Big Layoffs At The Ledger

Ledger LogoVery sad local media news breaking today. I haven’t seen it posted on their web site yet, but The Ledger laid off a large number of workers in advertising, the newsroom and elsewhere, according to several sources I’ve talked to. I’m sure the official news will go up soon if it hasn’t already.

The overall number I’ve heard is 36, which is an awfully big chunk of people with families and bills and aspirations.

Update: 10:05 p.m.: The Ledger just posted its story, confirming the 36 number. Full story here.

I’ve heard a number of newsroom names, most of whom I know personally, but I won’t post any here without official confirmation. My understanding is that the newsroom cuts focused heavily on the copyediting and design staff, not reporters and content editors. If what I’ve heard is correct, it virtually guts the mechanisms that get the paper out each day. At the same time, the advertising cuts hit salespeople hard, meaning there are fewer available to chase the advertising the paper needs to raise money.

All that suggests to me The Ledger is preparing to kill its print product altogether. Or at least that it’s resigned to it dying.

The specific timing of the layoffs were apparently unexpected, but I don’t think anyone paying attention would call them a surprise. I’ve been working on a piece about the sad spiral of the industry, and I’ll try to get it up soon.

In the meantime, say a prayer for these folks, who are talented and dedicated and undeserving of this fate.

Creative Commons License photo credit: lakelandlocal

11 thoughts on “Big Layoffs At The Ledger

  1. This is actually congruent with a lot of what I’ve seen in the print industry lately. I have friends who work for Crains Business Journal and a few other publications and they say the overhead of print is unacceptable in the days of the internet.

    With blogs acting as “real news” on so many levels and people turning to the internet and other electronic mediums, I’m surprised that many ink and paper news outlets have made it this far.

  2. This is actually congruent with a lot of what I’ve seen in the print industry lately. I have friends who work for Crains Business Journal and a few other publications and they say the overhead of print is unacceptable in the days of the internet.

    With blogs acting as “real news” on so many levels and people turning to the internet and other electronic mediums, I’m surprised that many ink and paper news outlets have made it this far.

  3. Billy is a gentleman. I ain’t. The Ledger is afflicted with cancer, and it has metastasized in upper management. Many of the people cut in this latest round of amputations are longtime employees of the NYT Company. They’ve brought experience, creativity and excellence to their work — far beyond that deserved by the bullies in the corner offices — and the decision to target them is not simply inexplicable; it is suicidal. Many fine people remain at The Ledger, but so do several mediocrities who will be unable to maintain the dynamic standards of journalism newspapers are desperate for. The cuts should have gone from the top down. Like many newspapers, The Ledger has lost all contact with the once-common, noble concept of loyalty. The new publisher, a Mr. Ferson (one letter short of person), is a hired thug who knows no one in the newsroom and thus is positioned to eliminate employees with absolute indifference and ignorance. I say this without accusatory tone or bitterness; it’s simply a fact. This is a fellow who, after a previous round of layoffs, read a poem to the staff survivors about stickin’ tagether an’ showin’ spunk inna face o’ sad times an’ lookin’ ahead an’ puttin’ th’ past behind ’em. Right. I agree with Billy that the power brokers and the brainless trust behind The Ledger are preparing to euthanize it in favor of a Web presence that is nowhere near able to support itself. (This is something Denis Baldwin does not grasp.) Along the way, they are eliminating many of their most skilled, seasoned, award-winning workers. It’s easier for The Ledger, like many papers, to assemble a makeshift staff of mostly ill-paid folks, mostly young and untried, or in some cases bumblers who’ve bounced from one paper or one job to another … and in some sad cases, really fine journalists who are trapped like dinosaurs in a tar pit, their splendid talents strained to near-extinction. “Hyperlocal,” goes the mantra from management … and The Ledger cuts its tireless, impassioned prep sports writer, Roy Fuoco. “Excellence,” the corner offices assure … and they sever ties with Mary Ann Murdoch, a superb copy editor whose intelligence and work ethic allowed her to do the work of two people. There are other names, but why bother. Mr. Ferson would not recognize them. He’s done his job. Now he gets to doff the executioner’s hood and try to look sad-eyed over shrimp cocktails with his buddies at the club. It’s not his fault; he just has the ruthless sensibility required for this role, and he’s magnificently backed up by executive and managing editors whose disconnection from compassion and innovation have been well-established. So Billy’s right: Keep these good people in your thoughts as they enter George W. Bush’s economy. Undeserving of this fate, absolutely; doomed by their excellence, regrettably. In the long run, they are the lucky ones.

