Three Fired From Post-Dispatch Newsroom; Three Others Take Buyouts

Sep 7, 2011 at 4:29 pm
Editor's note: The post below states that the layoffs Wednesday were the first forced terminations the newsroom has had since the Lee acquisition. We got that information from the St. Louis Newspaper Guild both in interviews with the guild yesterday and last month when we wrote about Lee's desire to shrink the newsroom.  We've been unable to reach the guild today (Thursday) for clarification.

An archive search of Daily RFT shows that we have indeed written about other firings in the newsroom, so as readers have pointed out in the comment section, Twitter and emails, perhaps yesterday's post was incorrect. Or perhaps yesterday's terminations was the first time guild members have been fired. We're attempting to get answers. In the meantime, the original post from yesterday follows:

click to enlarge Somehow this image of the Post-Dispatch seems to work the best for this post.
Somehow this image of the Post-Dispatch seems to work the best for this post.
Lee Enterprises laid off two researchers and an editor from the Post-Dispatch newsroom today. The firings are the first time the newsroom has suffered layoffs since the Iowa-based Lee acquired the paper in 2005. 

Last month Lee warned that it might have to fire as many as ten newsroom employees in order to cut costs at the paper.

Shannon Duffy, business representative for the St. Louis Newspaper Guild, tells Daily RFT today that in addition to today's firings, three longtime newsroom employees also agreed to take buyouts. They are sports reporter Bill Coats (with 30-plus years experience); page designer Arne Thorbjornson (24 years) and IT professional Lew Schucart (31 years).

"It's hard to believe that sacrificing these hard-working people who spent such a long part of their adult lives working for the benefit of the Post-Dispatch is going to cause the slightest ripple at Lee corporate," says Duffy. "But unfortunately Lee borrowed an awful lot of money, and now they're choking on it."

The company assumed hundred of million of dollars in debt in acquiring the Post-Dispatch, and that debt now threatens to bankrupt the company.

Duffy says that Lee found other cost savings for the newsroom in renegotiating its contract with wire services. Additionally the company has two reporter positions currently open that it will not fill. Last year Lee announced it would fire several newsroom staffers but reneged when several senior employees agreed to take buyouts. The newsroom now has about 135 guild members. The total number of employees at the paper has been cut nearly in half over the past seven years though layoffs, buyouts and attrition.

P.S. Oh and we also misspelled the name Thorbjornson in the original post. We had it with a "P" instead of a "T". Sorry about that.