When Star corporate owner McClatchy announced its first wave of layoffs – a 10 percent company-wide reduction in June of 2008 – its vice-president of news, Howard Weaver (since retired) wrote, “We need the 90% of employees who aren’t in the downsizing to focus on the work at hand with confidence, not be looking over their shoulders for another round of layoffs.”
Four years and waves of layoffs and unpaid weeks off later, there are a lot of sore necks at The Star and not much confidence.
And now, behind the news of Tuesday’s exodus, another problem for the higher-ups at 18th and Grand has become obvious.
On top of the three newsroom people whose departures were announced on The Star’s Tragic Tuesday, you can add these people to the 2012 list: sports columnist Kent Babb, sports copy editor Alan Burchardt, two – count ‘em – internet/web developers, web editor Jay Williams, editorial writer Matt Schofield and FYI boss Mary Lou Nolan.
Some you’ve heard of, some you probably haven’t.
Add them up and what have you got?
A brain drain.
And if the newspaper is not careful, the trickle of smart, knowledgeable people from the newsroom will quickly turn into a torrent – if it hasn’t already started to.
The above Star staffers only had to wait out the recession for hiring to pick up.
Yet now that it has, anyone in The Star newsroom with marketable skills is out pitching resumes. And if they’re not, they should be, because judging by yesterday’s revolving door, the people who are out looking are finding new jobs.
After all, if you’re standing on the deck of the Titanic and the Carpathia comes along, don’t you get on? Of course you do.
The Star is stuck between two icebergs on this one.
How does it retain the people it needs to keep the website and printed product running? Does it attempt to do it with two percent raises and two weeks of furlough a year, which is equal to a 3.8 percent loss in salary?
Clearly that won’t get it.
Undoubtedly, a lot is riding on the loyalty of employees, people loyal to the profession of journalism. If anyone notices how employees are treated in the rest of the world, though, it’ll be sheet cake every Friday at The Star.
Because in case anyone at The Star hasn’t noticed, many modern employers offer a long list of amenities these days, from free soda to office health centers and matching 401(k) contributions, things The Star is unable or unwilling to offer.
Little things like that matter.
Employees at The Star still pay to park in company-owned lots. That’s a fabulous perk.
And while there seems to be a semblance of a future at The Star (note how carefully couched that statement is in probabilities), on its website, and in a newspaper that’s not printed seven days a week, there’s a good chance that future doesn’t involve a lot of the people that are there today.
There are some people though that The Star needs to keep, but how?
Alas, I raise more questions than I answer. On the other hand, maybe an exodus is a good thing. Maybe hiring some new college grads will energize the newsroom and bring in new ideas. A little fresh blood who would be more than willing to cram into their tiny cubes and bring home a paycheck that will never, ever, go up.
Meanwhile, the institutional knowledge of the city, its people, its streets, beats and personalities, is forever lost.
It makes The Star a little more bland and a little less unique. When that happens to the city’s largest news gatherer, everybody loses.