Archive for April, 2008

Publisher’s memo, translated

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

I can’t say I’m surprised by the impenetrable wording of the announcement that went out to the News & Observer staff yesterday, in which buyouts were announced. God knows I read my share of such memos during 14 years at the N&O, and without fail they were models of obfuscation and indirection. But this most recent one, issued by publisher Orage Quarles, sets a new standard for the genre. (Notice, for instance, that the word “buyout” doesn’t appear anywhere.)

Here’s the announcement in full, with translation:

Like many newspapers around the country, we are experiencing great change and challenges. We are facing more competition, our traditional business model is changing in the digital age, and basically our industry is going through a fundamental transition.

Actually, our industry has been in fundamental transition for 10 years, but we happily lived in a state of denial because we were still making money and we figured that if we just kept reminding people how important we are — you know, that whole guardian of the public trust thing — then everything would be OK. D’oh!

While we remain committed to our print product, we are focusing more attention on our online and niche products.

We’re stuck with paper for a while because, frankly, we still haven’t figured out how to make any real money online. But have you heard about the new magazine we’re bringing out? It’s called Skirt. We’re hoping that giving it a name with fetish-porn overtones will get us some buzz. That’s niche, baby! We’ll always be (wink, wink) the guardians of the public trust, though. You can count on that. (Wink, wink.)

In order to support these efforts we must continue to look for ways to operate more efficiently. This leads to a realignment of resources and changes in many of our business practices.

We’ve been realigning our asses off for more than a year now. We’re hoping we got it right this time.

To help achieve this realignment, we have decided to offer a voluntary transition program for work areas, positions or work groups where jobs would not need to be replaced if vacated due to new technology, efficiencies and/or consolidation of job functions.

“Voluntary transition” sounds much more elegant that “buyout,” don’t you think, staffers? No? Well, how’s the word “layoff” sound to you?

This program is limited in scope and there will be department limits so that no one area is unfairly impacted by reductions.

Of course, we reserve the right to define “unfairly.”

While there are limits on the number of employees who may be offered this package, there is not a minimum “target” that we are required to achieve.

Of course we know the total number of people who need to be pushed out the door. We’re just not gonna tell you how many it is.

This program does not become involuntary if a certain number of employees do not volunteer.

The first person who can diagram that clumsy sentence properly gets to keep his job.

However, this does not preclude the possibility of The News & Observer identifying efficiencies or other business model changes that could impact staffing in the future.

There will be more blood. Don’t be so foolish as to believe this is the end of it.

Eligible employees will receive an information packet about the program from Human Resources this afternoon. Employees who are approved for the program will work through Friday, May 23, unless otherwise notified by Human Resources because of business needs.

If we can get you out of here sooner, we will.

We see this as an opportunity for those who may have a desire to pursue other interests, while addressing the newspaper’s need to respond to a changing business model.

You get the opportunity to be unemployed, while we buy ourselves more time to figure out whether Skirt’s gonna do the trick for us.