Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The bad news finally comes

Hey gang,

This is the hardest e-mail I've had to write yet and hope that this isn't the first you're hearing of the news today. It's not unexpected-- it's been floating like an evil cloud over us for weeks, but that doesn't make it any easier to acknowledge it. The cuts have finally come.

Here's the bottom line: Corporate will cut 22 jobs in Editorial by the end of the week, bringing us down to 100 people in the newsroom. They'll be spread between management and rank-and-file, but the numbers will vary depending on who volunteers by noon tomorrow. The company will offer its usual package of one week's pay for each year of service, minimum of two, maximum of six. Those who volunteer or get laid off will also get three months of COBRA healthcare and the company will not contest your unemployment. It will also offer letters of recommendation. There is no difference in package whether you volunteer or you're laid off, but volunteering will save someone else's job, so if anyone's already got a job lined up, please speak up and do so quickly.

Layoffs will be determined by job, length of service and performance-- I don't have any insight as to who's vulnerable and who isn't. I think the pain will be felt equally across the room. According to Ron, the original plan called for 10 more reporters to lose their jobs, but Dean Singleton personally rejected that plan and asked the cuts be less steep. That's some consolation, but not much.

Afterward, Kerry and I circulated the letter that several of you helped draft and got tremendous response. We'll deliver it to the publisher and HR first thing in the morning and will formally request that he meet with the newsroom to share the plan going forward. If he's going to slash our jobs, the least he can do is tell us his plan to get us out of this mess. I will keep you posted as soon as we get a response. We also hope to meet with HR in the afternoon for an explanation why the cuts were announced so suddenly and why people weren't given the courtesy of more time to prepare.

This is the worst day I've ever seen here at the paper and I'm sure Friday will be even worse. There is nothing I can say that will make it OK or even make it make sense. These are disastrous cuts that will seriously hamper our ability to produce the paper and Web content at the level our readers expect. It risks erasing all the great leaps forward we've made online and in print.

The next few months will be intensely painful, both for the people who lose their jobs and those who stay behind. As I've said to many of you, the real losers are the people who rely on this newspaper-- they won't be able to find the information they need anymore. Their events won't get covered. Their sense of community will get a little shakier. Once the dedicated journalists who've made this place what it is leave, their expertise will never be replaced. Maybe people won't notice it right away, but in a year, maybe two, maybe more, they'll realize there's a gaping hole left behind that can never be filled in.

This is particularly heartbreaking to me because you guys have given this place everything and asked for little in return. You've sacrificed yourselves for love of the craft and love of the community and the work you've done is amazing. The paper's thinner and our coverage isn't as expansive as it once was, but the stories, photos, layouts, headlines-- everything-- has been fantastic. I'm so proud to see the work you do on a daily basis and honored to be a part of it. I'm heartsick to see such a great operation so callously dismantled.

This is not the end of the Daily News and the people who stay behind will continue to put out as good a paper as they possibly can every day, but it will be very hard. Then again, it's never been easy and the crazy folks who make this place so vibrant and alive will never let this company's mismanagement snuff them out. You'll continue to give more than the beancounters deserve and keep coming back before because y'all are the most wonderful, talented, bad-ass journalists around. Somehow, the spirit will survive, as it always does.

I'll close with some words from Ron, who's been under tremendous stress trying to manage this in recent weeks. When he broke down in the middle of his speech, it was one of the rawest, most genuine moments of emotion I've seen in this newsroom in my career. While I'm sure he's wrecked his health over this and taken on a godawful amount of stress, I'm glad that if we had to hear this from someone, it came from a true leader with character.

"I'm not going to defend the past," he said. "I can only hope and pray that the future's better. You all are great and I'm sorry."

And then, as the stunned silence faded away, we all went back to work and put out the paper.

Thank you for everything,

PS- If any of you need anything, never hesitate to call me or Kerry. We're all going to have to help each other as much as possible, whether we stay or go, in the next few months.