Monday, December 7, 2009

Following up on The Sun's Firings

I'm not going to belabor the Greenspun Media Group firings much longer except to note that, for those who haven't looked, the count on the list I'm compiling is now 37. I appeared with Dave Berns on "State of Nevada" on KNPR last week to mull the thing and it dawned on me during that chat that the Greenspun family hadn't invested heavily in just one industry now in dire straits -- media -- but in at least two others, casinos (via now-bankrupt Station Casinos) and real estate. Yikes, huh?

Also, Jon Ralston, the most prominent and significant brand associated with Greenspun Media Group, finally wrote some thoughts on the carnage four days -- and an email from me baffling over why he hadn't said anything -- later. Knowing that Ralston would be instantly all over Review-Journal publisher Sherm Frederick if Sherm had fired three dozen people and then wrote a column pretending that this "consolidation" would produce a better product and waxing on about "hope," what Jon did write was intriguing and worth sharing.

This was at the bottom of the Friday edition of his daily e-mail newsletter, the Ralston Flash:

Dear Flashees,

I have been tardy in not commenting on the layoffs at Greenspun Media this week. I am almost glad I let a blizzard of events in my own extreme-entropy-filled life get in the way because I have been able to soak in the various takes, most of them uninformed, from the outside.

Amid all the handwringing are two realities: The company’s financial constriction and the brutally sad loss of 40 jobs.

I have no clue of the parent company’s balance sheet but I am sure it is no different than most of the major companies in Southern Nevada – that is, hurting. So I am sure the Greenspuns felt they had to do something to stanch the bleeding, no matter how painful, just as gaming goliaths and development behemoths have. But it just feels different to people in the business when this happens to others in the business, especially those of us still with jobs. We feel guilt mixed with sympathy and overall, a sense of loss, both tangible and intangible.

There were some great, talented people let go this week and I hope they find jobs, even though employment in journalism is more and more dicey. These are dark days for those of us who prize the profession, as we have seen newspapers and TV stations cut and gut their staffs, and I wonder if the quality can be maintained.

I have seen and heard criticism of how this was handled at Greenpsun Central. [sic] So be it. But is there a good way to handle such a cataclysm? I don’t think anything could have softened the blow for those laid off this week. As for the observation that this is the dismantling of an organization that just won a Pulitzer, that the Sun grabbed the prize and then disbanded the team, let’s wait awhile. A new business and journalism model is in its nascent stages, so let’s see how it plays out. I’m hopeful that this is not, as some ominously foretell, the beginning of the end, but rather a new beginning.

One more valedictory: I wanted to say a word of thanks and well wishes to Mike Kelley, the Sun managing editor who presided over that Pulitzer and is now leaving the organization to spend more time with his grandchildren. Kelley arguably created something even greater and more monstrous than a Pulitzer, something called “Face to Face with Jon Ralston.” It was his vision that gave me the chance to do what has become the most enjoyable part of my journalistic career. For that, I shall be eternally grateful. He is a real newsman and I wish him all the best.

I'll ignore all the "those dastardly outsiders don't know the real story" crap because it's what some people say about many of Jon's commentaries, too, so I know he doesn't mean it. And I'll say that it's too bad Jon didn't pay homage to his own dismissed editor, Pat Teague, since Pat probably would've prevented Jon from misspelling the name of his own employer.

Nah, I'll move right on to the part where Jon asks: "But is there a good way to handle such a cataclysm?"

In fact, there is! I read a very interesting piece about this very topic recently! The headline was "Workplace transparency helps ease pain of employee layoffs." The piece opens with these four words: "Talk to us. Please." The idea is that layoffs are a little less stinging when both those who leave and those who remain have a clue what the circumstance of the company is. Also -- and this isn't in that story but kinda is a teaspoon of common sense -- it does nobody favors to have their former boss try to cast their unemployment as a cause for anyone to feel affirmed or upbeat. And I can't tell you the number of emails I've received from the fired thanking me to keeping that list. Being acknowledged for your service, it seems, also makes the pain a little more palatable.

