Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Sun's Fired, An Accounting

I'm working to provide a full accounting of those fired at the Las Vegas Sun yesterday. So many have had such important careers in Vegas that someone must acknowledge that as well as explain what was lost.

Please continue to let me know and I will add them here. I also need to try to determine whether there's any sort of logic to who's left. It seems like virtually the entire sports staff is gone, for instance, and arts writers Joe Brown and Kristen Peterson have been shifted to the Las Vegas Weekly. Will the eight-page Sun now primarily be a vehicle for coverage of government?

Since many have asked me, my "The Petcast" co-host and Sun education writer Emily Richmond did survive. I'm told that photographer Sam Morris, whom I had previously listed, also is still employed.

Today, Sun publisher Brian Greenspun addressed the matter on the front page of the paper in a very strange piece. Yes, he acknowledged the economic ravages that have brought upon this moment but no, he did not publicly acknowledge the veterans whose service had ended. What's more, he tried to, like with the press release, suggest there's some good here. "It was both a hopeful and a sad moment," he wrote. Hopeful for who? He refers to his publications -- and I agree -- as "credible and responsible" content providers, except that he acknowledged no managerial errors that led to this -- there had to be some, even if they were sins of excessive journalistic ambition -- and did not specify how many people had lost their jobs.

One more thing. I don't believe for a moment that Mike Kelley, the grizzled old managing editor, happened to decide to retire recently because he feels obligated to his family as Greenspun wrote. Kelley knew this day was coming, didn't want to be a part of it and decided journalism like this just isn't as fun or important as it was. That's my hunch, anyhow. Anyone who knows this man knows that he would have been happiest to keel over on a printing press.

Anyhow, since the Sun won't do it, I will. Here's what I've got so far in terms of who lost their jobs. If you read the papers or the sites, you'll know their names. As Hunter Hillegas of RateVegas.Com mentioned in his comment on my earlier post, they alone could put out a heckuva paper.

I'll update with length of service if people send it along:
  1. Josh Bell, movie critic for the Las Vegas Weekly and podcaster of "Josh Bell Hates Everything" for the website. 7 years service.
  2. Ron Kantowski, sportswriter for the Sun.
  3. Mary Manning, environmental writer for the Sun. There at least 20 yrs. I competed with her for stories when I covered Clark County government, and hence the Water District board, more than a decade ago.
  4. Steve Silver, sports writer for the Sun.
  5. Rob Miech, sports writer for the Sun.
  6. Bethany Acree, commercial designer, Greenspun Interactive. 2 years service.
  7. David Clayton, editorial writer, Sun. Part of Pulitzer-winning team now disbanded that included Drex Heikes (now LA Weekly editor) and Ali Berzon (now with WSJ).
  8. Richard Abowitz, writer-at-large for Las Vegas Weekly. Recently also lost his Los Angeles Times blog on Las Vegas to cuts there. Also, possibly the smartest writer and person I've ever met. He brings light reading like Proust to red-carpet events to pass time. Really.
  9. Jeff German, Sun columnist for at least 20 years. His reporting drove the criminal investigation into the death of Ted Binion. He also used to clash furiously with then-R-J political columnist Jon Ralston.
  10. Abigail Goldman, Las Vegas Sun reporter. Broke the story of Nina Radetich's scandalous breach of ethics at KTNV. Hard to fathom that, as Castro survived 9 U.S. presidents, Radetich remains on the air and Abby's done.
  11. Jeff Simpson, In Business Las Vegas editor and a member of the "gang" of the Vegas Gang podcast. Also, occasional sparring partner of yours truly on Nevada Week in Review.
  12. Melissa Arseniuk, LasVegasSun.Com pop culture writer. Met her covering the O.J. Simpson trial last year, which she Tweeted gavel to gavel for the paper in the first known use of that in Las Vegas. Saw her last night at the Vdara opening and she was upbeat and hopeful.
  13. Jerry Fink, entertainment writer and show reviewer for at least 15 years.
  14. Jeff Haney, poker and gambling columnist. Just sat next to him through 21 hours of the Final Table of the World Series of Poker last month and have relied on him for years to provide expert commentary to my poker-related stories.
  15. Timothy Pratt, minority affairs reporter for the Sun. Tim's probably the only -- or at least one of the few -- bilingual journalists in the Las Vegas mainstream press. Of all these people, the R-J would be wisest to snap him up for the value-added skills and how important covering minority issues and immigration will be in coming years in Las Vegas.
  16. Brenden Buhler, the quirk-finding Sun writer whose stories I have linked to repeatedly because they're always original and funny. Three favorites: battling his swamp cooler, beard-trimming mania and resale graves. 3.5 years service.
  17. Mark Whittington, assistant managing editor.
  18. Nicole Lucht, In Business Las Vegas and Sun business writer.
  19. Sam Skolnik, City Hall reporter. 3.5 years service.
  20. Billy Steffens, LasVegasSun.Com multimedia producer who Tweets here and who came in on Saturdays to help Emily and me produce "The Petcast" at the Sun's podcast room until we decided to return to LVRocks.Com.
  21. Chris Mason, GMG software developer
  22. Chris Morris, Sun illustrator and art director
  23. Mark Damon, Sun director of photography.
  24. Brian Sodoma, special publications writer for In Business Las Vegas. 4 years service.
  25. Pat Teague, editor of RalstonFlash, Jon Ralston's daily email blast and managing editor of special publications. 1.5 years service.
  26. Paul Szydelko, Las Vegas Magazine senior editor and former manager of the late Henderson Home News. 22+-years service.
  27. Marcia McMillan, receptionist
  28. Keyanna Stewart, photo/graphics technician *
  29. Joe Boswell, marketing creative director.
  30. Beverly Poppe, GMG/Las Vegas Weekly photographer.
  31. Richard Serrano, Sun federal agencies reporter.
  32. Natasha Shepard, Web producer.
  33. Scott Den Herder, Sun multimedia producer
  34. John Paul McDonnall, copy editor, edited parts of the Pulitzer-winning series.
  35. Fred Cohen, copy editor, edited of the Pulitzer-winning series.
  36. Colleen Smiley, Vegas Magazine deputy editor.
  37. Jamie Delaney, executive assistant to Greenspun web guru Rob Curley.

