Nearly two dozen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's most experienced reporters and editors have taken a company-proffered buyout. But apparently that's not enough of a staff reduction to stave off potential layoffs.
The paper's owner, Block Communications, has been experiencing revenue shortfalls, and is now dangling a somewhat reduced offer before all newsroom staff -- about 200 employees. The remaining staffers have until Dec. 31 to accept the latest offer.
A source with knowledge of the paper's personnel plans says the company is hoping for five to 10 more buyouts among the editorial staff before the end of the year. That will allow the savings to be included on this year's ledger. The second buyout offers the same severance pay -- two weeks' pay per year of P-G service -- as the first-round buyout, but just half a year of health-care benefits. The earlier deal, which was offered to staff whose age and years of service totaled 70 or more, included three years of medical coverage.
Thus far, some 22 staffers are said to have accepted buyout offers. Some did not respond to requests for comment, but transportation writer Joe Grata, drama critic Chris Rawson and sports writer Bob Smizik have said goodbyes in the P-G's pages. News reporters Bill Moushey, Cristina Rouvalis and Marlene Parrish as well as travel editor David Bear, music writer Jim White and sports writer Phil Axelrod confirmed to CP that they have also exited. E-mails to news editor Tom Sterling and Monica Haynes, who are also rumored to have left the paper, prompted an automatic reply stating that each was "retired" from the paper, although neither responded personally.
"It will be difficult," Bear commented in an e-mail, "but the Post-Gazette still employs plenty of excellent journalists and has a commitment to providing the best coverage possible under the circumstances." The paper would certainly now "evolve," Bear added.
R.J. Hufnagel, head of the local Newspaper Guild, which represents newsroom employees, said he did not wish to comment, at least until the second round of buyouts was complete.
Among the paper's losses so far, "the distribution is fairly even" across editorial departments, says editor David Shribman. He wouldn't speculate about how many staffers would need to take the next round of buyouts to avoid layoffs.
In the meantime, departing staffers are hoping for the best at their former workplace.
"When I left," said Joe Grata, who covered PennDOT for the paper, "I placed an orange traffic cone on my desk with a sign I thought appropriate for a long-time transportation writer: 'Temporary inconvenience, permanent improvement.' I hope."