Are we six months from the Freep just reprinting the AP feeds?
December 16, 2007 1:09 PM   Subscribe

What's going on at the Detroit Free Press? Terry Lawson and Mike Duffy have apparently accepted buyouts, and Susan Ager writes that she was going to, but then decided against. This is wild stuff - essentially the identity of the lifestyle section for the last decade+. Massive cost-cutting, some sort of housecleaning, or what?

And if anyone has recommendations for how they keep in the loop about this sort of Detroit-specific stuff (my blog searches haven't turned up much), I'd love to hear it.
posted by boombot to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Newspaper circulation nationwide has been in decline for decades, but the rate has accelerated in recent years. The economic foundation of most newspapers is classified ads, and online sites like CraigsList have cut the heart out of that.

So newspapers all over the country are cutting back and laying off. Advertising revenue is down, circulation is down, money is short, and they cannot afford all the staff they currently have.

I suspect that this change at the Detroit Free Press is part of that overall trend.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:18 PM on December 16, 2007

I don't know about Detroit specifically, but I do know newspapers, and whenever we have a buyout it's a way to avoid layoffs. Buyouts target the people who've been there the longest (usually by offering a certain number of weeks of pay per year you've been employed) and therefore cost the most. Layoffs are unpopular, and if it's a union paper, you may have to lay off the newest (and least expensive) employees first.

The people taking buyouts are probably ready to retire or would be soon and the money they get from a buyout would let them retire now. Or maybe they're not old enough to retire but want to move on to something else.
posted by Airhen at 3:38 PM on December 16, 2007

If you want to stay up-to-date on newspaper layoffs, both the official reasons behind them and the real scuttlebutt, you should read Romenesko daily. It's not just Detroit-focused, but it's the best source for journalism industry gossip and news.
posted by GaelFC at 5:49 PM on December 16, 2007

Crap, Romenesko link didn't work. Trying again.
posted by GaelFC at 5:50 PM on December 16, 2007

It's called "the newspaper business, 2007." I'm so glad I worked in newspapers during the field's heyday. I miss it so much and regret that people just don't want to read anymore. There will be more buyouts, more loss of instutional memory as the industry struggles to figure out how to reinvent itself.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 7:14 PM on December 16, 2007

Dunno if this guy knows anything more?
posted by desuetude at 7:52 PM on December 16, 2007

Jesus Christ, can someone who knows what the fuck is going on answer instead of platitudes about the decline of the newspapers?

I mean, I found the buyout memo, and this which gives some (two-year-old) context.

But unless someone can speak to the specifics, swooping in to give some half-assed, half-understood pronouncement on what's going on at newspapers in general isn't an answer.
posted by klangklangston at 7:54 PM on December 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

It might be worth asking this person: Gannett Blog
posted by OilPull at 5:24 AM on December 17, 2007

More: This post seems to address your question fairly directly, but the actual 'Detroit' link in there doesn't lead anywhere.
posted by OilPull at 5:49 AM on December 17, 2007

Most likely it's cost-cutting. There have been a lot of newsroom cuts recently; the San Diego Union-Tribune offered buyouts to a number of its employees, a year after doing the same, and the Arizona Daily Star just laid off nearly a dozen employees. Google newspaper employee buyouts and you'll see a lot of papers doing the same. This has been going on for a while now, but it's been mostly behind-the-scenes workers, such as administrative and clerical workers. A good chunk of them don't get buyouts; they only get told that their job has been eliminated and don't come in tomorrow. You don't tend to hear about these ones. Empty jobs are frozen and go unfilled, and capital investment is often limited to new systems that will allow work to be done with fewer employees. When it starts hitting the newsroom, though, it's a sign that things have gotten particularly bad.

As with many other industries, the older workers make more money. In newspapers, it tends to be a LOT more. (When I started I was alongside long-time employees who were making well over double what I was; they would make as much in one overtime shift as I would in a week. Their pay scales were set during the boom times; employees have no prospect now of rising to anywhere near what they make.) That's why they'd be willing to buy out someone who is a fixture such as Ager. They can have someone else do what she does for half of what she makes, or even less. It sucks, but it's the sad reality of things.
posted by azpenguin at 7:19 AM on December 17, 2007

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