Free Press jitters

Jan 14, 2009 at 4:22 pm

Folks at the Freep had about 90 minutes of jitters and gallows humor Wednesday after they received an e-mail about Gannett-wide furloughs from CEO Craig Dubow:

Today Gannett is implementing a furlough program across all U.S. divisions and at corporate headquarters. This means that most of our U.S. employees — including myself and all other top executives — will be furloughed for the equivalent of one week in the first quarter. This furlough will be unpaid. Unions also will be asked to participate. We are doing this to preserve our operations and continue to deliver for our customers while confronting the issues raised by some of the most difficult economic conditions we have ever experienced. After much consideration, we decided a furlough program would be the fairest and least intrusive way to meet these fiscal challenges in the first quarter, which is traditionally the lightest time of the year. We sincerely hope this minimizes the need for any layoffs going forward. As the day goes on, you will be receiving information from your division presidents explaining the program, including some FAQs to help answer any of your questions and address your concerns about pay and benefits. We have made some very difficult decisions this past year, all with the goal of keeping Gannett strong and preparing for the future. I understand I have asked a great deal of you, and I regret adding to your burden with this program. But my sincere hope is that this step removes the need to do anything more drastic, and that business conditions improve. As always, I thank you for your patience and loyalty to Gannett.

The nervous jokes abated at least somewhat when a subsequent e-mail from Freep Publisher David L. Hunke reached his troops:

Most of you have probably seen or are aware of the announcement today from Craig Dubow that Gannett is implementing a furlough program whereby employees will be required to take unpaid leave for one week during the first quarter.

Because of the intense focus and attention required to implement our strategic plan and meet our March 30 deadline, Detroit will not be included in the furlough program at this time. We very much appreciate Gannett's support as we move forward with our transformation model.

The March 30 reference is to the launch of a new distribution model for the Freep — a first for a major daily — shifting home delivery to Thursday, Friday and Sunday only, while putting — as the indie Gannett Blog puts it — "some sort of slimmed-down single-copy-only version" on the streets on other days and encouraging readers to the Web.

Freepsters were prone to note that their reprieve was qualified: no furlough for the Freep "at this time." But later?

News Blawg wonders whether it was a screw-up in corporate communication or confused decision-making that led to the gap between the furlough message and the no-furlough-for-now messages.

Of course, there's no need end in site for the gallows humor in the newspaper industry. We just heard the one comparing the fate of newspaper folks to polar bears on a south-floating iceberg. With data from 72 of Gannett's 85 papers, Gannett Blog in December tallied 2,184 layoffs as the company sought to cut 10 percent of its 30,000 newspaper jobs.