These are in no particular order and I'm happy to add more information about each -- as well as additional names -- when they come available.

[Disclosure: I write a column for the Las Vegas Weekly, owned by Greenspun Media Group.]

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

A few missed, Billy Steffens, Multimedia producer for the Sun. And Chris Mason, software developer.

THE STRIP PODCAST said...

thanks. Billy was so awesome. Frustrating.

THE STRIP PODCAST said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JL said...

Any word on what kind of compensation package they received? I was part of the 2005 layoffs and we had two months' notice (notified July 27, 2005 and our last day was Sept. 30) plus four months of full pay. This is so much more devistating -- they were blindsided. Steve, I agree with you about Kelley. I don't think he wanted to be associated with this, so he decided to retire. Either that or he was aske to retire.

One thing that I'm confused about is, what exactly will this product look like? Will it still be an RJ insert, or is everything going online? How will a merged news and ad department work? Why doesn't Brian explain the details in plain English and not some dumb, flowery crap?

Anonymous said...

Also missed Chris Morris, the superb illustrator, and photo editor Mark Damon.

cartman08 said...

...and not to divert from the very valuable acknowledgment of the good folks, some great writers, affected by this cold corporate bloodletting, but mega kudos to you Steve for this obvious labor of love in listing all the fallen. Perhaps the RJ will get around to doing something on it, but even if they did, it would be with the stink of personal and political vengeance that permeates almost all their "Sherman-esque'" news coverage these days.
So, on behalf of those of us who care about both what really happened, and the people it happened to, gracias amigo.

Anonymous said...

I heard the compensation package was two weeks pay for every year they were employed. So if you were there for four years, you'd get eight weeks pay.

Jean said...

For those who were asking about Ed Koch, he went on disability earlier this year.

Some very good people were let go, no doubt about it. Same thing has happened multiple times in L.A. and San Francisco and just this year in Seattle and Denver. It's a tough time for journalism.

Anonymous said...

You write that the Sun people were "fired." Should say "laid off." For those people, that's a big distinction.

HL said...

heyu Anon - did you read the goddamn headline? don't take it out on Friess. he's hte only one doing any justice to this tragedy.

Utah Girl said...

