The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is not done shedding familiar names in its editorial staff -- and the number of employees taking company-offered buyouts still may not be enough to avoid layoffs.
Fashion editor LaMont Jones Jr., who took the latest buyout and exited on Dec. 31, after 15 years there, blamed "the uncertainty of the industry and where it's going" for his decision. "Now is a good time to go ahead and go." Also leaving at the end of 2008 were news reporter Steve Levin -- an assistant city editor who also covered religion issues, according to his P-G bio -- columnists Samantha Bennett and Ruth Ann Dailey, although Dailey will still be making contributions to the paper as a freelancer.
Block Communications, which owns the P-G, first broached buyouts with the Pittsburgh chapter of the Newspaper Guild this fall as a way to avoid layoffs due to mounting financial losses at the paper. In December, about two dozen news staffers, along with members of the other unions covering the paper's 1,000 employees, took the first round of buyouts, which were offered only to the most senior employees. The buyouts include medical benefits and one-time payouts based on years of service.
The newspaper's management, says Jones, hoped for 10 full-time newsroom employees (or their equivalent in part-timers) to take the company's second buyout offer, which was open to everyone. "From what I've heard they didn't get this," he said.
Neither P-G General Manager Chris Chamberlain nor local Guild President R.J. Hufnagel returned inquiries by press time to confirm whether the P-G met its goals. Block Communications President Gary Blair said layoffs would remain a possibility. "I know we're working to get the workforce down to the optimum size for the conditions we're in," Blair said. "It may require layoffs. As we reconfigure, a lot depends on what happens over the next year."
For his part, Jones says, "I had pretty much decided I was going to go ... because there are a lot of things I'd like to do." Among them: running a church -- Jones was recently ordained as a minister -- or marketing a board game his father invented.
"I'm definitely going to maintain a presence in fashion and style," he said, detailing plans to publish his The Good Grooming Guyde (for guys of course).
Jones is proud of having begun the paper's Teen Forum, which had a 10-year run. But, he added, one of his "big disappointments" was that daily papers were "just so slow to change." Jones says that as far back as 18 years ago, he was suggesting the P-G live almost exclusively on the Internet, printing perhaps a colorful weekly glossy, "but not trying to do the daily, daily stuff.
"I wish the best for the P-G," Jones concluded. "I hope they have the kinds of ideas, creativity, vision and leadership to make a transition to allow people to survive in some way."