Hard lesson: Every day can be a job tryoutSep 2nd, 2009 | By joegrimm | Category: Negotiating Jobs, News
The New York Times takes note of how Gannett’s Westchester newspaper, the Journal News, has told staffers that there will be deep cuts and that everyone must reapply for their jobs.
In “You’re Gone. But, Hey, You Can Reapply,” David Carr asks, “What fresh hell is this?” Carr worries that the plan, which has been attributed to the local president and publisher, Michael J. Fisch, might spread throughout Gannett.
Fisch, by the way, told Carr that he feels he is trying out for his own job every day, an interesting way to look at things.
But this reapplication idea is not new to newsrooms. It is at least 16 years old, where newspapers are concerned.
A 2008 publication by the Northern California Media Workers and San Jose Newspaper Guild recalled what happened when Dean Singleton moved into Oakland, Calif. The publication said, “In 1992, the company purchased the financially troubled Oakland Tribune and folded it into the ANG chain. All 630 Tribune employees were laid off and required to re-apply for a chance to continue their employment under the new ownership.”
That squares with what I heard from a job-seeker at a National Association of Hispanics convention in the late ’90s. The young reporter said he and his colleagues had been made to wait on a line of hard, plastic chairs for their turn to squirm for their jobs. I asked him why he hadn’t just bailed on journalism at that point. He liked it too much, he said, and felt it was important work that made him a role model in his community, a tough, gang-infested neighborhood.
Singleton used the same process five years later. A 2006 article in the American Journalism Review said:
“After he acquired the Long Beach Press-Telegram from Knight Ridder in 1997, Singleton abrogated the existing union contracts (which he could do under terms of the sale) and summarily cut most newsroom salaries by 20 percent or more. All the staffers were forced to reapply for their jobs.”
So, while Fisch’s plan is painful, it is not new, it did not start with Gannett and it could show up again in any company. Remember how journalism furloughs began rippling through the entire industry, not just one company? Once the idea was out there, there was no stopping it.
Are there lessons in this? One is to remember our history. Another is that cost-cutting plans can jump from one company to another like a wildfire, so it is wise to watch the entire industry — as well as others — for signs of trouble.
The third lesson I would take from all this is what Carr said about Fisch. An apparently decent guy who gave Carr straight answers, Fisch said that even he works every day as though he is reapplying for his job. It is a stressful way to live, but it makes sense in this refreshed hell.