facing the (rightfully) angry mob. I don't necessarily believe everything you say but I do value your opinion.

    I'm not willing to stick my neck out at my MI but maybe you can answer a question for me that I've wanted to ask for a long time. Hendricks told us a few weeks ago that "last in first out" was a law. NC is an "At Will" state with no such law. To the best of my knowledge California is the same. So if it's not law and we aren't union why does this policy still apply? It honestly seems like a cheep out for management not to make difficult decisions - not that any layoffs are easy. My department lost far more qualified individuals than some that remain just because they were hired last. How is this beneficial? Were middle managers consulted about who could/should be the first to be laid off? If we need to think differently and evolve into something other than what we have always have been isn't new blood exactly what we do need? Even at MI old ideas die hard and it still takes new people to bring in different ideas.

    I say this as a middle tenured person in my department so I realize I would make myself more vulnerable by reversing this policy but wouldn't that be in the company's best interest? Sure, I realize the company is protecting itself from law suits but why were non-critical and inaccurate performance reviews allowed to persist for so long to leave us in this situation? It's a rhetorical question but who is to blame for that?

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  41. Anonymous8:19 PM

    Howard -

    All I can say is that I hope you and Gary lose sleep at night because God knows the rest of us are. We are grieving for our friends, we are grieving for our jobs, and we are grieving for McClatchy, a company I thought was above this.

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  42. Anonymous8:52 PM

    Amen, 819.

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  43. Anonymous8:02 AM

    Howard,

    Give me an honest outside accountant to look at the entire fiscal situation of the KC Star, including its Grand Street Communications operations and if the paper can be purchased for a reasonable price and show its new owner/investors a 10 percent annual profit, I can find those local investors. And, you know what, it would only take me about an hour to outline a news/design mission for the KC Star that would keep readers and attract new ones.

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  44. The accounting and fiscal reporting at the Kansas City Star is honest.

    If you know how to fix things and you're not telling, you're a selfish asshole. Personally, I just think think you're a bullshitter.

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  45. Anonymous8:41 AM

    You can't assume that Anon 8:02 is an employee.

    What obligation does sn outsider have to help McClatchy?

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  46. Anonymous10:48 AM

    So, ok great, we are gonna transition blaa blaa blaa into a multimedia and blaa blaa blaa and online and blaa talented employees and blaa blaa blaa...

    So ok, with news aggregators all the rage and companies like Daylife and stuff popping up all over the place, how does it make sense to wipe out the MI Newsroom?

    Howard, they were our own news aggregation operation in-house. WE could have been an aggregator back in 1998 or 2002 or 2006... or last week. Why did we never make that transition?

    (Actually, we WERE essentially a news aggregator in 1996... why'd we kill that again?)

    You know, Goddamn, I want to drink the Kool-Aid too, I really do... but even if you swallow that crap about us being "settlers" and content to let others be "pioneers" (an insane, ridiculous idea in itself, but so be it) it only works if you actually "settle" what the pioneers come back with. What you've done with the MI Newsroom is burn the crops and sowed the ground with salt.

    And I say YOU, Howard, because as far as I can tell, you're the smart one. YOU, seemingly alone in the Corporate halls, "get" online and you clearly "get" news so its all the more troubling you let the MI Newsroom slip away.

    My overwhelming fear is that MNI is playing the short term gain game -- but ultimately mortally wounding us in the long run. What will be left when "it all gets better" or when someone else "pioneers" ground finally deemed suitable for our soft skin to lay on (assuming they even LET us lay on their hard won ground)?

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  47. Anonymous12:52 PM

    So what's the threshold really? We all understand that the goal is to maintain profit levels year over year. But that's an unrealistic goal in this economy, particularly in this industry.

    How much more will we hack away at our newsrooms before you realize that the editorial quality of our products is suffering?

    Readers deserve better than we're able to give them NOW - and here we go again, cutting deeper.

    When is enough, enough? Is the bottom in sight?

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  48. Anonymous4:42 PM

    Mr. Weaver:

    In plain, honest, no-bullshit writing, can you:
    1. Answer how McClatchy plans to pay off its $2 billion debt?
    2. What's the daily interest on the debt?
    3. Is there anyone in the McClatchy office that can write or issue a press release that it isn't littered with coporate talk?

