Nearly two dozen newspeople leave Pioneer Pressby Marisa Helms, Minnesota Public Radio
Twenty-one newsroom employees at the St. Paul Pioneer Press have volunteered to leave their jobs Friday. Reporters, photographers and copy editors are among those who said "yes" to a company buyout offer.
Pioneer Press officials say the buyout is part of a restructuring in response to slowing advertising sales.
St. Paul, Minn. — Most of those leaving the paper have been working there for dozens of years. In fact, the 21 employees represent 502 years of collective knowledge and experience at the Pioneer Press.
Dave Hawley has been a reporter at the Pioneer Press for 29 years. He decided to take the buyout. He feels good about it, mostly.
"We're all looking forward to it, I think. Now that it's all been said and done. There's sadness to leave the newspaper business," Hawley acknowledges. "A colleague of mine said, 'I've always thought that my name was comma, reporter. And it's hard to think of myself as not being a reporter.' And I feel that same way, too. I've been a reporter for 35 years and can't think of doing anything else."
The buyout terms are the same for each employee -- two weeks of pay for every year of service, with a maximum of 52 weeks, and health coverage based on years of service.
Hawley is about to turn 61. The buyout will cover the one-year period before his pension kicks in.
Don Effenberger, an editor, has been at the Pioneer Press for 28 years. He, too, is going ahead with the buyout.
"For our family, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We've put a lot of money into our kids' education and this gives us a chance to pay down some of the college expenses," he said.
Effenberger says for employees like himself who have been there for decades, it's a rare chance to plan for the future.
"There've been other buyouts over the years. The paper is really strong and the paper has handled a tough situation really well. As you know, national advertising has been in the tank for the newspaper industry much of this year. And the company handled this in a very humane way going with the buyout rather than layoffs," Effenberger said.
Pioneer Press Editor Thom Fladung says advertising revenue has fallen even though the paper's circulation is going up.
"It's a reflection of some of the advertisers going to the Internet," he said. "Certainly the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune are getting on the Internet, but it's not a one-to-one basis. The ad dollars don't equal what's flowing out of print. And we hit this gulf in which our business prospects, ad revenue went down rather sharply. And we decided we had to act. And we decided to act aggressively. And we think this is now the size newsroom that our current business operations can support."
Fladung says the newsroom will shrink from the current 207 to around 180 with buyouts and other restructuring.
"I have concern about losing these folks as individuals. Colleagues, coaches, friends, and yes, many of them are veterans -- so take away a storehouse of journalistic knowledge, but it's not like it's all going away. We still have a lot of veterans here. We still have a lot of institutional knowledge," he said.
Fladung says for readers, the paper will look largely the same.
"You can't take 20 people out of your organziation and not change anything. But we think we have plans in place to not close down sections. Or make significant changes in content trying to do this in way relatively seamless for readers."
Faldung says the paper may adjust its plans as time goes along. But he says the mission doesn't change at all: "To keep pounding away at providing local news that you can't get anywhere else."
- All Things Considered, 11/30/2006, 5:23 p.m.