Oh, that story I just referenced? Ahh, right. It was in IN Business Las Vegas. It was probably edited by Jeff Simpson, now the former editor of the GMG publication which also carries a weekly column by Jon Ralston.

It ran on Nov. 27. Four days before the Sun's Black Tuesday.


A former colleague of King Ralston the First said...

Gosh, Jon, you're REALLY on the ball. it took you 4 days to say this because you're too busy with John Ensign's sex life? And how do you explain that Kelley announced his resignation WEEKS ago. He's so important to you that you wait until NOW to say soemthing? What a self-serving piece of garbage. A real class act.

Anonymous said...

And that story was written by one of those laid off, reporter Nicole Lucht.

Anonymous said...

"Workplace transparency helps ease pain of employee layoffs" was also written by laid-off Nicole Lucht. Sad...


DAMN! I didn't check the list. That would've been an even better kicker. Oh well. Glad you guys caught it, anyhow.

James Taylor said...

Steve, please keep us informed on any news you come across about where these former Sun employees wind up. I'm hoping against hope that some of them will be hired by other local news outlets.

I briefly spoke to a Sun editor on the phone yesterday morning (they had to confirm my name for a letter to the editor I wrote), and I told him that I know the situation's tough over there, but I wish they could find a way to get Jeff Simpson back on the payroll. I know it isn't likely to do any good, but it made me feel a little bit better. Do you think it would do any good for other people to call and/or write, or is the damage already irretrievable?

It's just been reported that Tiger Woods's wife has moved out. If they divorce and she gets the $300 million, maybe you could persuade her to start another newspaper in town and put all these great journalists back to work. Just take her up into that condo and give her a little of the ol' Friess lovin', and she'll see things your way soon. I'm sure Miles would understand; after all, you'd be taking one for the team, right?

cartman08 said...

Putting aside the fact that virtually all the writers who were let go were more talented, and paid less than John (sic) Ralston (& yes, I too am a former Sun scribe) there is so much wrong with his toe-kissing of Anti Hank & Fredo's organization in his 'column' one does not know where to begin.
So let's keep it simple (a Ralston trait)--instead of simply regurgitating talking points provided by The Corporation, someone who actually felt the emotion that John (sic) says he did would have personalized his comments, and perhaps paid kudos to at least the most senior people affected--by name. But then, that would presume that John (sic) spent a day in the actual newsroom doing a real day's reporting, as opposed to emailing out 'flashes' about how much good Anti Hank is doing for the community.
OK. Enough of this. Ralston is, as he always is, irrelevant to the real conversation. Deepest sympathy to the fine folks who lost their gigs; hang tough, and hopefully your next employer will be one with a tad more class than your last.

Anonymous said...

Ron Kantowski has been hired by the RJ. said...

The Greenspuns are hiring:

For a position in Naples, FLORIDA.

How many other positions are they outsourcing or moving far beyond Nevada... at the expense of Las Vegas workers...


Ted: I would agree with you if it wasn't such a highly technical job. I don't know why they're hiring in Naples, but I can't imagine that workers in Naples would necessarily command less money than those in Las Vegas. Perhaps they happen to have some back-end facility there for whatever reason? I'll ask about this because I'm curious, but this doesn't strike me as the sort of outsourcing that makes the Lou Dobbs of the world nuts. said...

I agree that IT work has to be farmed out to where it can be done best. Some of mine is done out-of-state because the custom software I needed developed was fulfilled by a guy back east. However, Naples seems strange when (my understanding is) that GMG used to do (and maybe still does) IT in-house... here in Las Vegas.

Naples also seems strange because it isn't exactly the lowest cost of living in Florida. Naples is upscale. On the flip side, is owned by a Florida company who invaded GMG's backyard. Perhaps GMG is going to be invading Florida.

Just doing some digging. Wondering if all of the local job cuts were partially to free up funds to do something somewhere else. The Sun is a shadow of its former self.