Saturday, December 6, 2008

Maybe they're behind that chair

On Thursday, the Chicago Tribune had a little blurb in the Business section (which is no longer a section, but just something put somewhere in the rambling news/business/editorial section), under the heading BRIEFING:
Chicago Tribune loses 11 in newsroom
(I couldn't find a link.) You could understand this in the old days, when there were so many people cluttering up the place, but, after all the cutbacks, you would think it hard to misplace that many folks.

More seriously, of course this is just more cutbacks, which this time include both of the New York-based correspondents. The editor said the usual, including:
We also have to look at the talents, the skills and the organizations that we need for the future.
I could spend a lot of time on this statement, point out that they clearly have no idea what they need for the future, and that it would seem that experienced reporters and writers would always be needed for an information provision company, but why bother?

No, what is more notable here to me is that these correspondents aren't mentioned by name, nor the other nine, showing that the Tribune has learned the fine art of layoffs: the people laid off are to be shown the door, and, at that moment, they seek to exist.

I've worked in a number of companies that have embraced a layoff strategy, and, in each case, those departing are erased, excised from the conversation, treated as if they never, in fact, existed at all. (I take that back; I worked for one fellow who would occasionally mention those who were gone, but always in the most negative of terms, almost as if he could explain away his own failure to be laid off only by derogating the others.)

I know this is current corporate thinking, that dwelling on those who are gone, no matter how much they contributed, keeps people from moving forward, being positive about the "new direction" (which generally involves that much more work for those who are left). Oh, the big boys don't mind if the rank and file carry forward the sense of fear that they might be next, because that fear will keep the rabble in line. But, if you're thinking about how the valued employee in the next cubicle magically disappeared, you might remember who made that bonehead decision, and we can't have that.

It seems different, somehow, in the newspaper field. The employees, at least the reporters, build a relationship with the customers. In many ways, they are the newspaper. It's remarkable how often I'll be reading the Tribune and think to myself, I wonder what happened to that byline, and you Google the name, and you find that writer "left" the Trib and is now teaching or consulting or blogging.

I wish the newspaper would trust its readers to understand the current realities, and acknowledge the loss of some of these people. I know that's not current corporate philosophy, but I'm tired of seeing people I've read for 30 years just disappear, without even a word about what they've meant to the reader. Leaving aside the loss of experience that's represented by the loss of these newspeople, it also breaks a tie, just the kind of tie a struggling newspaper really can't afford to sever without so much as a word.

1 comment:

Greg said...

I felt this way a few days ago when Sirius completed their merger with XM, and a number of hosts on Sirius Symphony Hall were just sacked. I had emailed once or twice and got some great feedback from the hosts.

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