Hearne: No Spin Zone or No Spine Zone? Star Publisher Spins ‘Hunger Games’ Layoff Strategy

This just in from Ground Zero at 18th and Grand…

Kansas City Star publisher Mi-Ai Parrish‘s” memo to co-workers re widespread reports and commentary on the controversial decision to make two reporters – Karen Dillon and Dawn Bormann – duke it out or hug it out to decide which of them takes a layoff bullet.

“Some of you have seen online reports regarding the recent layoffs at The Star,” Parrish begins. “We want to be clear that we did not ask our employees to work out any decisions amongst themselves.

“As most of you know, The Star has tried to make voluntary options available on many occasions when it has been necessary to make reductions in our workforce, in order to lessen the impact of involuntary eliminations. In fact, the feedback we’ve received from employees has been overwhelmingly in favor of making the voluntary option available. For this particular severance program, for any group of two or more employees in which a reduction is to occur we did offer a voluntary option. However, if there are no volunteers, as is our past practice, the employee with the least tenure will be included in the reduction. This information was clearly indicated to those employees affected by the severance program.”

Hold it right there.

While that certainly puts as positive a spin as imaginable on the matter, it still boils down to telling two people – coworkers and fellow reporters – that one of them must go. And that unless one of them decides to take the hit the less tenured will be laid off.

It also clearly leaves Dillon in a position of having to fall on her own sword or effectively throw Bormann under the bus. With both women well aware in advance of the choice and consequence.

Call it what you will, “Sophie’s Choice,” “Hunger Games” – it hardly qualifies as a truly “voluntary” choice.

In past voluntary layoffs – early on nearly five years ago to my recollection – a notice was given to employees asking for them to come forward if they wished to take the severance package and leave the newspaper.

Longtime Star reporter Jeff Spivak comes to mind as one of the staffers who opted to do so.

However nobody told Spivak or anybody else that it was either him or another reporter that had to go.

Big difference.

There’s more.

“We find it unfortunate the way the situation has been portrayed, and we are very sorry for the impact on the employees involved,” Parrish’s memo concludes. “We will continue to work with all employees affected by this severance program to help them transition through this difficult time made even more difficult by the misinformation being reported.”

Misinformation, huh?

Is that why Dillon confirmed the story to respected journalism / media monitor Jim Romenesko and told him that “we’ve not made an official decision” on who gets to stay and, “It’s one of the most difficult situations I’ve ever faced.”

Dillon must have meant, it was one of the most difficult “voluntary” decisions she’s ever faced.

One staffer’s take on Parrish’s memo:

“It’s like putting a racing stripe on a turd. At the end of the day, it’s still a turd.”

The other stories:

Star Unleashes ‘Hunger Games’ on Two Joco Reporters
The journalism world notices 18th and Grand, but not for beef
Experts give thumbs down to Hunger Games scheme
Star Morale at all-time low

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8 Responses to Hearne: No Spin Zone or No Spine Zone? Star Publisher Spins ‘Hunger Games’ Layoff Strategy

  1. Rick Nichols says:

    Hearne, the most famous case of falling on one’s own sword can be found in the Bible, of course, and specifically in I Samuel 31:4, where King Saul “takes the plunge” after his armor-bearer refused to kill him in advance of the arrival of the armies of the uncircumcised. Let’s just hope some sense of sanity ultimately prevails at 18th & Grand before two people’s lives and careers get totally screwed up. Karen and Dawn have already had to go through far too much the past few days.

    • admin says:

      In a perfect world, the Star might decide to give both Bormann and Dillon a pass. As a way of demonstrating that the newspaper realizes what they did was wrong.

      That’s probably unlikely since the economic realities apparently dictate that they make the cut. Delaying it a month or three for PR purposes might seem like a token move in the long run, but it could buy Bormann some time to look around for a new career or job.

      The flip side of that concept is that publisher Parrish and editor Fannin seem far more intent on rationalizing what they’ve done, rather than looking the staff and the public in the eye and owning up to their mistake.

      And that’s too bad.

      It’s a pretty good bet that the Star won’t go down this road again if they think there’s any chance they’ll get caught. Probably they could and have gotten away with this sort of behavior on lower level employees in the past, but I doubt they’ll risk it again where reporters are concerned.

      So in their hearts and minds, they have to understand they blew it. How many hundred journalists using their real names – from the New York Times and Washington Post to the Indianapolis Star and USA Today – have to weigh in on how wrongheaded this was before the Star gets the point?

      Unfortunately it’s not a good sign that Parrish and Fannin are more concerned with trying to whitewash and rationalize the situation rather than taking the high road and saying, “Hey, we made a mistake. We didn’t intend for it to work out this way. We just didn’t think it through very well. We’re sorry.”

      But who takes responsibility for their mistakes these days in Corporate America or politics?

      Seems it’s fallen out of fashion.

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  6. Goose says:

    What they should do is go back to management and tell them that they will Job share. At least both will still have some income coming in.

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