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.

Friday, August 19, 2011

More On R-J Carnage: Severence, Silence & Sherm

[UPDATE: Oskar Garcia of the Associated Press is out with a report on these layoffs that pretends none of the reporting you've seen here exists. He did, however, speak to Bob Brown, the publisher who declined my requests as well as those of KNPR. Evidently, Mr. Brown does not believe in speaking about this within his own community. Not terribly good modeling for potential sources for the newspaper itself, is it? See what he had to say to Garcia here.]

I continue to add names and details to the prior post on the firings at the R-J, and it doesn't seem like a second round is occurring today as was rumored. But here's some news from today:

* Severance: The employees who lost their jobs yesterday were handed a white envelope, told to get their things and escorted out of the building. Here is how one now-ex-RJer described their parting gifts via email to me:

Terminated employees were given their checks paid through the week with any leftover vacation/sick time hours included. The severance offered is 12 weeks of pay if you sign on the line not to sue the Stephens Media Group if it is found that they had terminated you for other reasons, such as age or some other protected class. Sign that and you get your money. Also, we get three months of medical benefits, including family coverage. If we have a lot of stuff in our desks, we must make appointments to collect the items before 8 a.m. so our presence is not be disruptive. HR Benefits Manager Cindy Meyers or corporate attorney Mark Hinueber went over the package with us and explained how to file for unemployment and what to say. Those with 401(k)s can leave our money where it's at or cash it out to roll into an IRA (not recommended). Editor Mike Hengel was seen standing by a photographer as he cleared out his locker to ensure he didn't leave with company equipment.

Wow. That's just heartbreaking. Just because the corporate bastards act like greedy asses who don't take any pride in the quality of their product doesn't mean the former employees will, even in the darkest moments of their professional lives. Such demeaning treatment at the conclusion of long and honorable service is depressing and, sadly, quite normal today.

* Silence: Bob Brown, the new publisher who was the ad director, has told KNPR that there will be no press release about the careers he just wrecked. He hasn't responded to e-mail or phone calls from me, either. But KNPR is undeterred and recognizes the importance of this news, so I'll be on State of Nevada on Monday at 9 am PT discussing the firings and what it means for Las Vegas journalism. This will be my second appearance since my farewell interview, which is kind of funny but also a bit of an honor. Also, while I do appreciate the traffic and attention, I think it's sad that the Las Vegas Sun's only coverage of this matter was to provide a link here.

* Sherm: In the wake of such emotional news, I yesterday laid into Sherm Frederick, the disgraced former publisher of the Review-Journal. I do believe he made several terrible decisions and is owed some of the blame. But I also have heard -- and I remember from my own time there in the 1990s -- that he was always a staunch defender of his journalists having once been one and probably kept some people on longer than he should have because he had a personal connection with and empathy for them. That all can be true and honorable at the same time as he coasted along during the Vegas boom years and took credit for profits that were inevitable in that economy. What he never did was prepare for the next generation of journalism in any meaningful way and he just allowed a moldy old system to roll along unabated. But mostly, if Sherm is unwilling to take any responsibility for the economic condition of the newspaper -- and he won't because he's too vain and proud -- then someone needs to sit up and acknowledge that he deserves to be held accountable, too.

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.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

We are LIVE tonight with BLOOPERPALOOZA!

As promised, we're live tonight with bloopers, bloopers and more bloopers. We'll begin at 6 p.m. PT, we'll have a special in-studio guest with us, and we've got a ton of very funny, silly or weird moments that you didn't hear on the shows of the past year.

Also, after the proper show is over, we'll play the other 19 minutes of bloopers we're putting into a special edition. All told, we'll probably be on the digital air from 6-8p. Join us here.

One word of warning: Miles has a foul mouth. This show is not appropriate for the intensely religious or small children.

Sending Good Vibes To John L. Smith

This morning's newspaper arrived with news from Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith that he just underwent surgery for throat cancer. As usual, he disclosed it and described his experience with the flair and grace that he has displayed for decades as, by far, the most gifted columnist in the state.

It sounds like they have the problem in hand, and here's to John making a full recovery. It's kind of amazing to realize that he was out in the hot Vegas sun chasing down a wayward voter who might have thrown a 1-vote North Las Vegas City Council race even as he was getting second opinions on how to address his diagnosis. That front-page column, in fact, ran the same day, Aug. 5, he had seven hours of surgery to remove the cancer. I'm certain the night before he was being wheeled into the OR, he was answering questions from copy editors. In a city of many columnists -- heck, reporters! -- who never get off their duffs to literally chase a story, John remains true to the craft and a lonely, exceptional example for the rest of us.

John is also, by a large measure, one of the best human beings in Las Vegas media. He's just a nice, humble, friendly man. And the hits he's suffered in recent years -- his daughter's brain cancer, bankruptcy brought on by Sheldon Adelson's hubris, divorce, a DUI and now his own cancer -- returns us to the age-old question of why bad things happen to good people.

Today's column sounded a little bit more valedictory than I hope he intended. He writes as though he's got one foot out the newsroom door, and that would be a tremendous loss for the R-J and the community.

Miles joins me in hoping John has a speedy recovery. The city needs him, perhaps more than it knows.