A.H. Belo to Eliminate 500 Jobs

Weeks of newsroom rumors about looming job cuts came true this morning when Belo CEO Robert Decherd sent a letter to shareholders outlining the tremendous challenges facing the newspaper company. After record losses in the first two quarters of 2008, the Dallas Morning News owner believes it needs to get rid of nearly 15 percent of its full-time workforce (it is offering voluntary buyouts, but will institute layoffs if it doesn’t get enough “volunteers”). Also, Decherd says the company will sell off some of its real estate property. Maybe some near the new convention hotel, which has probably gone up in value, hmmm? You can download the shareholder letter and accompanying letter to employees here. The press release, which has less information, can be found here.


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34 responses to “A.H. Belo to Eliminate 500 Jobs”

  1. buck says:

    Over the past 5 years, has any newspaper in America been a bigger failure or lost more readers than the News?

  2. AS says:

    Detroit Free Press.

  3. jrp says:

    is it too much to ask that Dreher, Blow, Ragland and Floyd are part of this round of cuts

    they would all surely receive healthy buyouts due to length of employment and all

    man, i just really don’t think any of them are any good at their job and have each contributed to the decline in readership

  4. Eric Celeste says:

    Disagree on Dreher. I don’t often agree with him, but he’s a very good, provocative writer.

  5. LM says:

    Agree with Eric.

  6. Tom says:

    Dreher is too much of a narcissist. I respect his opinion, does he have to inject himself into everything? We get it. You’re a crunchy con. You don’t like the Bush administration, DISD or DART. Thanks.

  7. Bill Marvel says:

    He’s a columnist. hint, hint.

  8. Long Memory says:

    I think there’s more the Dreher than you give him credit for, Tom. But you’re right about Rod injecting himself. In another life I worked for a newspaper editor who prohibited columnists from using “I” in their copy. He said columnists should tell someone else’s story, not their own. The columnists didn’t like it, but it made some sense.

  9. Nathan says:

    Well, if I must say so, I think the editorial board should stay. They let me know how I should vote. If they say ‘yes’, I vote ‘no’.

  10. Bill Marvel says:

    Some sense, but not much.
    Good columnists report. But they are always a presence in their columns; the reader is always clear where they stand. And it’s pretty hard to be a presence without the “I” word, isn’t it?
    One of the reasons journalists lack credibility is that readers have no sense of who’s writing. Too much journalism is hidden behind the screen of impersonality and “objectivity.” On the other hand, Dreher’s readers have a clear idea of who he is and what he stands for. They can accept or reject as they see fit. (Dreher IS narcissistic. It’s his abiding sin. But even narcissists can be right on occasion.)

  11. Tom says:

    Bill, when I was an Opinion columnist at a much smaller Texas newspaper, I was told not to use the word “I” at all. So I agree with Long Memory on that one. IJS.

  12. Long Memory says:

    Duly noted, Bill. I hope Rod survives the latest bloodletting, in part because he was among the first to recognize that Bush’s War was a horrendous mistake. And he said so.

  13. Roman says:

    Waiting to see that rag die like the Soviet Union. Newspapers are so behind the times.
    It is for old people.

  14. LakeWWWooder says:

    I think Dreher is a must-read. He does go on his tangents but there is no mistaking his talent. I was personally touched by his bullying column yesterday as I had the unfortunate experience of attending middle school in a local suburb where that was rampant.

    And I still hope to win him over to Woodrow -maybe he’ll admit another mistake. I think he’s objective enough to do so.

  15. Thumbelina Low says:

    Rod Dreher is to journalism as Carrot Top is to comedy. Eric what other provacative writers in Dallas do you like? I have never seen you compliment someone that may have disagreed with your philosphy. I have never read anything that Dreher provocates that doesn’t fall in line with most right wing, jesus freak neocons. This sort of upward azz kissing is further proof that Alabanese was the total blame for the downfall of the Katies. The lack of discourse and debate can be seen in the flames.

