Thursday, August 18, 2011

Massive Layoffs Strike The R-J Today

Last Updated at 2:05 p.m. PT, 8/19/2011 with new names and other details.

I'm working hard to gather up all of the names of those journalists who are being ushered out of the Review-Journal's headquarters right now. As I did when Greenspun Media Group canned nearly 40 people in 2009, I will continue to update this post as more names and details are confirmed.

Right now, I count 22 people on the list, almost all of them newsroom folk. I've also noticed that the RJ appears to have stripped the website of RJTV, the ill-executed daily news capsule that might have actually worked if it had decent production value and if there was some way to download or embed it.

On Facebook earlier today, former R-J Editor Thomas Mitchell wrote in response to talk show host Heidi Harris asking if the fired included anyone she knows: "Probably not ... photogs, sports, artists, pressmen, ad folks. But there is one you know, but I've not got confirmation of departure." More recently, he commented on the Facebook site of one of the fired, Dennis Rudner, "Hope you got a decent severance package."

Here's hoping that the "one you know" referenced by Mitchell is not the legendary John L. Smith, whose column last weekend certainly struck me as tentatively valedictory. That would be devastating. I also hear a press release is being worked up which, if true, would be substantially more transparency than occurred during the Greenspun massacre. (Update: No answer -- not even voicemail -- in Publisher Bob Brown's office.)

So here's the growing list. I'll add new names and the length-of-service as the information comes in. Most of these folks were fired today, but a handful lost their jobs in the past couple of weeks. In addition to this, I understand 15 employees in the press room -- a full shift -- were let go earlier this week. And, of course, there was another, smaller layoff spree at the RJ earlier in March.

I keep this list so the public knows how their newspaper is being diminished and also so these men and women do not become anonymous casualties after their many years of hard work:

* Edmund Meinhardt, editor, LV Health/View on Health, 4 years
* Steve Guiremand, sports copy editor and @UNLVRebelNation tweeter
* Dennis Rudner, assistant sports editor, 12 years
* Jim Decker, photographer, 24 years
* Jean Thorne, graphics
* Rowena Sioson Castillejos, graphics
* Jason Whited, CityLife staff writer
* Alan Choate, general assignment reporter
* Jim Haug, education reporter
* Joyce Lupiani, content editor, 16 years
* Gary Thompson, photographer, 35 years

* Craig Moran, photographer, 17 years
* Mike Johnson, news-graphic artist, 26 years
* Valerie Miller, Las Vegas Business Press reporter
* Scott Wyland, county government reporter
* Duane Prokop, 5+years
* John Gurzinski, photographer, 20 years
* Nate Tannenbaum, RJTV anchor
* Erik Huey, online advertising
* Jeff Wolf, sports reporter
* Dean White, assistant to circulation director
* John Edwards, business reporter

Rudner, on his Facebook wall, wrote: "The worst part about being laid off after 12 years on the job is the effect it has on your children, even if they are teens." Heartbreaking.

That impact to the photo department is severe. And it's made even worse to those shooters by the fact that they don't own their own equipment anymore. That is, when the cameras went high-tech digital and cost $5,000+ each, the photogs began simply using the company's. So these folks are hamstrung in terms of freelancing, from what one shooter told me. Also in the photo department, former photo editor Jeff Scheid was demoted to staff photog and Kevin Cannon is the interim photo editor.

This paints a picture of a newspaper in dire economic conditions that can only be the result of the long, incompetent tenure of disgraced former publisher Sherman Frederick. Yes, the new publisher, Bob Brown, is a former ad guy and may not have the journalistic sensitivities that Frederick did have most of the time, but it was Frederick who made a long list of terrible decisions.

Frederick constantly calls me "bitter" on his blog and on Twitter, but mostly I've just been strident that the newspaper wasn't pivoting into the new media environment with any creativity, investment or ingenuity. I have warned for many years now that that failure would endanger the entire enterprise and I said repeatedly that it would ultimately cost jobs. Sure, the economy bites and newsrooms are challenged everywhere, but this is a newspaper that actually LOST circulation even as this city's population exploded. That takes a special brand of incompetence.

