November 4th, 2009 | by HANK STERN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP

Oregonian Editor Tells Staff It Appears Layoffs Are "Inevitable"

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Some dispiriting news from Oregonian Editor Sandy Rowe to staff during new publisher N. Christian Anderson III's first week on the job.

In an email that went out yesterday afternoon, Rowe told the newsroom that it appears not enough staffers have accepted the daily's most recent buyout offer to employees.

As a consequence, she warns a "layoff is inevitable despite our determination to avoid it." Given that the deadline for staffers to accept the buyout is next Monday, the timing of the email is clearly meant to encourage more employees to take the offer since, as she puts it, "the severance connected to an involuntary layoff will be less than the buyout package currently offered."

In the email below, the reference to "Peter" is to Executive Editor Peter Bhatia. "PT" and "FT" refer to part-time and full-time, respectively.

The prospect of layoffs at the paper is a remarkable development at a place once renowned for its lifetime guarantee of employment. Here's the email:
Colleagues:

I promised to update you regularly on the buyout and budget situation. Peter and I have done so in stand up meetings and scores of individual conversations over the past month.

This is where we stand now: 25 full-time staffers and 6 part-time have either accepted the buyout offer or have indicated to us they are going to sign the paperwork. A number of other employees have said they are seriously considering doing so. As you know, the deadline for accepting the offer is 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9, and most taking the buyout will stay on payroll until Dec. 18.

Last week it became apparent that we would not reach an acceptable budget target. Sadly, I therefore believe that a layoff is inevitable despite our determination to avoid it. I do not know when a layoff would occur or the terms. But, the severance connected to an involuntary layoff will be less than the buyout package currently offered.

Understandably, throughout this difficult process you wanted to know the number of positions we need to reduce. Early on in this process, we had hoped the number would be lower than it now can be, given our revenue. I now know that will be about 70 positions, or within one or two of that depending on the PT and FT distribution. Without knowing the exact number taking the offer or how many staffers we will need to accomplish robust zoning in paper and hyperlocal sites online, we cannot today determine exactly what positions will be eliminated or all the jobs that will change. In some -- but not most -- circumstances we have been able to alert individuals that their jobs are likely to be eliminated. In the case of a layoff, staffing decisions will be based on the needs of the organization, range and depth of skills of the individual and seniority, with the needs of the organization in terms of future staffing being the most significant of those.

That is all I know at this point, and some of that is my best guess given the information we have now. If you are considering the buyout, I encourage you to complete that process. This is an excruciating time for all of us; I am deeply sorry and wish more than anything I could preserve more jobs and relieve that anxiety. We will go forward as quickly as we can to complete this and will be on sound financial footing once we have.

Thank you for all you do on behalf of our readers, this newsroom and The Oregonian.

Sandy
 
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