Dang. When winning a Pulitzer isn't enough to save your career, you know the business has become harsh. My sincerest condolences to Clayton.
The Sun was my last newspaper job, and after more than 25 years in the business I can only tell those who were cut yesterday that life after newspapers is quite good -- much better, in fact. You have great skills. Get out there and use them for something that benefits the common good. You don't have to work to fill the pockets of media owners.

Ron, Locals Love Vegas said...

Sorry to see this happening to so many good and talented friends of mine.

Anonymous said...

oh boo hoo. you know 100 people lost their jobs the other day at binions and you didn't even cover that, let alone start a list of so-called victims. self-indulgent liberal media crap.

durango99 said...

Condolences to so many former colleagues and people for whom I have the utmost respect. You deserved a better quality Greenspun.

Talent skips a generation, or so they say. Hank spins in his grave and NONE of this means a friggin' thing to Michael and Fredo, er, Brian and Danny.

GregoryZephyr said...

At some point there will only be one print reporter in the entire country and 20,000 outlets distributing the same story and hoping a few people click on the Google ads.

AccessVegas.com said...

Wow. The loss of some of the key staff members is staggering and my heart goes out to all of them. My wallet would also if my business had more of a news focus, but my readers just want to hear about the latest to see and do. I have contacted at least one person on the list.

However, one could see the downfall of the Greenspun Media Empire coming for years. I've predicted it to many who know me... dating back to around 2002. Their goal was to rule, own, and control just about every type of media emmanating from Las Vegas and spend whatever it took to do it. Hell... they even took over concierge desks at local hotels. In other cities these would be manned by Les Clefs d’Or members. Not Vegas.com ticket salespeople. (One of the new CityCenter properties will be bucking that trend, which is nice to see).

I mean... take that guy formerly from Playboy (forget his name... headed up GM magazine department until he got left/resigned/fired/whatever earlier this year) who conned them into thinking he could run a number of magazines profitably for them. Even claimed on Lunchtime With Ira that he was charged with turning a profit on them and if memory serves me correct, implied that he was succeeding. I wonder how many other cushy, big-pay, "con Brian Greenspun out of his money while we live large" jobs over the years drained immense amounts of cash while the writers toiled away faithfully.

Then you have the brain-trust at Vegas.com who (seemingly to me) have found a way to need five people to do the job of one (bloated staff). With the resources from the paper (entertainment listings, show reviews, etc), I'm at a loss why Vegas.com has as many employees as they do. Tightening that ship would have probably allowed them to keep a couple of key writers at the Sun. I'm also surprised by the loss of Jerry Fink, Richard Abowitz, similar who would have fit well under the Vegas.com umbrella.

Then you have what appeared to be millions of dollars spent on Vegas.com advertising throughout the early and middle part of this decade. I mean... they were (even at that time) #1 for just about every Vegas related search on the web. With the narrow margins in travel (except for show tickets), I have no clue how they planned to recoup advertising money that never had to be spent. But pouring millions into doing so (with little or no probable return) could not have helped things.

My guess is that it was an attempt to dominate the market so completely (which for the most part they already were doing) that others wouldn't be able to break in and present competitors would end up failing. Actually... I will say they were pretty successful there. You can count the successful independent Vegas travel sites (people making full-time gig of it with ability to have at least a small staff) on one hand. And countless failures over the years.

Also, 944 still seems to be marching along but the GM stranglehold really kept other magazines from even trying this market. Which is unfortunate, because other cities have various independent city-based magazines and we really didn't. (I don't categorize anything GM as independent).

Obviously the financial bleeding from this overall failed attempt went too far and (unfortunately) affected the newsroom budget.

Final Question: How come so many great writers got cut and Robin Leach is still on GM payroll? With all due respect to his lifetime of television accomplishment... I'm guessing that they could brand someone else as a Vegas insider (perhaps one of the in-house writers that they laid off) more economically and without any problems unless Leach is working for free.

Man... what a shame for all involved. Much of what made the Sun a great read is gone.

Ted Newkirk
Managing Editor
AccessVegas.com

Bennett said...

Wow Steve, sounds like everyone but the janitor is gone. I think we're headed toward an era of permanent freelance and/or hobby journalism if we're not already there. Major traditional local outlets will be ineffective commercial vehicles while it will be left to freelancers and bloggers to provide anything of real value. Las Vegas is hurting.