  16. Cory says:

    Tom, Bill is right. With Dallas becoming predominantly Crunchy Con in this century, having only a part time weekly social Conservative in Mark Davis plus a full time religious Conservative in Bill McKenzie just won’t cut it anymore if the paper is to survive. The full time ministry of an authentic Crunchy Conservative like Dreher to lead them both is even more crucial for the paper now if another 500 aren’t going to lose their jobs as well.

    Also, with people like P. Z. Myers threatening our liberal democracy itself, keeping Dreher as our local beacon of sanity is essential if our city is even to survive at all as a civilized place to live and raise our children.

  17. All of this thread misses the point, however. How is America to survive without the Fourth Estate? If news organizations are only hiring “young talent” who are in the business for the entertainment value, then where are we as a nation? Where would we be if this downturn had happened pre-All The President’s Men? If the news business continues its trend to be entertainment only, what good is it?

  18. Tom says:

    Daddy Claxton: There’s plenty of “young talent” out there on the Interwebs. I’d (there I go again) even put Rod’s Crunchy Con blog in that category. Traditional print media keeps holding it down.
    The solution for the DMN isn’t in voluntary buyouts. It’s in recruiting “young talent,” not letting the remaining 20- and 30-somethings from getting out the door, and letting some of the 50- and 60-somethings get out of the way.

  19. Long Memory says:

    Good questions all, Daddy. I believe that 10 years or less down the road the newspaper bidness is going to look around and ask “Where’d all the writers go?” At some point they’re going to realize that given the choice of TV you watch versus TV you read (stories shorter than a People magazine article that take no longer to read than the average person takes to defecate) people will take TV every time. You have to give them a reason to think, and today’s bean-counter — in full panic mode — have decided they don’t care. A pity.

  20. Long Memory says:

    Tom, when the newspapers decide they need writers a few years down the road they’ll go to the Web to find them. Problem is, they’ll be used to doing things their own way, mostly without the fact-checking newspapers are supposed to do. Will that be OK? As for the older people in the newsrooms: Pardon me, but I need to go rent Soylent Green again.

  21. Bethany says:

    True, some bloggers are not the fact-checking types. However, there are scads of them out there that – for whatever reason – are gifted writers that do source their work. They’re actually better about giving credit to their source material and sources than some newspapers are – remember the DMN’s early coverage of the DISD credit card scandal? Who had it first – and well-sourced, too?

  22. Tom says:

    @Long: My point is, they need MORE writers and MORE copy editors. Instead, they have a glut of managers and line editors who, like cockroaches, survive every round of voluntary buyouts and layoffs and aren’t ready or willing to embrace digital media. If you can’t write, edit, or fact-check stories on a 24-hour news cycle, then it’s time to get out of the business.
    The DMN needs to be MORE local. And not just neighborsgo or one page a week in your Metro section local. It needs to be close the D.C. bureau and focus on news, events and analysis in North Texas local. The DMN used to cover the world. It can’t do it anymore under its current setup, nor should it try to.

  23. You all are making some very important points. Like you, I have some very good friends who have been writers since the time our kinder teachers put a pencil in our hands. Some of them chose the news business. Some of us chose the PR business. Nonetheless, I have respect for traditional news writers and have been thru lost elections etc. where I suddenly was out of a job and had a family to support. Aside from the philosophical arguments about the changing news business, I know some very good, hard-working men and women whose families are going to be hurt by this upcoming change at Belo and around the country. Maybe it’s fun to talk about who should go and who should be let go, but we are still talking about real people here; people many of us know and in varying degrees, have respect for.

  24. LakeWWWooder says:

    Thumbelina – I think it’s interesting to see Dreher ‘evolving’.

    Bethany, Tom and Daddy C make good points.

    It is a sad day; there should be no glee nor gloating.