    As a 36-year newspaper man who got out while the getting is good, I honestly don't see any bright side for newspapers. You guys are arranging deck chairs on the Titanic and telling everybody to ignore the water. There's a terrific difference and disconnect between you suits at corp HQ who have been flying around on the company jet and the people who bust their ass multi-tasking at a job (most of them) love. I believe in karma and I think you guys are all in for a hellish afterlife.

    And your response to the guy who wanted to buy the KC Star:
    "If you know how to fix things and you're not telling, you're a selfish asshole. Personally, I just think think you're a bullshitter."

    So, he's a selfish asshole because he won't give up his ideas that you guys MIGHT borrow to help plug the holes in the dyke? Look in the mirror, pal. You're the selfish asshole.

    Wendell Barnhouse

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  49. Thanks for signing your name Wendell; I know your work by reputation and respect all that you did.

    We'll pay the debt the same way we paid the $1.2 billion that's been paid down over the last two years: by devoting all the free cash flow and proceeds from asset sales (real estate, newsprint companies, etc) to do so. It's not a mystery.

    I have no idea what the interest is and probably wouldn't be allowed to tell you if I did. But it's a competitive rate and we can (and are) handling it. It's not like some credit card revolving debt scam or anything.

    Finally, I made my comment to the KC correspondent on the assumption he/she is an employee pretending to know answers but unwilling to share them. I shouldn't have characterized him as I did. I always get myself in trouble when I do that stuff.

    P.S. I think you probably mean to talk about plugging holes in the "dike," not "dyke," don't you?

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  50. Anonymous5:04 PM

    Howard, I appreciate your allowing the comments on this blog, from the complimentary to the derogatory.

    I have a question about a rumour that is going around loading docks at your California McClatchy properties.

    The scuttlebut is that the three Bees are going to be consolidated to one Valley Bee following the business model of the Tri-Valley Herald. I don't pretend to be the only one knowing that this would be a disastrous move, but the people spreading this rumour are the Penske drivers working at the Fresno Bee.

    I'd be quick to dismiss their talk, but they also were saying last November that Modesto would soon be printing in Sacramento.

    Please reassure me that Modesto will not become a bureau of the Sacramento Bee.

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  51. Anonymous5:04 PM

    Howard? Kudos. People like myself have been waiting on some kind of hope from the corporate folks.
    I am not necessarily one of the bitter ones... I'm trying very hard not to be bitter. I'm just one of the ones holding the line, fighting through more workload and griping coworkers just trying to get a quality product to the doorstep every single day. We owe it to our readership.
    And I'm weary. We all are. We've all said goodbye to good, talented friends. It's sad.... and it sucks.
    You go through the relief that "it's not you" followed by the "survivor's guilt" only to find out there's another round coming down the pike.
    We all want off the roller coaster.
    But I've also seen dead weight escorted out the door and I'm thankful for that and I do retain hope for a better tomorrow.
    McClatchy corporate needs to realize that those people making decisions on the local level are, to a great degree, making them to the benefit of their own protection. They aren't merely looking out for the bottom line-- there is still an awful lot of dead weight in middle management that needs to go, if I can be candid. And corporate will never get to the bottom of that unless they start asking people like me-- the little cog in the McClatchy wheel.

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  52. Anon504: Here you are: there aren't any plans to merge the three Bees, or create a Valley Bee or anything like that. Local communities need local papers, local management, local judgment.

    Will there be further efforts to look for synergies and efficiencies? Yes. We need to do that all around the company, as well are. As I said in the post above, you can get a good sense of direction for the company as a whole by looking at efforts now underway at various operations. Raleigh and Charlotte are leading in looking for ways to strengthen and extend newsrooms by cooperation and consolidation of leadership; Modesto and Sacramento will share presses; Tacoma and Olympia are looking at combining some operations; and so forth. Those that work -- that is, save money and/or help us do a better job in a time of shrinking budgets -- will be identified for consideration elsewhere.