  4. Billy is a gentleman. I ain’t. The Ledger is afflicted with cancer, and it has metastasized in upper management. Many of the people cut in this latest round of amputations are longtime employees of the NYT Company. They’ve brought experience, creativity and excellence to their work — far beyond that deserved by the bullies in the corner offices — and the decision to target them is not simply inexplicable; it is suicidal. Many fine people remain at The Ledger, but so do several mediocrities who will be unable to maintain the dynamic standards of journalism newspapers are desperate for. The cuts should have gone from the top down. Like many newspapers, The Ledger has lost all contact with the once-common, noble concept of loyalty. The new publisher, a Mr. Ferson (one letter short of person), is a hired thug who knows no one in the newsroom and thus is positioned to eliminate employees with absolute indifference and ignorance. I say this without accusatory tone or bitterness; it’s simply a fact. This is a fellow who, after a previous round of layoffs, read a poem to the staff survivors about stickin’ tagether an’ showin’ spunk inna face o’ sad times an’ lookin’ ahead an’ puttin’ th’ past behind ’em. Right. I agree with Billy that the power brokers and the brainless trust behind The Ledger are preparing to euthanize it in favor of a Web presence that is nowhere near able to support itself. (This is something Denis Baldwin does not grasp.) Along the way, they are eliminating many of their most skilled, seasoned, award-winning workers. It’s easier for The Ledger, like many papers, to assemble a makeshift staff of mostly ill-paid folks, mostly young and untried, or in some cases bumblers who’ve bounced from one paper or one job to another … and in some sad cases, really fine journalists who are trapped like dinosaurs in a tar pit, their splendid talents strained to near-extinction. “Hyperlocal,” goes the mantra from management … and The Ledger cuts its tireless, impassioned prep sports writer, Roy Fuoco. “Excellence,” the corner offices assure … and they sever ties with Mary Ann Murdoch, a superb copy editor whose intelligence and work ethic allowed her to do the work of two people. There are other names, but why bother. Mr. Ferson would not recognize them. He’s done his job. Now he gets to doff the executioner’s hood and try to look sad-eyed over shrimp cocktails with his buddies at the club. It’s not his fault; he just has the ruthless sensibility required for this role, and he’s magnificently backed up by executive and managing editors whose disconnection from compassion and innovation have been well-established. So Billy’s right: Keep these good people in your thoughts as they enter George W. Bush’s economy. Undeserving of this fate, absolutely; doomed by their excellence, regrettably. In the long run, they are the lucky ones.

  5. While it’s true that I’ve never spent extensive time working in a newsroom, I do see where a lot of news outlets are going these days. As with many industries, moving to the web for dispersion of information cuts overhead, time and production costs. I’m not saying it’s “Better”, as I still enjoy holding paper in my hand as much as the next guy. I’m just saying that to be competitive, you have to adapt to the harder/better/faster/stronger way that media is going. News papers may not go away, just as television won’t go away. But it’s changing, and we have to be accepting of that.

    As to who to fire, and why, it’s not up to me to say. I don’t have the knowledge or position to make that decision. Maybe they’re better off freed on this system. Maybe they’ll start blogs of their own and by syndicated by the very paper that smolt them as the sources of information change. I can only hope that these new avenues of expression open doors where others have slammed shut in their face.

  6. While it’s true that I’ve never spent extensive time working in a newsroom, I do see where a lot of news outlets are going these days. As with many industries, moving to the web for dispersion of information cuts overhead, time and production costs. I’m not saying it’s “Better”, as I still enjoy holding paper in my hand as much as the next guy. I’m just saying that to be competitive, you have to adapt to the harder/better/faster/stronger way that media is going. News papers may not go away, just as television won’t go away. But it’s changing, and we have to be accepting of that.