  25. Tom says:

    Daddy C: You’re right about the real people factor. I respect them as well. My dip into the dot-com pool netted me with two layoffs/buyouts in as many years. But one opportunity always led to another. The business of writing is changing and evolving. I hope those who leave (voluntary or not) can find something that is challenging and fulfilling. As someone who spent 7 years on the Belo payroll, it’s frustrating to see management continue to spin in circles while digital media is continuing to speed ahead.

  26. I understand what you mean. I did a dot.bomb cycle myself trying to sell the AP and Voter News Service real time exit polling using Palm VII technology. It worked like a charm, only thing that killed us was something about a hanging chad.

    Yes, the industry is changing and 10 years from now we’ll all be able to look back at this as a hard time that led to something new. I submit that as the bean counters in news orgs continue to look at the focus group data and the bottom line, that those of us in the real world seek to keep the focus on preserving the reporting of news, whatever form that takes.

    And meanwhile, seek to help our friends and their families who as of 7:15 a.m. this morning, are living with an ominous cloud over their homes.

  27. GuiltyBystander says:

    So, anyone up for a pool guessing how much of a bonus Decherd gets after firing 500 employees. I start the bidding at $500,000.

  28. Oh My Eyes says:

    His continuing mistakes… cash investment errors (Cuecat), media errors (TxCN and Quick), and his focus on building a Belo presence from the Young Street property, all the way to the American Airline site did the paper in finally.

    He should be burned in effigy at the next Press Club Board meeting.

    Or in the parking lot at Louie’s… either will be acceptable.

  29. AS says:

    Hey, I watch TXCN, it’s the only thing that can put me to sleep most nights.

  30. ME says:

    GuiltyBystander and Oh My Eyes have it.

    Start the cuts where you can gain the most and still have a functioning workforce.

    Lose 1 (or 2 or more) $1 million dollar salary or 500 20-40k jobs? Doesn’t make much sense to me but I’m not the head of a company.

    All this will mean is another shift in job titles for upper management, another bonus, and more work for those that can’t afford to leave.

  31. Someone Else says:

    Hey, I’m all for slashing the obscene salaries and bonuses of news business CEOs who seem to get rewarded the most when they inflict maximum pain and suffering on their underlings.

    Another thought. I noticed on the Mr Sunshine site that the target number in the DMN newsroom is 40. The newsroom needs to lose 40 editors and writers, in other words, to meet Belo’s layoff goals.

    Thing is, at many newspaper companies which are also facing tough times and tough decisions, care is taken during layoffs and buyouts NOT to tamper with the folks who produce income (thank you, advertising reps) and those who produce content.

    That would be the reporters and editors.

    Wonder why Belo thinks its content providers are expendable?

  32. Louisa Meyer, Dallas ISD parent since 1993 says:

    Here’s my simplistic list of why Belo lost me as a viewer and reader: columnists live outside of Dallas – way outside; education reporters don’t have kids in our schools plus treat the assignment as, in Eric’s words, “an investigative beat vs. a reporting beat;” and a focus group driven agenda that determined bad news about Dallas and its schools sells to the burbs and rural areas. In hindsight, those billboards I complained about were a complete bust. http://dallas.bizjournals.com/dallas/stories/2007/07/02/editorial4.html

    As for those who fear corruption will go undetected without the likes of Woodward and Bernstein at a traditional newspaper, I say, think again. We’d still be drinking Dan Rather’s Kool-Aid if not for the bloggers.

  33. Response says:

    Someone else,

    Belo thinks its content providers are expendable for a few reasons. One, the content providers aren’t in the financial meetings and can’t explain their worth. Two, advertisers don’t read the paper, so the stories are irrelevant. Belo only listens to advertisers, not readers. If it could be all ads and no stories, it would try it. If it didn’t work, they would lay people off.

  34. david look says:

    perhaps AHBelo will sell their Plano plant and reinvest those proceeds in a south dallas plant.

    but that would be putting their money where their opinions are…

    they are great at telling us where to invest our tax $$ vs their shareholder $$