INSIDE DMN BUYOUT HELL

Tales from the embattled DMN newsroom are arriving, like Hamlet’s sorrows, not as single spies but in battalions. I’ll try to summarize rather than post all.

First, it’s tense. Insiders report that one newsroom meeting with the HR folks during the 45-day waiting period turned into a yell-fest. The HR rep, exasperated at questions from reporters, scolded them for being “hostile.” Later he had to apologize to everyone, face to face.

Projects team members are compiling figures that show the company spent more than $10 million on consulting since 2004. The fees were paid, in large part, to corporate downsizing consultants for what is euphemistically called restructuring of newsrooms.

The target figure of 85 buyouts is a ruse. Management doesn’t expect that many to take the permanent vacations, although word is they may be surprised at the higher-profile staffers who do. Maybe 65-70 altogether. This will include quite a few from the hard-hit Features section, 12-15 by one estimate. But the staffers are still lying awake at night trying to figure out which way to go.

But that isn’t the end of it: 85 is just the minimum buyouts being sought now, in a newsroom with about 550 souls, including admin and the DC bureau, technically part of Belo Capital. (Update: After 250 Belo-wide layoffs two years ago, 150 of that from the DMN, 65 from its newsroom). According to a reliable source, “over the next six months they will move closer to 100 or more.” That will be through buyouts, layoffs, and unreplaced attrition.

Bottom line: The DMN newsroom is effectively killed. The great days are gone and even if the newsroom was too fat, these cuts reach into the heart and soul. Even those who remain have to know that they, too, can be pushed out no matter how many long and loyal years of service. And staff can’t talk about this openly without fear of reprisal and jeopardy of what small buyout incentives remain. The top managers who have let this happen under their watch, meanwhile, seem to be largely immune, blaming it on the Internet and other big surprises.

Resumes are flying out the door: A features editor at another Texas paper that has one open writing position says that more than 20 DMN resumes and cover letters have arrived.

UPDATE: Our sources say that according to SEC filings, Belo spent $16 million on consultants in the first six months of 2006 alone, and plans to spend even more in the remainder of the year.

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