Monday, June 23, 2008

Breaking: Detroit seeks 150 buyouts; CEO Hunke warns climate 'continues to worsen rapidly'

In one of Gannett's biggest buyout offers, the corporate parent of the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News today called for 150 employees to voluntarily give up their jobs by July 18 -- with layoffs threatened if that target isn't met. In a starkly worded memo, CEO and Publisher Dave Hunke told employees: "The environment in which newspapers operate continues to worsen rapidly.'' (Full text, below.)

Hunke said buyouts were being offered to active, benefit-eligible, non-union employees who are 45 and up with at least 10 years' service as of July 31, 2008. The same offer was extended to eligible employees at the Detroit Media Partnership; in addition to the Freep, it publishes the rival News, plus handles accounting and other business functions for the papers under a joint operating agreement.

The 150 target is about 14% of the 1,044 eligible employees, a Gannett Blog reader tells me. Overall, the Freep, News and the agency employ somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000. (But I could be way off on that.)

As someone who got a buyout in January, I can say this: It's a whole lot better to agree to be laid off than to be forced to leave. Plus, the terms are usually better. But if you plan to blog about the company after you leave, read anything you're asked to sign, and look for an anti-disparagement clause.

Gannett owns the Freep. It sold the News three years ago to MediaNews Group as part of a complicated deal that included Knight Ridder papers.

Have there been buyouts, layoffs or other job cuts at your newspaper, TV station or other Gannett business? Post a note in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, use this link from a non-work computer; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

Full text of Hunke's memo
The environment in which newspapers operate continues to worsen rapidly, and the Detroit Media Partnership faces unique challenges because of the state’s business and economic climate. We must take several actions immediately.

First, we are offering a voluntary severance program. The eligibility pool is expanded beyond what was offered in October.

In early August we will cease publication of Twist and the Community Free Press sections. We are evaluating ways to retain some key content and to retain advertisers.

Some details on the voluntary severance program:

It is being offered to active, benefit-eligible, non-represented employees of the Partnership and Detroit Free Press who are 45 years of age or older with at least 10 years of credited service as of July 31, 2008.

We have contacted union leaders to extend this offer to all bargaining unit employees. This offer is subject to negotiation with the unions and we will complete that process as soon as possible.

The company reserves the right to limit the number of volunteers accepted in order to maintain business operations.

The program offers two weeks of severance for every year of credited service - up to 52 weeks. This will be paid out the same way as regular payroll until the severance period is exhausted. During the severance period, health benefits will remain intact.

• The offer is open until July 18.
• We are looking for 150 volunteers overall.
• If more than 150 volunteer, we will review whether we can expand the pool. Decisions about which volunteers will be accepted will be based on position and seniority.

If the voluntary offer doesn’t result in a sufficient number of volunteers, or if in the future, economic conditions worsen, it may be necessary to consider layoffs.

Please see the attached Q&A for answers to frequently asked questions.

Eligible employees who are interested should contact Jill Smith in Human Resources at (313) 222-2728.

Employees who decide to volunteer should submit a request in writing (signed and dated) to Jill Smith in H.R. The company will review the list of volunteers after July 18, make a determination and inform all volunteers who have been accepted. Separation dates will be set at that time.

All external inquiries from media regarding this voluntary severance should be directed to Susie Ellwood, Executive VP/General Manager.

Dave Hunke

[Image: a screenshot of the Freep's homepage]


  1. Wow, they really want to meet that target number of 150. They skipped over 50 and up and went right to 45 and up.

  2. ABOUT TIME! Their newsroom makes USAT's look sparse by comparison (even before the USAT buyout).

    They've been an albatross around Moons neck for awhile now - not like this buyout is going to make that go away anytime soon though.

  3. They should start with Hunkes fat-ass salary and then we wouldn't have to dump 150 people. How about we start firing the top managers FIRST and then we work our way down!!! Dubow, Moon, Martore, Hunke!!!

  4. You're kidding yourself if you think Hunke deserves to be mentioned alongside that unholy alliance (Dubow, Moon, Martore).

    Hunke inherited tons of dead weight and a whole slew of operational challenges when he arrived in Detroit. He's lopped off plenty of fat at all levels of the Detroit food chain, but it's his bad luck to be working in a dying industry in a city that owes everything to another dying industry.

    If you want to carve into fat at big-city papers, take a look at Phoenix and Indy, which have only recently gotten serious about getting staffing levels down to Gannett-appropriate sizes.

  5. Has Detroit lost staff through severance programs? Yes. So you could say that Hunke has lopped of plenty of fat. However, under his leadership, the Partnership is now up to fourteen Vice Presidents! And several senior and executive directors! Fourteen freaking VP's! What the hell does any company need fourteen VP's for? Whne you compare the other properties on the corporate org charts Detroit has far more high level (and high salaried, I might add) staff than any other Gannett property.

  6. If anyone knows the problems, he should. Asleep at the wheel in Motown. When Gannett stock drops below 20, someone better wake up.

  7. When are the people at the top going to start paying the price for their failed stewardship?

  8. Oh, they'll pay a stiff price. Eventually some will get forced out, and walk away with 10x their annual salary or more.

  9. Anon 12:13 PM--
    You are naive to think that Gannett corporate official consider themselves "stewards" of anything other than their own fortunes.
    Seriously, do you think they go to work each day thinking about their responsibility to anyone? Certainly not the communities their media channels serve, not the employees, not the advertisers.
    It boils down to this--"It's all about the money." Sad, but true.

  10. So if your over 45 and bring home $1000 every two weeks and have been with the paper for 20 years you get $20,000. WOW.

    And if your under 45 I guess you are just out of work if your number is called.

  11. My advice: take the buyout! I didn't, and then got the ax a month later -- and HALF the severance the buyout was offering. Face it, the layoffs are coming to all of you sooner or later. Don't miss this opportunity to get as much as you can. There is life after Gannett, believe me.

  12. Reminds me of a scene I saw from one of those '60s sci-fi shows (Star Trek, perhaps), in which people were randomly selected for death on an overpopulated planet, in order to maintain the status quo.

    If one's number were called, one was expected to go willingly. If one didn't go willingly, well...


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