Monday, August 25, 2008

An Annotated Version of a Note from the Star's Publisher

Posted By on Mon, Aug 25, 2008 at 3:14 PM



The Kansas City Star announced today that it wants to lay off more employees in its attempt to move from a mainstream print publication to a blog written in someone’s basement.

The announcement came via an e-mail by publisher Mark Zieman. The note includes plenty of corporate mumbo-jumbo such as “explore every option to navigate the current recession” and “involuntary reductions to augment the voluntary program.”

Here, then, is a paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of what Zieman is trying to say with his coded e-mail.

Subject: Voluntary Separation Program announced

To Star staff:

Beginning today, we will be offering a Voluntary Separation Program to the majority1 of regular, full-time employees at The Kansas City Star.

1 Unless you’re last name is Zieman or you’re currently in a relationship with me, I've got some bad news for you about your job.

We are making this offer because the economic downturn shows no signs of easing, and because many employees have expressed interest2 in a voluntary program if the paper needed to consider further restructuring. While we all hope for better days ahead, it's best to take action now to help ensure it. That has always been The Star way3. So we will use the rest of 2008 to explore every option to successfully navigate the current recession - and also to position our company for long-term success in the digital age. Every part of our company is being analyzed as we continue to transition to this new business model.

2 Daily newspapers are so fucked. You know we’re fucked. Who could blame you for wanting out now?

3 Yes, the "Star way" includes the lack of hope that things will get better. Therefore, we'll just go ahead and lay you off now.

We have not established a quota or target for this voluntary program, although we expect it to be less than the last round of cuts4. We will limit or exclude eligibility in certain departments and divisions, especially revenue areas, based on business needs and so that no one area or department is unfairly impacted. We also will exclude positions where we do not see opportunities at this time to streamline5, consolidate or transfer work. However, after we have evaluated the number of positions that will be eliminated through this program, we may need to make additional involuntary reductions to augment the voluntary program6.

4If I were you, I’d take the goddamned buyout.

5Don’t make me come over there and pull you out by the suspenders, C.W. Gusewelle.

6You should seriously be scared every time you come to work that it will be your last day. That will make you work harder and help you buy into "the Star way."

I realize that the rapid changes sweeping our industry, and The Star, are at best disorienting and discouraging7 for many of us. Yet our overarching focus remains the same: to be our community's preeminent and most trusted supplier of local news and advertising, on multiple platforms. It's true that traditional print revenue is being challenged at unprecedented levels. Yet online revenue and online readership are growing at a rapid pace. Niche and magazine revenues also are robust. And our combined print/online readership is at its highest level in history, and one of the highest in America8.

7If somebody has any idea what’s going on in our industry, please speak up, because I fear computers like I fear polio.

8Doesn't it blow your mind that anyone's reading the online mess that is

We have reached this level of success because at key points throughout our history9, our predecessors made difficult decisions. We have steered through wars and paper shortages, strikes and new owners, depressions and recessions, changing technology and a long line of fierce competitors. The challenges may keep coming, but the outcome always remains the same. The Star survives, and thrives10.

9Have I mentioned that Ernest Hemingway once worked here?

10Anybody know how to turn For Whom the Bell Tolls into a blog?

Thank you again for everything you are doing on behalf of The Star11. We all have dedicated our careers to informing the public and bettering our communities through news and information. Fortunately, it is precisely that public mission - and the local news and advertising staffs that accompany it - that place us in the best position of all our competitors going forward, even with this latest round of cuts12.

11Thanks for your work, but we’ve determined that a Bangladeshi street urchin can write obits.

12I'm still going to make more this year than you will in your entire career.

If you have any questions about this voluntary separation program please contact Chris Piwowarek or Randy Smith in Employee Resources13. Those employees who are eligible for this program will be receiving individual packets. We also will be scheduling informational meetings to discuss the staff reduction with all interested employees.

13Calling my office puts you at the top of the layoff list. Seriously, it’s sitting right here next to my phone. Go ahead. Call my extension and see how fast my No. 2 pencil works.



14Even though I’m laying you off, and even though I don’t have the decency to talk to you in person about it or even offer to talk to you by phone, we’re still on a first-name basis. See you at the Christmas party, which this year will be held on Second Life, a place I’m told is some mythical “on-line” world. I hope they have newspapers there.

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