Ugh. Worst day since I’ve been here. Salaries are cut. Furloughs later this year. 11 people laid off (no specifics on who yet). Hourly employees all get their hours cut. We’re only supposed to work 37.5 hours a week now, which is nonsense because everyone will essentially be working harder now. It’s a 6.25 percent pay cut. About $2,000 a year. That doesn’t include these furloughs, which could be anywhere from 3-5 days. Also, they got rid of the Palmetto Passes (dammit!). That’ll be another $40-50 a month. Reimbursement for mileage was reduced. Uh, what else. Features section will probably be merged, meaning we might lose an editor or two. Salaried people get wage cuts, too. Those making more than $60,000 get a 10 percent cut. Good news: no more layoffs this year.
I’m so glad I’m not still there, because I always said taking away the Palmetto Passes (the toll transponder paid for by the company at 75 cents a trip) would be the last straw. It was a symbolic gesture of the needling mindset that was scaring talented people away from print, and they would have to pry it from my cold, dead hands. The news in the above e-mail can be distilled into the basic message of “we want you to worker harder, over shorter hours, for less money, and at more inconvenience for you (until your job is eliminated, at least).” What people making these decisions don’t seem to factor in is: the news doesn’t go away when you have fewer staff members to cover it. It’s like driving the school buses in the morning or having firefighters on duty all day: it’s a cog that has to turn no matter what. It just has to get done somehow.
I still get angry about this because I care about my friends there, and still hold sentimentality towards the paper itself. The Packet doesn’t deserve this. Thanks to its location in a growing community with an older population, its readership is holding strong, even increasing in subscribers in recent years. Its sports section just won huge national honors. The online coverage we did of the missing persons case brought an unheard of number of web hits to the site. Its readership is loyal, involved and interested.
But the Packet, like so many other newspapers, is tied to the finances of the overall company. Unlike a mass new media market in San Francisco waiting to fill the void when the Chronicle falls, if the Packet goes away, no online news source is primed to rise up in its stead. That means no comprehensive resource for for information on hurricane evacuation or recovery efforts, no local coverage of a national PGA tournament, and no weekly arts and entertainment publication to let people know of local events in one of the most popular (and affluent) tourism spots on the East Coast.
My advice to Gary Pruitt and other newspaper executives: either a) accept the fact that newspapers are no longer viable business operations and just shut them down already to stop giving the illusion of job security for your employees while you bleed them to death or b) grow a pair and make a fucking stand against the dying of the industry. You’ll notice there was no plan for a recovery strategy announced today other than this continued and failing effort to stop the bleeding. That’s because there isn’t one.