It just didn't matter then because the fat margins cushioned that failure for a long time. Now we see the results, and they're horrifying for the people involved. Sherm, meanwhile, still enjoys his blog and column and his Podunk newspapers. Awesome.

36 comments:

detroit1051 said...

Sad what has happened to the RJ. Starting in the late '70s, pre-internet, I would be at Little Professor Bookstore in Dearborn, MI every Wednesday morning to make sure I got one of the 20 copies of the previous Sunday's RJ which were flown in to Detroit. I read every word and looked at every ad. In those days, the RJ gave a real view of everything Vegas from gaming news to the booming real estate growth to the huge expansion of greater Las Vegas to the south, west and north.

When the RJ came online, it lost its character of the city. These latest staff reductions will further tarnish a previously decent newspaper.

vegasguy07 said...

This is sad. A fairly big paper with no competition in a medium size market starts carving up staff to keep up the profit margin. I wonder what the R-J is going to tell its readers. "Dedicated to Mediocrity" (at the right price).

Christine said...

What a shame to see such talent laid off in our community. The intellectual suck-hole that is Las Vegas keeps growing. Several of these reporters are who those of us who actually bother to follow local news depend on. What happens to a community when you don't have Scott Wyland and Alan Choate covering government stories that help create a public consciousness? Nate Tannenbaum makes us all look a little classier. He is gone too.

Anonymous said...

The sad thing is, if you were already in Michigan, no one would be covering and vetting the story.

Anonymous said...

So sad to hear about this. I worked with some of them when I did PR in Vegas, and am saddened to hear about this latest turn of events. My heart goes out to all of them.

roy p said...

Who's going to cover vegas the way you do whn u leave? Be honest, you're gonna miss it!

Kim said...

Reading something like this gives me even more reason to want to leave Las Vegas for good. My husband knew several of these people and it's such a shame to see them being let go. Las Vegas has zero value on raw talent, experience, and old-school journalism of any kind. If it's not big, flashy, colorful, or cheap then forget it, this town wants none of it. This can also be seen in the disrespect for the arts, demolition of historic motels and icons from the heydays, and a seemingly blissful lack of interest in exercising the mind for something useful and beneficial to the community. Las Vegas; in its pursuit to be the biggest and best, has simply lost sight of what made it what it is today. The RJ is simply adding to the destruction of a once great city.

Jeff Simpson said...

Steve, when I was laid off by the Sun and IBLV in 2009 I appreciated your coverage of the story and of the lame press release issued to accompany the layoffs and spin them as some kind of positive.
Thank you for focusing on the R-J layoff story. It is a tough time to be a professional print journalist and this is currently a horrible market to ply your trade. Good luck to all those who have been let go and to all those remaining who will be more worried about their own futures than ever before.

AccessVegas.com said...

I suspect that the layoffs in graphics and photography (which was quite a few in the list) can be attributed to technology. Unfortunately for professional photographers, anyone with a high-end phone can take a photo that is "good enough" to accompany a news story. And "good enough" is obviously all the R-J is after these days.

Having said that, I completely agree that their inability to master the internet is beyond comprehension. Certainly Al Gibes played a huge roll in this (doing so poorly with the stewardship of the lasvegas.com domain that they ended up leasing it to the Greenspuns), but leadership comes from the top. I'm not going to make the long list of everything I'd have done differently in their shoes (I'm not a free consultant), but you have to be pretty inept to bumble the possibilities they had on their plate a decade ago. Now, so many employees pay the price.

Anonymous said...

The R-J has been dying for years. I look forward to the day when we can bury the corpse of this shitty newspaper and hope that something decent comes along in its place. The editorial page of the R-J has the energy and spirit of a funeral home. Vin Supryniwicz (sp?) and Glenn Cook deserve to have a table at a nursing home where their audience will be happy they're there regardless of the stupidity of their comments.

Anonymous said...