    As to who to fire, and why, it’s not up to me to say. I don’t have the knowledge or position to make that decision. Maybe they’re better off freed on this system. Maybe they’ll start blogs of their own and by syndicated by the very paper that smolt them as the sources of information change. I can only hope that these new avenues of expression open doors where others have slammed shut in their face.

  7. Your points are well-made, Mr. Baldwin. A key, though, is that virtually no one, at The Ledger or any other newspaper with which I’m familiar, is adamantly opposed to the transformation the industry is going through. Online is almost certainly where news media will ply their trade for the foreseeable future. But online, for newspapers, isn’t there yet. It’s not even close, in most cases. Newspapers are bumbling in a dark e-room, stubbing their toes on end tables and basically getting blogged down. They’re trying to recreate the sheer newspaper experience for the Right-Click Generation, and it’s not working. Revenue from newspapers’ online incarnations accounts for a very small percentage of the overall revenue that makes stockholders tingle with pleasure. This is understandable: It’s a difficult transition, a strange new world, a wild frontier, yada yada.

    So here’s the problem: Many of the same newspapers whose online entities generate little cash are nonetheless putting all their eggs into that e-basket. They’re cannibalizing the newspaper staff — at least the staff they haven’t laid off — to power the online product. It’s coming at the expense of the newspaper proper — which is the main revenue source, by far, for almost every media company that owns newspapers. Management might tout 10,000 hits on a particular story online, for which the users pay exactly nothing. Meanwhile, the same story in the daily newspaper is seen by often five, 10, 20 times as many people, and these customers pay for the privilege. That brings in lots of pretty silver and gold for the bean-counters to dangle in front of management — which then pours the money into the online product and lays off a few more from the newspaper staff. Subscribers, meanwhile, see content getting leaner, less comprehensive, sloppier, as staff, space and accuracy disappear. So subscribers start calling in that ugly word: cancel. Management then uses the decline in subscribers to justify its rabid focus on online content, which continues to bring in pennies compared to the dollars attracted by that creaky dinosaur, the newspaper.

    So here’s my long-winded point. This is the transitional period. Right now. We’re in the midst of the slow demise of the traditional newspaper, printed on lovely-smelling pulp and delivered by yawning teenagers every morning right to your door, or at least to the spider-infested bushes next to your door. And we’re in the midst of the slow ascension of online news. Fine. But for every newspaper-slash-online news entity I’m aware of, online is still the parasite. It is the newspaper that is the host, that pays the bills. That will change, but for now, that’s the reality. So why not treat both entities with respect and work to keep both healthy until the baton can be safely passed?

    That’s the missing link here. It’s like that Darwinian chart of the evolution of Man, except we suddenly jump from an eager beat reporter with a pad, pen and onion breath — to the Borg, those robotic “Star Trek” goons who are more machine than biological being, who absorb and destroy that which a more natural evolution had carefully created. The missing link is us — Newspaperus Erectus, willing to work toward an online reality that expands and enhances what newspapers have done, often superbly, for merely a few centuries. But not at the expense of those newspapers that have been an integral part of this nation since its infancy.

    What’s happening at The Ledger, and at so many dailies nationally, is that the rush to join the online flow isn’t tempered with the recognition that good, old-fashioned reporting and editing will be no less important on the Net than it has been on pulp paper. The Ledger is cutting off its head to spite its mouse, or something. By gutting the newspaper staff — a slow, ugly form of public hari-kiri — The Ledger is crippling its ability to create an online entity that will have the excellence and depth to stand out in a busy, busy, busy cyberworld. Sorry, weary paperboy: The “newspaper” of the future will be dropped not into petunias but right into living rooms, right there on laptap screens, gosh whizbam wow … but at the rate The Ledger is going, there will be little worth reading. Meanwhile, many first-rate journalists and the newspaper they’ve served so well are seen as expendable, casualties of war, surplus cargo to be jettisoned.