PS. I'm about to start a new blog of my own. Basically it's just gonna be pop culture, politics and Las Vegas commentary. Nothing major or all that important but I'll definitely be linking you.

Larry Cruikshank said...

My name is Larry Cruikshank and I worked as a freelance photographer over the last few years for both the RJ and Sun and was "laid off", as all freelancers were back in 01-01-09 from the View Newspapers. Mark Damon of the Sun tried his very best to get me work when he could for the Sun and is a very nice man. I was sorry to see his name on the list. Greenspun and Stephems Media are cold-blooded greedy profiteers. They do not care about art, quality, or I guess even loyalty. I hope both go under and a new single quality product emerges from the ashes!

Anonymous said...

did they comply with the federal WARN Act? Requires 60 days notice if more than 50 people laid off

Anonymous said...

Steve,

If possible, could you find out how much salary impact the former-Mayor of Henderson Gibson had on GM when he was asked to join them fairly recently?

I speculate it was substantial. He was and is a political creature and definitely not a journalist. Greenspun saw fit to keep the political heavyweight but released a massive wave of journalists.

As literally hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs, I feel bad for those at the Sun as well, no more or less. My surprise is who, how quickly, and how deeply to names I had become accustomed to over the years. My major concern is the lack of competent investigative journalism in Southern Nevada - we need substantially more, not less.

And to add a small bit of information, the RJ's View papers have shed - and not replaced literally several of their reporters over the past several weeks.

cartman08 said...

...just an aside amid all this...is it just me or is there not a supreme irony that so many people seeking the 'truth' about what really happened at GMG have to turn to an independent blog for information?
Must be me.
I don't think they make irony that big any more.

ps given the apparent willingness to sell out any principle for a few pesos, you got to wonder how much Brian & Fredo got for that Pulitzer at Sweat Shop Pawn Shop?
So many questions, so few reporters left to answer them...

Anonymous said...

How could they get rid of Jeff Haney? His gambling columns were great and this is Las Vegas.

ucsb1990 said...

Just an appalling bloodletting. I hope some of these people will be picked up by the R-J. The layoff that shocks me the most is Jeff Simpson; on NWR, he's always seemed very knowledgeable and reasonable. Whenever you argue with him, I think, "What the hell is Friess talking about? Doesn't he know he's just an entertainment reporter?" (Just kidding -- I was channeling a little Zahara there.)

It's a bitter irony that the Internet, which has so greatly broadened access to information, is now destroying the quality of that information by putting outstanding journalists like these out of work.

Anonymous said...

steve - fyi - there are at least a couple of bilingual reporters at the rj - antonio planas and lynnette curtis.

Anonymous said...

Ted, his name was Michael Carr (former President for GMG) and he was a clown.
I was part of their Internet Publishing Group that was let go in 2007. I remember when they fired the manager of that department and reunited us from a meeting and Michael Carr told us we will all be okay and said we would keep our jobs. He even made one lady with 15 years at the company stand up and tell us that GMG stays true to their word.
Two weeks later...the ax!
I doubt Brian and Danny care at all...I really do!
My heart goes out to all the staff who have lost their jobs!
BTW did anyone notice Bruce Spottelson drunk at the Vdara party that night after the layoffs?
He should have paid more respect to those who were laid off and stayed home that night!

Anonymous said...

The part of the layoffs that shocks me the most is the fact that GM has plans to hire. Whatever happened to placing value on employee morale?

Anonymous said...

"BTW did anyone notice Bruce Spottelson drunk at the Vdara party that night after the layoffs?
He should have paid more respect to those who were laid off and stayed home that night!"

You should have paid more respect to those who were laid off and not made a crappy post. It's not like all those people were fired because of mismanagement from the Greenspun organization; they were fired because they work in journalism, which is at this point a failing field. To blame any particular organization is fallacious.

Anonymous said...