While it would be easy to say they failed to embrace the internet in a big way, I can't think of any traditional newspapers, with a foundation in print, that have truly succeeded in making money in any large amounts from the internet. I felt the Las Vegas Sun would have a better chance given the JOA with the RJ and less overhead. But that doesn't seem to be the case, either.
I think television stations will soon face the same loss of viewers/readers, as the internet continues to play an ever increasing role in our lives.
Perhaps the world of journalism is going to be populated by blogs and freelance reporters looking for the story. The trick will be to figure out how to make enough money to do it full time while relying upon google ad sense, subscriptions and sponsorships in an internet world where FREE is the expected norm. To that end, good luck with untainted honest reporting. Good luck making a living.
In the 80's there was a song entitled "Video killed the Radio Star". Now it would seem the internet killed everything else.

Anonymous said...

Not a single person in the features department. The photogs may be brought back on board as stringers. Still hurts. No benefits and they have to use their own equipment.

Michael Sommermeyer said...

The sad thing is some of these folks are the type of journalists who ask probing questions with a sensitivity that allows them to be inquisitive while maintaining relationships that lead to more stories. Valerie Miller has done some tough stories about programs and projects I've been involved in and yet I always was happy to see her come visit. Same thing with Alan Choate and Scott Wyland. I know that Joyce Lupiani has worked very hard to be the best and I'm sad that Gary Thompson was handed his hat; he's a real standup guy who always worked hard to 'adjust' to my peccadilloes. Of course, it goes without saying my admiration for Jeff Scheid and I hope he survives the decimation of the photo bureau. I went through this in the late 80's when journalism went through a previous round of pain; it's tough to watch again, but I take hope in that some of these talented people will be able to keep the words coming in another place. BTW, I'll miss you too Steve. I know you're heading for a better future and I hope you continue to hold Vegas dear to your heart. Keep doing good work and I look forward to hearing good things.

Cheers, Michael.

Morris Workman said...

Sadly, it appears the R-J is laying people off as a cost-saving measure to battle a "trough" in the normal peaks and valleys of any business. This isn't a temporary lull. What they refuse to understand is that print newspapers are simply "dead men walking," and the future of all journalism will be online. Hate it if you want, but it's the indisputable truth. Instead of continuing to whittle away at an unworkable print model, Stephens Media needs to surrender, embrace online journalism, and put their resources toward that new model. Want to see what it looks like? Take a look at the venerable Seattle Post Intelligencer, which quit print in 2009. Going strong as an online-only entity, even through one of the worst periods in the history of the news industry. (Ironically, checked out the PI today...top banner ad? Mandalay Bay.) The RJ has consistently had one of the worst news sites of any major daily in the country, and the company has refused to spend any money to improve it. As a former Stephens Media employee and editor, I know firsthand about the heirarchy's blatant disdain and disregard for internet news. Hate to see good journalists left unemployed, but looking forward to the final collapse of a paper that will become another cautionary tale for news outlets across the country.

Anonymous said...

Lay-Offs are always difficult. I've spoken to many people that will never buy the R-J newspaper. The implication is that they have the same right-wing political slant as Fox News. Give me a reason why would want to go out on my hot driveway and get the morning paper! I prefer investigative journalism, not hatchet job editorials.

MaSaYa Mahanta said...

Quite an interesting read...

Anonymous said...

How sad....some good people who put their heart and soul into this paper are now being tossed aside like trash.

Neil said...

To the anonymous who posted at 9:24 p.m. and said the R-J has been dying for years and should go away, don't be a douchebag. Because you don't agree with a couple of people on the editorial page, the whole paper should fail? That would be the jobs of 600 more decent people who, believe it or not, are entitled to work and who care about their jobs regardless of whether you agree with their politics. Way to be open-minded and tolerant.

Ditto for you, Morris. I understand your point but find it incredibly unfortunate that anyone would "look forward to the final collapse" of any business, let alone the biggest newspaper in a state.

Anonymous at 1:25, so you won't even physically touch a newspaper that might have a couple of editorials with which you disagree? Wow, that's something to be proud of. And can't you distinguish between news coverage and editorials? Guess not.

Neil said...