    What so many of us veteran newspaperfolk want is only that newspapers should be allowed to die with dignity. They’re an inextricable part of what America has been and is: from Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” pamphlet to Ben Franklin’s searing editorial cartoon of a sliced-up snake and its “Join … Or Die” slogan aimed at the colonies, through one “civil” war and two world wars, to the Hindenburg belching fire, to a triumphant Truman holding up the Chicago Daily Tribune (can you see him holding aloft his iPhone headline of “Dewey Defeats Truman”?), to gut-punching images from Vietnam and assassinations of two Kennedys and a King, to the dogged investigative work of a couple of no-name reporters for The Washington Post whose stories took down a corrupt president. Contrary to popular belief, newspapers, not YouTube, are what the Founding Fathers were talking about when they wrote freedom of the press into the First Amendment. Newspapers have served this republic nobly, and we can hope that tradition will continue online. But it can’t when the best reporters and editors are castoffs just at a time they’re needed most. Fools run The Ledger, and don’t be surprised if they run it into the ground in a year or two, and that, without a healthy host, the online entity shrivels and dies.

    Mr. Baldwin is exactly right: Newspapers, like all media, have to adapt. Adaptation can be a strenuous, painful process. Insiders realize just how important newspapers are to this process; all them megahyped blogs that deliver those “scoops” are using newspaper reports as their springboards. The online pirates pillage any newspapers they can, because newspapers are still the gold standard in our society’s thirst to know what’s happening in our nation. The amazing thing about The Ledger in the last decade is that it has generally been much better than the people who ostensibly run it. The staff has overachieved in an atmosphere of criticism, cronyism, instability, insincerity, bullying, tight-sphincterism and, gotta love ’em, “beg memos,” upper management’s answer to waterboarding. But this latest round of throat-cuttings may have bled the patient a little too much. I hear nothing but stunned confusion from remaining Ledger staff in regard to the shining new path management has laid out. Departing staff members are being told by colleagues that they’re the lucky ones. Time will tell, but I know who I’d bet on. Ledger management is a bunch of losers, but the real losers will be not just the ever-declining number of staff, readers and advertisers; it will be the valiant legacy of newspapers themselves.

  8. Your points are well-made, Mr. Baldwin. A key, though, is that virtually no one, at The Ledger or any other newspaper with which I’m familiar, is adamantly opposed to the transformation the industry is going through. Online is almost certainly where news media will ply their trade for the foreseeable future. But online, for newspapers, isn’t there yet. It’s not even close, in most cases. Newspapers are bumbling in a dark e-room, stubbing their toes on end tables and basically getting blogged down. They’re trying to recreate the sheer newspaper experience for the Right-Click Generation, and it’s not working. Revenue from newspapers’ online incarnations accounts for a very small percentage of the overall revenue that makes stockholders tingle with pleasure. This is understandable: It’s a difficult transition, a strange new world, a wild frontier, yada yada.

    So here’s the problem: Many of the same newspapers whose online entities generate little cash are nonetheless putting all their eggs into that e-basket. They’re cannibalizing the newspaper staff — at least the staff they haven’t laid off — to power the online product. It’s coming at the expense of the newspaper proper — which is the main revenue source, by far, for almost every media company that owns newspapers. Management might tout 10,000 hits on a particular story online, for which the users pay exactly nothing. Meanwhile, the same story in the daily newspaper is seen by often five, 10, 20 times as many people, and these customers pay for the privilege. That brings in lots of pretty silver and gold for the bean-counters to dangle in front of management — which then pours the money into the online product and lays off a few more from the newspaper staff. Subscribers, meanwhile, see content getting leaner, less comprehensive, sloppier, as staff, space and accuracy disappear. So subscribers start calling in that ugly word: cancel. Management then uses the decline in subscribers to justify its rabid focus on online content, which continues to bring in pennies compared to the dollars attracted by that creaky dinosaur, the newspaper.

    So here’s my long-winded point. This is the transitional period. Right now. We’re in the midst of the slow demise of the traditional newspaper, printed on lovely-smelling pulp and delivered by yawning teenagers every morning right to your door, or at least to the spider-infested bushes next to your door. And we’re in the midst of the slow ascension of online news. Fine. But for every newspaper-slash-online news entity I’m aware of, online is still the parasite. It is the newspaper that is the host, that pays the bills. That will change, but for now, that’s the reality. So why not treat both entities with respect and work to keep both healthy until the baton can be safely passed?

