Sarasota Herald Tribune Latest Newspaper to Feel Economic Pinch, and Pain of Telling Readers About It
The Sarasota Herald Tribune announced today that it is offering buyouts to employees over age 50,at a time when the newspaper had already eliminated 21 positions from its newsroom, downsized business and sports sections and cut daily TV listings and its Sunday business section.
But readers of the Herald-Tribune might be forgiven for not immediately realizing the full impact of the announcement. Because, near as I can tell, the first story mentioning the buyouts is a well-done trend piece on how the slumping real estate economy has affected newspapers across the state, including the Times.
Readers didn't have to wait long for the news, which came in the fourth graf. But the focus on the larger trend allowed the newspaper to spread the focus to larger job reductions at other area newspapers; the newspaper's executives wouldn't even confirm the 21 previous Herald Tribune job cuts to its own reporter.
The move is even more interesting because the Poynter Institute's Roy Peter Clark wrote a penetrating column on the need for newspaper executives to level with their readers about job and resources cuts, dubbed Why Media Leaders Paint the Big Lie. Clark makes a great case for not insulting the reader by trying to pretend job cuts, section eliminations and size reductions are product enhancements -- something readers of this blog criticized the Times for doing when we implemented our size reductions last year.
He urged: "Truthful stories, not candy-coated, soporific PowerPoint presentations about the 10 ways the company will become twice as good after firing half the staff."
The numbers lined up by the Herald Tribune don't look good, for sure. According to the story, 58 Herald Tribune newsroom employees are eligible for the buyout. The Tampa Tribune cut 70 positions, including 10 in its newsroom; the Times is hoping to reduce its number by up to 90 positions without layoffs, though we have also eliminated our Citrus County edition which reduced editorial jobs.
Readers, especially newspaper fans, are smart enough to see these stories, too. I hope newspaper leaders find the courage to show the same transparency that we demand from other industries when they hit hard economic times.