And one more thing: Considering conservatives continue to outnumber liberals 2:1, having a conservative editorial page is probably a smart business decision. There's a reason Fox is kicking CNN's and MSNBC's asses combined in the ratings game.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/141032/2010-conservatives-outnumber-moderates-liberals.aspx

Of course, any paper in a town with a falling population and an effective jobless rate of 25 percent will have problems, especially when the paper's biggest advertiser categories were car dealers, home builders and casinos. That wouldn't have anything to do with the company's falling fortunes, would it?

Anonymous said...

Interesting that the RJ constantly trumpets its view that government cannot create jobs, that only private enterprise can. It seems that private enterprise can also adversely affect peoples' lives.

Someone I know was terminated after years and years of loyal service, with no negative reports, ever. They said that they would give this person a "neutral" recommendation letter. This is an individual who won a number of industry awards.

Meanwhile, the publisher's wife remains on the payroll.

Disgusting behavior.

Conan O' Barbarian said...

No, Neil, it wouldn't. The R-J's failure is strictly due to years of incompetence, and cutting costs to increase the bottom line rather than adapt to and invest in the future. That's why they were caught with their pants down when the economy downturned. You are demonstrating here that you are as blind as Sherm, and could serve as a local poster child for right wingers who are trying to impose their subjective, ass-backward, ruinous reality on the rest of the country. One poll means nothing. Let us know when you've polled every single American adult about their political beliefs.

If you really cared about the R-J's employees, you'd spend your breath holding the idiots who rule(d) there accountable.

Anonymous said...

I know several on this list and as a PR gal have worked closely with them. I am shocked especially for those with so many years of service. Just awful.

Anonymous said...

So sad to see this happen to such great people. What I wonder is how they went about making the decisions on who to cut, my opinion is that some of those laid off are an important key to the success of the paper- the City Hall Reporter, education reporter, Steve with so much experience and trust from his sources, photogs who have been there so long that they are well known in their community.
I'm not saying there is anyone they should have let go of instead but I seriously question their choices.

DBF said...

The reality is: "Nothing grows till Obama goes". The liberal press (which the RJ is part of)will tell you that things (the economy, housing, etc.) are getting better. It is not getting better; it is gettig worse. If you want to change the liberal press, cancel your subscription to the Las Vegas Review Journal. Do it today!

Laura Martin said...

If memory serves me correctly. Steve totally called the Tannenbaum firing last March.

RJTV was pretty whack. I was on it a few times, but there was no way to share the video, and if you linked it, if you went back to the video the next day, it's be a different video.

The RJ is a hot mess.

Rev.Bill said...

Anonymous is right about no publications with roots in print doing well in the transition to digital. I really really feel for those decent hard-working folks at the RJ. But understand this is GOING TO continue. Lots of questions remain and the big ones are the same ones noted in this thread. The big thing to remember is that the day of the large journalistic organization is coming to a close. Small and feisty, lean and mean will rule. A few people with passion and very little overhead will make more of a difference than the large media groups of the past have. Those groups will continue to exist and make millions. But it will be in entertainment, even when that entertainment is disguised as news. It takes a total break from past models and a total change in mindset. I was dumb enough to quit a really well-paying job as a print editor to go on my own all digital with no backers and no savings. So far it is working better than I had hoped. But anyone who thinks that journalism will continue to be a middle-class profession where you put in your time and get your pension is fooling themselves. And this is being typed by a guy who has been in the game since the '80s and who has printer's ink in his veins. Print as a mass medium is done. put a fork in it. "You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
Buckminster Fuller

Anonymous said...

Steve,

Sherm Frederick has many faults - overwrought ego, right-wing fanaticism, embarrassing hackery, clumsy business sense (anyone remember Cerca?) - but one thing he always did was try to protect the people in the newsroom. He is not to blame for these layoffs. The fault likes with the Arkansas investment bankers who demanded ever-growing profits in a dying industry.

I can't believe I just defended that buffoon. Off to take a shower now.

-former RJ reporter.

Anonymous said...

DBF,

The RJ is liberal media? It's one of the most conservative newspapers in the country. Sheesh.

Jennifer Kilpatrick said...

Sad to hear business reporter John Edwards is on the lay off list. He was the only LVRJ reporter who took the time to try to learn the nuances of Chapter 11 bankruptcy when the Station and Fontainebleau bankruptcy cases were occurring.