"You should have paid more respect to those who were laid off and not made a crappy post. It's not like all those people were fired because of mismanagement from the Greenspun organization; they were fired because they work in journalism, which is at this point a failing field. To blame any particular organization is fallacious."
Good one Brian...I assume it's the Anti Hank (Brian) who posted that since no one else is left who would, except maybe Spottelson or Fredo Greenspun, and one is too drunk the other too moronic to actually post something as innately stupid in defense of such a massive bloodletting. The reason the best writers at that paper were let go is because almost all of them were senior people who were in receipt of the highest salaries. This is all about money, plain & simple, and no amount of corporate doublespeak by flacks or fools can make it otherwise. To say that GMG is a 'well managed' company 2 days after this butchering of their editorial heart is, however, exactly the blind BS one would expect from those too busy drinking corporate bath water to see the writing on the blog/wall.
That said, happy holidays!

THE STRIP PODCAST said...

HEY. I'm trying to be really liberal about approving comments because I know everyone is angry and hurt and wants to vent. But on the topic of Bruce S. attending the Vdara opening, I saw at least TWO of the fired people at that same event. I understand how painful it is for everyone -- really, I do -- but how about no cheap shots? I went to the Vdara thing and, after cataloging the carnage over there I really didn't want to either. It's work and sometimes we do it even when we're not in the mood. I find it hard to imagine anyone over there feels good or callous about what has happened, as little comfort as that probably is.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many of those fired had written some of the same "Nevada needs to 'broaden' its tax base" garbage.

It is truly justice to see the Sun crushed under the same anti-small business, anti-locals, anti-Nevada policies it has itself advocated for so long. The only other REALLY sad thing is that Jon Ralston isn't on this list since he is one of the biggest cheerleaders of the anti-small business policies that the Sun endorses.

Nevada has launched itself head first into the economic toilet and has little or no chance of recovery with the current legislature. I NEVER dreamed I would consider Jim Gibbons one of the more enlightened people in Carson City, but low and behold... compared to Barbara Buckley and Sen. Stephen "parks in handicapped spaces" Horsford, Mr. Gibbons appears to be a brilliant oracle.

cartman08 said...

"I wonder how many of those fired had written some of the same "Nevada needs to 'broaden' its tax base" garbage..."
Ah, yes, another 'compassionate conservative' takes time out of his busy AM radio listening day to share Rush's talking points. Dude, I know you are probably far too busy clipping & pasting Sherm Frederick's columns to your bible (there's a difference?) and polishing your AK47 (hey, it's in the constitution!) but this ISN'T about politics. It's about decent, hard working, and very talented folks getting shafted by their greedy corporate masters a couple weeks before Xmas no less. If you spent one day as a newspaper reporter you'd know just how thankless and underpaid a job it is--but then, that would require some actual ability and perspicacity (look it up, its a word). And anyone who would admit in public that he considers Jimmy 'The Groper' Gibbons to be "enlightened" would definitely not qualify as perspicacious.
That said, have a nice Christmas...and keep listening!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Steve for sticking up for the fallen, and for Bruce, he doesn't deserve criticism from anyone. The point is surely moot, but if you're counting, this is about round 7 of layoffs at Greenspun starting in October 2008.

There were a lot of supremely dedicated people at that company, but they were fed Kool-aid for years while money went out the window trying to make the GMG bigger than its britches. It's a shame that quality, dedication and service to the Las Vegas community was not enough.

ucsb1990 said...

Sorry if this is a sore subject, but did Ralston and German ever patch things up? I read that they got into it once after a taping of NWR.

Anonymous said...

It is a very sad day in Las Vegas journalism. As an employee who left another major media company in 2008 to join Greenspun only to be laid off three months later, I feel all of your pain. Ten months later, I see it as a blessing in disguise. We still live in the greatest country in the world and never before has an individual been so empowered by technology to compete with the entrenched big media. Melissa Arsenik and Josh Bell were two of the best writers I've ever read and they have the talent to set out on their own. While all off this is sad, it is interesting how much attention and crying of foul takes place when it is journalists being laid off. When I was laid off along with several great sales people who didn't fit the EEO criteria, not a word was written. At the end of the day, it's business and the choices are up to the owners of the company. I am glad that I will no longer be at the mercy of anyone's politics but my own. My only regret is believing the jackass Spotelson when he pulled me aside after the first round of layoffs and told me I had nothing to worry about- only to be let go a few weeks later in the next round. Keep your chins up and your pencils to the grindstone. The cream has a way of rising to the top.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody know the total number laid off?

Gainesville CPA said...

It's a bitter irony that the Internet, which has so greatly broadened access to information, is now destroying the quality of that information by putting outstanding journalists like these out of work.