Hard times

Hard times: Thousands of words have been written on the Dallas Observer's blog, Unfair Park, as well as D magazine's The FrontBurner and elsewhere online about impending job cuts at The Dallas Morning News, but so far nothing has appeared in our print edition. The reason for that is that the two people on the Observer's staff in positions to write about the News' offer of buyouts to nearly all of its editorial staff are Jim Schutze and yours truly. Both of us have spouses who work at the News, and Buzz, like Schutze, has a simple--if ethically dubious--rule about covering the News: We can say what we want about the paper's content and editorial decisions, but if it's something concerning our spouses' jobs, we become like Sergeant Schultz.

If you're married, you understand.

Now that the deadline for accepting the buyout offers has passed--neither Schutze's wife nor the lovely Mrs. Buzz is taking it--Buzz can tell all you non-Internet readers what's been online. (Oddly, the fact that we're chasing our own digital edition sums up one of the challenges facing the News.)

So here's the dealio: Belo Corp., the DMN's owner, is realigning itself and reallocating resources to focus on its "core readers" as part of the company's "technology and business process initiatives." Yeah, they actually talk like that over there. In English, that means the paper wants 85 edit staffers to take buyout offers based on tenure (two weeks' pay up to 15 years, three weeks for each year after that, up to 52 weeks max, plus enough to cover 12 months of health insurance premiums). Ad revenue and circulation are down. Someone's gotta go, and if too few people take the buyout, layoffs could follow.

The paper's managers have given staff members fairly vague hints on where they would like the cuts to come from, so for weeks it's been an ugly game of calculating odds--like musical chairs, except if you don't have a seat when the music stops you get clubbed like a baby seal. Morale at the paper has been better.

Word is that some 80 people have taken the buyout, though they had until August 30 to change their minds. ("No, I think I'll stay after all." Can you say awkward?) The arts and features staffs and the Washington bureau appear to have been hit especially hard, though nothing is yet final. A team of newsroom managers is drafting a plan for organizing the new, smaller news staff to focus on local coverage, though that plan won't be completed till fall.

"People are being very professional, but it's a tough time," editor Bob Mong told Unfair Park. "I've had the benefit of more time to think about it, and it's my role to think about the outcome. We have to come out of this and have a leading paper in the region. That's our commitment, and we'll still do that."

In the greater scheme of things, 85 job cuts aren't many. Just ask anyone in the Telecom Corridor, or ask Buzz's in-law whose company shut down a manufacturing plant near Alliance Airport. Of course, the fact that someone else is hurting as badly as you doesn't do much to relieve your own pain, but perspective is all anyone watching the painful dance at the News can offer by way of comfort.

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams

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