    That’s the missing link here. It’s like that Darwinian chart of the evolution of Man, except we suddenly jump from an eager beat reporter with a pad, pen and onion breath — to the Borg, those robotic “Star Trek” goons who are more machine than biological being, who absorb and destroy that which a more natural evolution had carefully created. The missing link is us — Newspaperus Erectus, willing to work toward an online reality that expands and enhances what newspapers have done, often superbly, for merely a few centuries. But not at the expense of those newspapers that have been an integral part of this nation since its infancy.

    What’s happening at The Ledger, and at so many dailies nationally, is that the rush to join the online flow isn’t tempered with the recognition that good, old-fashioned reporting and editing will be no less important on the Net than it has been on pulp paper. The Ledger is cutting off its head to spite its mouse, or something. By gutting the newspaper staff — a slow, ugly form of public hari-kiri — The Ledger is crippling its ability to create an online entity that will have the excellence and depth to stand out in a busy, busy, busy cyberworld. Sorry, weary paperboy: The “newspaper” of the future will be dropped not into petunias but right into living rooms, right there on laptap screens, gosh whizbam wow … but at the rate The Ledger is going, there will be little worth reading. Meanwhile, many first-rate journalists and the newspaper they’ve served so well are seen as expendable, casualties of war, surplus cargo to be jettisoned.

    What so many of us veteran newspaperfolk want is only that newspapers should be allowed to die with dignity. They’re an inextricable part of what America has been and is: from Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” pamphlet to Ben Franklin’s searing editorial cartoon of a sliced-up snake and its “Join … Or Die” slogan aimed at the colonies, through one “civil” war and two world wars, to the Hindenburg belching fire, to a triumphant Truman holding up the Chicago Daily Tribune (can you see him holding aloft his iPhone headline of “Dewey Defeats Truman”?), to gut-punching images from Vietnam and assassinations of two Kennedys and a King, to the dogged investigative work of a couple of no-name reporters for The Washington Post whose stories took down a corrupt president. Contrary to popular belief, newspapers, not YouTube, are what the Founding Fathers were talking about when they wrote freedom of the press into the First Amendment. Newspapers have served this republic nobly, and we can hope that tradition will continue online. But it can’t when the best reporters and editors are castoffs just at a time they’re needed most. Fools run The Ledger, and don’t be surprised if they run it into the ground in a year or two, and that, without a healthy host, the online entity shrivels and dies.

    Mr. Baldwin is exactly right: Newspapers, like all media, have to adapt. Adaptation can be a strenuous, painful process. Insiders realize just how important newspapers are to this process; all them megahyped blogs that deliver those “scoops” are using newspaper reports as their springboards. The online pirates pillage any newspapers they can, because newspapers are still the gold standard in our society’s thirst to know what’s happening in our nation. The amazing thing about The Ledger in the last decade is that it has generally been much better than the people who ostensibly run it. The staff has overachieved in an atmosphere of criticism, cronyism, instability, insincerity, bullying, tight-sphincterism and, gotta love ’em, “beg memos,” upper management’s answer to waterboarding. But this latest round of throat-cuttings may have bled the patient a little too much. I hear nothing but stunned confusion from remaining Ledger staff in regard to the shining new path management has laid out. Departing staff members are being told by colleagues that they’re the lucky ones. Time will tell, but I know who I’d bet on. Ledger management is a bunch of losers, but the real losers will be not just the ever-declining number of staff, readers and advertisers; it will be the valiant legacy of newspapers themselves.

  9. I, too, am a former longtime newspaper person. My question is this: Since 1999 the Ledger’s news staff has been cut by one third, yet apparently no editors have lost their jobs. Doesn’t it make sense that fewer editors would be needed if there are fewer writers? Sounds a bit top heavy. The good ol’ boy mentality, one that journalists love to attack when found if other walks of life, lives on in newspapers, too. Imagine that.

  10. I, too, am a former longtime newspaper person. My question is this: Since 1999 the Ledger’s news staff has been cut by one third, yet apparently no editors have lost their jobs. Doesn’t it make sense that fewer editors would be needed if there are fewer writers? Sounds a bit top heavy. The good ol’ boy mentality, one that journalists love to attack when found if other walks of life, lives on in newspapers, too. Imagine that.

  11. Pingback: Newspapers’ cancer: This guy said it better than I can « Foster Grant’s babbling again …

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