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  53. Anonymous5:51 PM

    Trust me on this, Howard, no one in Kansas City has any answers, but while we happen to know business is pretty decent here, considering, we're nevertheless groping around without any direction. There are 60+ gone from editorial this year and the division is badly need of a reorg but there doesn't seem to be any kind of plan. If there is, it's not being trickled down to the people who desperately need a little leadership at this point. And, as your last caller noted, absolutely no management was harmed in the making of this month's cutback. We still have TWO managing editors.

    Also, referring to a previous comment, the MI newsroom wasn't really contributing much to our website, unfortunately. And that's straight from The Horse's Mouth.

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  54. Anonymous10:13 AM

    If the KC post came from an employee, your initial instinct in reacting was perfectly reasonable. The last thing we need in this climate is a lot of bs. Straight talk is imperative -- from management as well as the rank and file.

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  55. Anonymous4:12 PM

    "Don’t give into pessimism. Times are tough, but they won’t be tough forever. We have important, essential work to do, and we need to be about it every day."
    So Howard we lost another boatload of people today (Sept.22) ...page designers, copy editors, reporters, photographers and still not a single member of middle or upper management got the heave. We've lost an enormous amount of people in the newsroom and have yet to see any management get the axe. What's up with that?

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  56. If I knew where you work, I could check.

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  57. Anonymous4:35 PM

    I believe our problem is baby boomers who work in our newsrooms. They continue to think the universe revolves around them and don't know how to fend for themselves. That seems to be the entitlement tone of their comments: I signed up to be coddled. Or: I resent companies that have to play by rules - such as this one: "Money coming in must exceed money going out." Or: "Hell no, we won't go."

    Give me latchkey GenX kids any day of the week.

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  58. Anonymous5:26 PM

    that's great anom435...when you are living in a cardboard box because you went with the flow and didn't complain about the injustice of corporate greed, gimme a call. personally for the most part I think you're way off base..the baby boomers at our paper are the first to embrace all the new stuff....what a bunch of bullshit.

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  59. Jay Mather6:51 PM

    Exxxxcuuuuse me! The "baby boomers" are a mixed bag and yes. some of them MAY have the tendencies you abhor. There are ever so many that began their careers with low paying, insignificant jobs that they were able to transform into viable and productive tenures at several newspapers. They, and the places they worked had, for the most part, similar goals and the relationship was symbiotic. Now, everyone is caught off guard and looking for a reason or someone to blame. Do we understand the economic functions going on? Of course we do. Most all of us who have either departed or soon will are the most enterprising bunch still around. We will survive nicely thank you.

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  60. Anonymous12:58 PM

    My greatest disappointment in this blog: I asked a question about the thinking behind disbanding the MI newsroom and that comment never got approved. The comment contained no profanity.

    I see comments calling Howard all kinds of names and using all the words in the swearbook get approved. I ask what I think is a legitimate question -- and one that directly affects our Web operations everyday -- and I don't see it approved or addressed in any posts thereafter.

    Is it a topic we won't discuss? If so, why not? If we can discuss it, can someone -- anyone -- tell me what the thought process was behind the decision? I've seen logic in all the decisions the company has made (I may not have agreed with them, but I've at least been able to see the thread of the decision making). I just cannot figure out the logic of this decision.

    We've been repeatedly told to find places where we can share work among the publishing companies. The MI newsroom was an aggregate for all the affiliates. It provided a necessary service and allowed many of the mid- to small-size affiliates to have an appearance of a much larger staff.

    It just seems contrary to the message I'd been hearing from corporate down.

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  61. Anon1258: I owe you an apology. I saw your comment when it first arrived, thought I had published it, and planned to get back with an answer. In the press of business, I never noticed that I had not done so.

    It's an excellent, and entirely appropriate question.

    The decision came, as these decisions do, as a balancing of unappealing alternatives. Cuts were being made throughout the company, and MI was asked to find ways to trim just as other operations. The decision was that much of the MI newsroom effort was devoted to handling and managing commodity content that didn’t add as much value to local websites as other activities. I am no expert on MI operations, but those who are decided that the basic needs of local websites could be handled largely without that intervention.

    One or two of those positions will be transferred to the Washington bureau to help incubate growth at the national website (news.mcclatchy.com), which is now averaging more than one million unique visitors per month, and growing. We also hope to make McClatchy’s exclusive, non-commodity content (principally international and national stories) more available and site-friendly for the papers.

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