The most poignant meme became the symbol “-30-”, the traditional journalistic “end of story” notation. When the axe fell in New Orleans on June 12, employees used it to simply, yet powerfully, communicate via social media that they were one of the more than 200 who would lose their jobs. Logging on to Facebook that day was to witness a digital death watch. The symbol later became the name of the nonprofit created to raise money for employees losing their jobs.
3. Firings — and “unfirings.” Times-Picayune management was apparently so confident that everyone in the newsroom would be thrilled to join the bold new move that they were taken completely off-guard when at least 14 employees asked to stay instead said, “Uh, no, thank you.” This surprise exodus, which included a number of the organization’s most well-regarded journalists, in turn prompted management to “unfire” at least 10 employees who already had been told they would be losing their jobs. And then there were the just completely nonsensical layoffs. These included Brett Anderson, the James Beard Award-winning restaurant critic (in a city where food is big business and generates big advertising dollars), and religion editor Bruce Nolan, the an extraordinarily youthful 41-year veteran widely regarded as the most-gifted writer at the paper. Both were ultimately unfired. Anderson is now on a prestigious Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University and undecided about whether he’ll return. Nolan, a high school classmate of longtime editor Jim Amoss, ultimately declined to stay, largely because the offer to do so wasn’t extended until three months after he was told he had to go.
4. Youth Movement. Rick Edmonds, an analyst with the nonprofit Poynter Institute, penned an analysis in June that concluded Advance’s moves only make financial sense if its newspapers purge experienced, higher-paid employees and replace them with younger, cheaper staff. That means The PD, as the Picayune did, will lose many of its most experienced reporters, photographers, copyeditors, illustrators and designers. (The average tenure of laid-off Times-Picayune employees who have applied for assistance from dashTHIRTYdash is 20.6 years.) In turn, the newspaper has hired a number of very young staffers, several who have only an internship or year or two of work experience under their belts.
5. New offices with a “Google/Nike kind-of vibe.” Because The Plain Dealer’s headquarters were built in only 2002, you may not see this, but most NOLA Media Group employees will move in early 2013 to penthouse offices in a luxury high-rise on the city’s riverfront. The move seems to make little sense for a supposedly financially taxed organization with a perfectly serviceable building able to comfortably accommodate its employees. Speculation, however, is that the decision has more to do with generating some kind of legally significant distance from the newspaper’s longtime headquarters — and from any potential lingering liability related to its now-revoked job security pledge — than with creating what Mathews told the city’s tech community would be a “Google/Nike kind-of-vibe work environment.”
6. Losing “control of the narrative.” At that same tech community gathering in June, then-NOLA.com Editor James O’Byrne seemed to suggest that the company lost control of its message because The New York Times beat the company to the punch and broke the news about the coming changes. Given that the PR blunders continued to pile up like garbage on Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras for weeks afterward, it didn’t surprise anyone that the message had spun out of the company’s control. The shock, instead, was at the company’s surprise that it did — and that management thought it simply could dismiss or ignore the community’s vociferous and sustained outrage.
7. Shattered friendships and damaged reputations. Although I’ve been gone from the Picayune for almost 20 years, I personally know of several decades-long friendships that have completely disintegrated over the changes. Another laid-off employee reports that her relationship with a relative who kept his job at the paper is strained, although both have made efforts to prevent that from happening. Colleagues who literally spent their entire careers working side-by-side no longer speak. No one’s reputation has taken more of a battering than Amoss’s, a “lifer” who earlier had been named “Editor of the Year” by both the National Press Foundation and Editor & Publisher magazine. “There are reporters who worked with Amoss for years who feel that he has betrayed them and should have retired rather than participate in the restructuring,” the American Journalism Review reported over the summer.