This will burn every bridge I have remaining with Ledger management. But it doesn’t matter much. The nature of the newest layoffs clearly suggest that The Ledger’s days as a daily print product are numbered. Within two years, maybe sooner, expect The Ledger to compete with Lakeland Local full-time as an online-only magazine. But trust me folks, we have a better cost structure and better management.
You’ll notice that publisher Jerome Ferson said Ledger revenues are stabilizing, but “costs” are growing. The only specific cost he mentioned? Newsprint. And these layoffs come about two months after Pinch Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times, which owns the The Ledger, declared “We will stop printing the NYT sometime in the future, date TBD.”
Look at the people The Ledger jettisoned this week, such as longtime top design editor Steve Antley; graphic artist Mark Williams; associate editor Lonnie Brown, one of two editorial writers; and award-winning photographer Cindy Skop. These are dismissals of core people involved in production of the printed product. The entire episode seems to have come as a complete surprise to everyone involved — unlike previous cuts. And it wouldn’t surprise me if New York ordered these cuts as preparation for killing the print product across the entire NYT group. Watch for similar cuts in Sarasota, Gainesville, etc.
That makes it all the more remarkable that Ferson allowed Skip Perez, almost certainly the highest paid employee in the newsroom, to keep himself on the payroll as well as his glorified secretary, managing editor Lenore Devore, and his longtime apologist, metro editor Lynne Maddox. (Ask anyone who works and/or worked at The Ledger if you doubt my descriptions.)
Those three have very little to do with the web aspect of The Ledger, which Barry Friedman oversees. Yet, I would estimate, very conservatively, that Skip, Lenore, and Lynne, combine for $350,000 annually in salary and benefits — probably more. Of the three, only Lynne has any significant role in daily newsgathering at all. She’s a sort of co-metro editor, a position she moved into it as a life raft after The Ledger killed the Business section a while back. Until the layoffs this week, she was one of six Ledger editors with “metro” somewhere in their title supervising a total of 13 metro/business reporters, a simply ridiculous management structure.
If Skip, who ostensibly runs the newsroom, had decided to retire to his massive pension, and fire Lynne, who was also a multi-decade Ledger employee near retirement, and make Lenore a reporter at a reporter’s salary, he could have saved a number of content producing jobs. He might have allowed the two newly pregnant women let go in the layoffs — the week before Thanksgiving — to keep their jobs. Many of the calls and tips and emails we’ve received from Ledger people and others make this point, too.
I will always have deep affection for Skip. He was good to me, and I know this will strain, if not end, that relationship. But my greater loyalty lies with the human beings with whom I slogged in the trenches of news at all hours for crappy pay because we considered it important to our community. Skip didn’t share that slog. He was virtually born a top editor and hasn’t actually produced news for decades. He was a great news executive during the time when newspapers shaped cities. But that time has passed. And I hope, if I ever run an organization, that someone will tell me when I start making personnel decisions based on what’s best for me, rather than the organization.
I don’t question the need for layoffs. Business realities are cruel. But the fact the cost-cutting did not include the positions with bulging salaries at the top of the Ledger news food chain, which add virtually nothing to the product and would not be missed, makes one shake one’s head in disgust. In part two of this post, I’ll give you a little taste of the actual work-producing human beings who lost their jobs. And we’ll look again at the failure of the self-congratulatory “leadership” class, both in Lakeland and the country.
Apparently, there is a rumor floating around that Chuck Welch agreed not to post on Lakeland Local the names of those laid off as a favor to Jerome Ferson. I trust this piece — and the next — will put that silliness to rest.
For now, paid print subscribers to The Ledger should understand that the paper they pick up in the yard every morning now functions, primarily, as a welfare program designed to keep Skip and his management cronies in the style to which they’ve become accustomed before they retire — and The Ledger fades into history.