Kansas City Star Reporters Told to Duke it Out for Their Jobs [UPDATE]

click to enlarge Two reporters enter, only one leaves.
Two reporters enter, only one leaves.

Update: In a memo to staff, KC Star publisher Mi-Ai Parrish denies the incident unfolded this way.

Newspaper layoffs. Not to be pun-y, but old news. The Post-Dispatch has been through this dance so many times. It's awful when it happens, but no one is surprised anymore even when the most loved and respected reporters are shown the door.

Well apparently, the leadership at the Kansas City Star decided to inject a little excitement into the process. This week, reporters Karen Dillon and Dawn Bormann were told that while there are two of them, there is only one job.

And instead of just being, you know, managers who manage people, Dillon and Bormann's bosses told them they need to decide for themselves who stays and who goes.


Employees got this memo on Monday, informing them of a "restructuring" and "realigning" at the paper that would result in job losses. It made no mention of a fight club or the prisoner's dilemma or Sophie's choice.

But that's basically what it came down to for Dillon and Bormann. Daily RFT is simultaneously desperate to know what their conversation was like and really happy that we will never know. Dillon told media reporter Jim Romenesko, "It's one of the most difficult situations I've ever faced."

A staffer anonymously leaked the horrible situation to KCConfidential.com. Here's what that person's read on the likely outcome was:

"Karen Dillon has seniority, so she has the option of taking it or not taking it," says the source. "And if she does, Dawn gets laid off. Dawn's a great person but I think Karen will vote in favor of herself because she's got teenage kids at home."

The blog also confirmed the person's hunch, saying it's Bormann who will no longer be with the Star. We emailed both reporters to find out if that's true and have yet to receive a response.

If it's true, godspeed to them both. One will be able to walk away from a manager who would put her through something like this, the other still has a paycheck and probably a pretty acute case of survivor's guilt.

Update:"Bottom Line Communications" has obtained a copy of the Star's publisher's memo to staff today. If we're interpreting this correctly, Parrish is saying that Dillon was offered a voluntary buy-out in her severance "group." But there was only one other person in her "group": Bormann. Not as dramatic as saying, "Figure it out, you two," but still a sticky situation for Dillon.

The link to the original documents isn't currently working in their post, but here's what BLC quotes the memo as saying:

"Some of you may have seen online reports regarding the recent layoffs at The Star," wrote Parrish. "We want to be clear that we did not ask our employees to work out any decisions amongst themselves."

"As most of you know," said Parrish, "the Star has tried to make voluntary options available on many occasions when it has been necessary to make reductiosn in our workplace, in order to lessen the impact of involunatary eliminations.

"In fact, the feedback we've received from employees has been overwhelmingly in favor of making the voluntary option available. For this particular severance program. for any group of two or more employees in which a reduction is to occur we did offer the voluntary option. However, if there are no volunteers, as is our practice, the employee with the least tenure will be included in the reduction. This program was clearly communicated to those employees affected by the severance program.

"We find it unfortunate the way the situation has been portrayed, and we are very sorry for the impact on the employees involved. We will continue to work with all employees affected by this severance program to help them transition through this difficult time made even more difficult by the misinformation being reported."

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