Bad news day

Mar 8, 2006 at 12:00 am

A brief item that ran on a business page of the Detroit News last week announced that the paper is planning to stop publishing its weekly "Neighborhood News" tabloid. No great loss there, as far as we're concerned. We never thought all that much effort went into the section, which always seemed more about generating ad revenue than great journalism.

The really newsworthy part of the one-paragraph item concerned Editor/Publisher David J. Butler's announcement that the paper was offering voluntary buyouts in an attempt to "eliminate up to 20 newsroom jobs."

Left unsaid was that, if not enough people take buyouts to achieve the desired savings, there will be layoffs at the paper. The last time that happened was back in the early 1970s, and those pink slips led to a successful union drive, Newspaper Guild President Lou Mleczko tells News Hits. Over the past 30 years, any downsizing has been achieved through hiring freezes and attrition.

An internal announcement Butler sent to staffers states:

"While a voluntary plan takes out some of the sting, we recognize it also comes with a different price — a loss of expertise and institutional knowledge if those who depart have extensive seniority, and come from across the newsroom. But, faced with a very, very tough economy for the foreseeable future and the need to address the Neighborhood News issue at some point, we felt now was the time to move forward.

"Still, doing it this way will likely involve disruptions across the newsroom."

We can't help but wonder how much of this is due to last year's sale of the News to Colorado-based MediaNews Group and the associated restructuring of the joint operating agreement that reduced the paper's take from 50 percent to just 5 percent of the profits generated by it and JOA partner the Free Press.

We're not the only ones wondering if the paper can survive with so slim a cut.

"From what we've been hearing thus far, there's a lot of anxiety about long-term viability of The Detroit News," says Mleczko. "There's no question this has caused more anxiety for rank-and-file staff."

News Hits could be glad to see the enemy camp taking a direct hit, but we're not. Strong competition is a good thing in our business, and, corny as it might sound, we'll always believe in the importance of quality journalism, no matter where it's found. Seeing experienced people leave a paper like the News is bad news for everyone.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]