Saturday, August 20, 2011

R-J Layoffs Yield Bizarre List of Employee Ages

So that, above, is a letter that arrived at the homes of those who were "selected for Involuntary Termination" (read: You WIN!) along with a truly bizarre attachment that I'll get to in a moment. You can click on the image above to enlarge it and read it. I've read this sentence many times and I can only conclude that someone who somehow still has a job needs a remedial writing course:

The Company is providing information to you regarding class, unit or group considerd in the selection decision to you, as well as information regarding other classes, units, or groups similarly evaluated by higher levels of management.

Yeah, beats me, too. But what comes after this is even stranger: It's a three-page list of every newsroom job and the age of the person who occupies it. There are no names, but it's not difficult to figure out who's who in many cases. Here's a couple of examples:

As you can see, I'm being very selective here. I could post the entire list with everybody's ages, but there's no need for that. The newsroom leaders, however, who expect every reporter to ask the ages of most figures in stories, cannot claim any sort of vanity or privacy in the matter.

Mostly, though, I'm trying to understand the purpose of distributing this. They're giving those who were fired a list of everybody's ages. Is this a pre-emptive legal defense against someone who might sue them on grounds they were terminated based on age? It seems really extraordinary to go this far, but I'm not a corporate lawyer and haven't had a full-time job since Clinton, so I don't know.

It was fascinating, though, and I'll do some age analysis in a moment.

But first, the document answers a few questions we've been wondering. Who, exactly, was fired in Thursday's newsroom purge? Here's that list:

So that's 12, every one of whom was on my list, so I did a complete job. My list was longer -- 22 names -- because it includes the fired from non-newsroom departments as well as a few who lost their jobs over the past week or two, too. Thus, I stand by my reporting and accept that, above, as the official count for the newsroom itself for that one day of carnage.

Again, I don't see the need to publish the ages of those fired or other those who kept their gigs. But I found some interesting data therein nonetheless.

This document indicates the newspaper now has 107 newsroom employees, although that includes four non-journalist support staff jobs. Of this, there remain 43 "reporters" or "senior reporters" across every section including their weekly publications such as CityLife and the View neighborhood sections. That's about one reporter for every 46,511 people in Las Vegas. I do not know what the national average is or the average in other cities, so I can't put that number in context.

Other tidbits:

* The average age of those who lost their jobs on Friday was 51.4.
* The oldest newsroom employee is a 69.1-year-old columnist.
* The youngest newsroom employee is 20.4-year-old photographer.
* There are five staff photographers and two photo editors left, meaning the department lost 36% of its employees and 44% of their shooters.
* The paper now has just one graphic art illustrator on staff. If that person's on vacation or out sick, I guess there are no charts or graphics in the paper?!?
* The average age of the R-J's reporters is 42.5.
* The youngest reporter is 22.3, the oldest is 63.9.
* This list indicates there are four columnists. I assume they include Norm Clarke, John L. Smith, Jane Ann Morrison and, well, I don't know. It's confusing because there are clearly more columnists, see:

I guess many of these folks -- such as Howard Stutz and Mike Weatherford -- are counted as reporters or maybe "senior reporters." And I imagine folks like Vin Suprynowicz and Sherm Frederick are freelancers or contractors of some sort with their Sunday pieces.

Anyhow, make of this what you will. On Monday, I expect to obtain the documents the fired journalists must sign to get their severance, so stay tuned. And at 9 a.m. PT, I'll be on State of Nevada on KNPR to discuss the matter.


Jeff Simpson said...

Steve Sebelius is probably the remaining columnist.

The age/job title data is to allow the laid-off people to make "informed" decisions about whether they should accept the severance package and agree not to file an age-discrimination complaint.

Anonymous said...

Shockingly, this is not only legal but required by law, apparently:

Group Termination—Disclosure of Ages and Job Titles. If the release is requested in connection with a group termination program, the release must also identify the job titles and ages of all individuals offered benefits in exchange for signing a release of claims and the same information for individuals who were considered for the program but not offered severance benefits. The OWBPA, federal regulations and case law do not provide consistent guidance on this requirement. The statute refers only to "job title." EEOC regulations interpret this to require an employer also to disclose any established subcategories within a job title or category, such as job grade or level, for all considered and selected employees. Similarly, the OWBPA does not specify how age should be disclosed. At least one court has held that disclosing birth dates, rather than each employee's age, is not acceptable. The example included in the EEOC's recent guidance simply includes job title and age expressed in terms of years.


Jeff -- did GMG produce such a list when they had their layoffs?

Jeff Simpson said...

I remember a list of the laid off but not of the remaining folks. That day is sort of hazy (not that it was a big surprise), though, so it's possible there were two lists.

Anonymous said...


The list of laid off people says "columnist". But I don't see one on your earlier list of layoffs. Do you know who it is?


I think that's Jeff Wolf, a sports columnist. Although seeing how most of the other sectional columnists are listed as reporters (Stutz, Weatherford, etc) I'm not entirely certain.

Allen Cone said...

When I was laid off at the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, I received a similar list. It listed all of the job titles and ages -- with a designation listed for those laid off.
So, this isn't too bizarre. it's just following the law.
Also, I think I wasn't allowed to sign the severance agreement until a few days.

Anonymous said...

So you took the time to "analyze" the numbers, but not the time to find out if there might be a reason, legal or otherwise, for including the list of positions and ages? Crack reporting, Steve.


There's no shame in being a reporter who acknowledges he doesn't know something, anon, and I acknowledged that and allowed others to answer that question. I inferred it had something to do with age discrimination and I was right. And either way, the document is interesting for what it conclusively says about WHO was canned and the age makeup of the newsroom. Did I say it was the most sophisticated data analysis in history? Nope!

But here's a good question I also don't know the answer to: What's it like to be brave enough to take shots at someone but too scared to sign your name?

Anonymous said...

Steve, don't get pissy. And I can't sign my name, sorry.

Anyway, I think this has less to do with age than the amount of money the people were laid off were making, which is a result, in many cases, of the length of their tenure. The amount of money someone makes certainly is not indicative of their worth or contribution (granted, in many cases a subjective argument, but one that holds true in many cases).

I believe you are barking up the wrong tree if you are inferring age discrimination. And my bad if I think that is what you are inferring.

Best wishes for all those who were let go. It might not be much of a slave now, but most people I know who have been laid off from their newspaper jobs are happier now.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea that a list of ages and titles and whatever was required when doing mass layoffs either until I read this thread. I doubt many outside the HR community would know about something like that. But I do know that this blog has provided the most comprehensive coverage of the layoffs anywhere, and I appreciate that.


Anon: I always get pissy when someone who can't/won't sign their name mocks my reporting techniques and abilities. If you don't like it, go find your news about this topic somewhere else. Oh, wait, that's right. I'm the only one actually covering this.

I really was not inferring anything regarding age. I just found the list fascinating for mostly prurient reasons. I was pleased to have some document that let me know I'd listed everyone from the newsroom, and I was intrigued more by the ages of some of the people -- i.e. the Features Editor -- because I think that says a lot about why that section is so hopelessly out of date and boring.

If anything, *I* was trying not to seem ageist myself. Experience is important, but so are young people with fresh ideas and perspective.

Anonymous said...

Hey there, I was the one who made the second post, on the law. I respectfully disagree with the other anon. (I cannot sign my name either.) I think the whole analysis on average ages and all was fascinating, and I learned something from this post as well. Reporting is a learning process!

Anonymous said...

And yet only one section editor (Business) has been sacked, IIRC, despite the decimation amongst the worker bees. Any theories?

David McKee