Pay for Play

It wasn't a good week at The Dallas Morning News. The city lost out on its Olympic bid to friggin' Houston. (Hey, but that means the streets will be fixed and cops 'n' teachers 'n' firemen will be paid more. Right? Hello? Isn't that right?) The rank-and-file reporters don't care about the lost bid, but the higher-ups at Belo were certainly disappointed. They live for boondoggles.

No, the grunts were more concerned about something closer to home: 73 DMNers were officially laid off last week, 17 of them full-time newsroom staffers. It was an ugly Wednesday. People were asked to stay in their cubes and stay quiet so as not to cause even more heartbreak for those being shitcanned. One editor in lifestyles broke down crying when breaking the news to his staff. Indeed, the Texas Living staffers were hardest hit, as was Metro. (They accounted for about 15 of the let-gos; sports and biz had one each.) Softening the blow slightly was the fact that most were not longtime staffers; many were suburban and support personnel.

Softening the blow a lot was the fund set up by city columnist Steve Blow and investigator/editor extraordinaire Howard Swindle, who immediately posted signs asking for people to contribute to relief coin for the newsroomers let go. By this week's end, it looks like they'll have raised about a grand per person.

Most of the editors and writers at the News said they understood that financial problems within the company and country made layoffs inevitable, even though several admitted they always thought the mighty Belo Death Star was impervious to such forces. "Just never thought it would happen here," says one editor.

What really cheeses the grunts, when they start talking about alternative ways that money could have been saved, is Belo's recent filing with the SEC that details former publisher/editor/hobgoblin Burl Osborne's severance package. (We say "former"--his full retirement doesn't take effect until December 31, 2001. But he's out of the day-to-day stuff.) Now, no one denies the man his stock options (nearly a million shares) or his SERP (Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan, which will net him more than $4.7 million).

But, given the layoffs, does he really need the one-time payment of $371,082 in "additional compensation"? More important, does he really, really need to be paid almost $79,000 a month during all of 2002? As a consultant, no less? That's nearly an extra million bucks. What sort of advice costs that much? That people like their crossword puzzle? That you shouldn't cuss in a headline? Buy low, sell high? The CueCat is a bad idea?

Now, let's do some quick math. Most of the folks let go were not at the top end of the pay scale. Let's say they averaged $35,000 a year in salary. Not eliminating 37 (about half) of those 73 jobs would have cost the DMN an extra $1.3 million in salary--or, about what it's paying former publisher Osborne next year.

Good idea: The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, overseer of the state's prison system, recently posted this advice on its Web site for those sending mail to prison inmates in light of the anthrax scare. No, we're not making this up:

"Due to national concerns related to mail, incoming correspondence that is intended for offenders which contains powder or any granular substance will not be delivered to the offender. Please do not place substances in or on correspondence that is mailed to an offender in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice; the offender will not receive such mail."

Okey-dokey. No least not now. Make sure that coke you send your daddy for Christmas is properly packaged in rock form.

Texas über allies: Granted, it's old news, having appeared last week in newspapers across the state, but Buzz can't help but say something about David Dewhurst's campaign screw-up. Forgive us. It's what we live for.

In case you missed it, here's the story. Land Commissioner Dewhurst, a Republican running for lieutenant governor, was recently named chief of a task force on homeland security for Texas. He noted that fact in a four-page advertising spread in the current Texas Monthly with text alongside a patriotic photo of a military officer standing beside a huge American flag. Trouble was, the officer was a general in the German air force.


We knew Dewhurst was running to the right, but this subliminal German officer thing takes it a bit far. What's next for Dewhurst? A sister city program with Nuremberg? Torch-lit campaign events in New Braunfels? The back page of the ad is a sign-up sheet for his campaign that seeks volunteers who are willing to do the usual campaign stuff: block-walk, put up yard signs, make a donation, invade Poland, etc.

OK, we made up that last one. We think. We hope.

One of Dewhurst's television ads features the candidate ridin' and ropin' and dissin' liberals who favor a state income tax (just name one), which Dewhurst says is "not Texas."

Well, he got the state right, anyway.

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

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