Anonymous said...

Ad revenue tanking, circulation dropping like a stone. To make matters exponentially worse, thanks to the Righthaven debacle, management at the RJ/Stephens Media is now forced to go on the offensive ... fending off a tsunami of lawsuits, demands for legal fees, threats of class action lawsuits, court sanctions, etc. over what many view as a "scam" get rich quick scheme. (Those unfamiliar with Righthaven are encouraged to treat themselves to a quick Internet search - mind boggling stuff to say the least.) It's understandable they need to find a way to shore up the bottom line somehow. However, it's unfortunate that so many hardworking individuals at the RJ end up paying the ultimate price for management incompetence. Sad, indeed.

Anonymous said...

this is wot happens when u don't have a union representing you. . . .plain and simple u are left at the mercy of so-called employers who fire and hire people on whim.......

Neil said...

Conan: Unless you work at the RJ, you know nothing about the paper's cost-cutting and bottom line. So spare me the false high dudgeon. Anyway, something tells me you couldn't really care less, because these matters don't personally affect you. In fact, it's clear you're one of the many intolerant, narrow-minded morons on the left who believes that people who don't think exactly like you don't deserve any representation whatsoever in the media, nor do they ever have any valid points. Nice. And extremely typical of your ilk.

Your take on polling is completely retarded. Not PC, I know, but I have no other word for it. I'm guessing that when some new poll shows that most Americans approve of raising taxes on the rich, you aren't out there whining like a little bitch about how they didn't poll every American, so how could they know that's how they all feel for sure? Hypocrite.

You have no idea how much I care about the paper's employees, and how personal this issue is to me, so STFU, as they say. As for your stupid remark about spending my breath holding people accountable, you have no idea what I do or say when I'm not here.

As for the "anonymous" who had to take a shower after defending Sherm, well, you said it all better than I ever could. Unfortunately, people like Conan are so "blinded" by their single-minded hatred of Sherm that they don't want to hear that the paper is actually still profitable. It has never lost money, not ever. Not even during the worst of the recession.

And thanks, Steve, for clarifying your opinions on Sherm on your most recent post. Very reasonable and balanced take.

Anonymous said...

As a PR guy in this town for nearly 30 years I've enjoyed working with a number of these individuals. I'm sorry. What bothers me is how it happened. If the stories are true; that's the travesty. I've been enjoying your coverage of Las Vegas for a long time, Steve. Thank you for demonstrating an outstanding news sense.

Jeff in OKC said...

Although reporters are the face of the newspaper, I wonder why no one ever asks about cuts in production and distribution? In my opinion, all major newspaper brain trusts know what the future is, but they can't absorb the immediate cost to get there. Their investment in presses, warehouses, vehicle fleets and materials far outstrip their editorial hard costs. Add in all the human beings employed in these areas, and I see why abandoning that methodology has to be a several year process. Extremely expensive, both financially and in terms of eliminating something like 70% of the employees, when all is said and done.
I think there usually is a conscience in the corner office.

Anonymous said...

I've read the entire thread of comments. The one that makes the least sense to me is this one, by Neil: "[The R-J] has never lost money, not ever. Not even during the worst of the recession."

This is baffling to me. If in fact this is true, please explain the need for massive layoffs which have affected, as you note, a number of good people with years of investment in the company.

If there's no need to trim payroll costs in order to save money, because the company NEEDS to save money, then why do it in the first place? For fun? A kick? Just because?

What am I missing?

Neil said...

Hi, most recent anonymous: By way of explanation, I'm going to cut and paste from the poster who defended Sherm:

>>The fault likes with the Arkansas investment bankers who demanded ever-growing profits in a dying industry. <<

Does that answer your question? The paper is still profitable, but not nearly as profitable as it once was. This is an attempt to restore previous profitability levels...it is not because the paper is in the red. Surely you understand this is how most corporations work. Cisco made a profit of $6.5 billion in the last year and it is in the middle of laying off 4,000 people. They're making money, just not as much as they would like.

Do you really think companies wait until they're bleeding red ink to start layoffs?