Plain Dealer Journalists Get Axed Over the Phone

Photograph by Everett

As some unlucky characters learned in Scream: Don’t answer the phone. Yesterday, between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., 50 editorial staffers at the Plain Dealer in Cleveland got the ax—not face to face but by phone, at home. They were then asked to collect their severance materials the next day, not at the office but at the paper’s production center, which is about 10 miles away. Ouch. Hopefully, they didn’t leave anything valuable (or perishable) at their desks.

The Plain Dealer, Ohio’s biggest newspaper, this year announced it would scale back home delivery to three days a week.

Fellow journalists reacted on Twitter:

“It’s far better to deliver the bad news in person,” says Liz Ryan, founder and chief executive of Human Workplace, a company that specializes in career coaching and consulting. She added that the memo was “terse” and lacked any “human connection” to employees.

The whole procedure seems “cold and bureaucratic,” Ryan adds. “Asking people to report to another location to get materials that could easily be sent electronically is just one more indignity added on to the heap.” An old adage in journalism says you need a thick skin for the job—but in some cases, apparently, you need an even thicker skin to lose the job.

Terry Egger, president and publisher of Plain Dealer Publishing, said in a statement that these “difficult but necessary staffing decisions” are required “to realign our workforce for future growth.”

In a show of solidarity, the Market Garden Brewery & Distiller organized a beer fund and “wake” for the laid-off employees on Wednesday night. The bar wrote on its Facebook page, “Our phones have been ringing off the hook all day from other newspapers and individuals all across the country and even Norway offering to buy rounds of beer for the Plain Dealer journalists laid off today.”

Here’s a copy of the memo from

July 30, 2013

In September of 2012 we announced that we would begin the process of designing the best business model that would safeguard the future of this enterprise, ensure our leadership in the market, uphold our journalistic standards and continue our mission to serve the Northeastern Ohio community for years to come.

As we announced in our prior communications on April 4, 2013, to ensure that we are positioned to remain Northeast Ohio’s number one source for news and information in the ever-changing media environment, the Northeast Ohio Media Group will be launched later this summer and the Plain Dealer Publishing Company will adopt a new home delivery schedule for the newspaper.

These changes require a redesign of our operations that will result in a realignment of the workforce. These are difficult decisions, but are necessary.

In our June 19, 2013 e-mail to employees informing them of separation notifications that were to take place later that day in various divisions, we indicated that we would go through a similar process with employees in the remaining divisions at a later date.

From approximately 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, July 31st, employees in the Editorial Department will receive a phone call notifying them that they are either being separated from employment on that date, or that they are not being separated from employment. Employees who are notified that they are not being separated should report for work at their next regularly scheduled time.

Employees who are notified that they are being separated will be provided a time to meet Thursday, August 1st with a Human Resources representative at the Tiedeman Production and Distribution Center. At that time, each impacted employee will receive a copy of his/her severance information and will also be given transitional details, including meeting with a representative Right Management, a company that specializes in transitional programs.

We sincerely regret having to go through this process and we thank all who are impacted for their years of service and wish them all the best for their future.

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