Thursday, June 14, 2012


The call came in the late afternoon. It was an executive with the Times-Picayune. I knew who he was and he knew who I was, but when I worked there for nine years I do not think he ever made eye contact with me or said hello. But hey, that’s corporateland, right? I was a lowly staff writer and he was…well an exec. But yesterday his voice on the phone was almost friendly. See, I left the Times-Picayune in 2002, but since the 1990s I have written a weekly column for the paper on job searching and career changing. When I left my job, I continued to produce the weekly column.

"Paul, this is (name of exec). I'm sure you have heard about all the chnages that are taking place at the newspaper. I'm calling to let you know that your services won't be needed any longer after September 30."
The exec was clearly reading from a prepared script that was being used to inform all “occasional” employees of impending editorial doom. He went on to read to me that a member of management would contact me in the coming weeks to let me know if there might be an opportunity for me to apply for a position with the newly formed media company that will include the Times-Picayune under its corporate umbrella.

 Since I left the paper 10 years ago, I have worked full time for a university. So I won’t be applying for a new position with the company, (but I must admit I will miss the monthly check for my column). And I must also admit that I really enjoyed doing this column. It was this column that later led to my working as a contributing writer for, the premiere online site for job searching. It was also this column that landed me several speaking engagements at local schools and other organizations. The exposure was good, and the subject matter was something that really interests me. To be frank, I’m disappointed that I was so unceremoniously AXED – and on the phone! My loss pales in comparison to the 200 employees who lost their full livelihood this week. If you are not in New Orleans, here is a recap of what happened this week from WWL-TV:
 I worked at the paper full time for nine years, and I left just as digital media was in its infancy. While I was there I observed a company that was over-staffed and unusually generous in its compensation packages. I saw an upper management team comprised mostly of older white males who were largely uncommunicative with the labor force. I knew people who had worked there for upwards of 40 years, who had probably outlived their self-motivational shelf lives, but who were hanging on until retirement. It was an old-world type of business, one in which the business model really hadn’t changed in at least a half century or more. Even then I wondered how long it could carry on that way. In annual meetings the publisher would tell us how rapidly costs were rising, that even the cost of newsprint had doubled in just 10 years. In response to the astronomical costs of production, the paper was reduced in physical size multiple times during my tenure. Major advertisers dropped out one by one by one. Meanwhile, the 24-hour news cycle had reached a saturation point with the general public, and newspapers were obsolescent.

Still, a more forward-thinking organization than the Times-Picayune would have actively studied the future of media and slowly, gradually altered its business model to accommodate the evolving tastes of the public. They did not do that. Instead, they waited until 2012 to abruptly and recklessly change the business model in a way that callously eliminated some of the best of the best staffers and angered the reading public in an unprecedented fashion. When I found out who some of the individuals are that are being eliminated, I was dumbfounded. And I wasn’t alone. The collective voice of New Orleanians is fairly screaming in discontent today. Note to the newly-established “Nola Media Group”: In making the radical alterations to your enterprise, you neglected one very important group – the consumers of your product. Big mistake.

 In the years to come, I believe media organizations will point to the Times-Picayune as the model of what not to do in transitioning to the digital age in media. The elimination of hundreds of employees in one day is not only bad business, but seriously inhumane. In the end, it is the humanity, or lack thereof, that will stay in the memories of the readers. It is the insensitive manner in which the owners treated the bright minds that produced the product for so many years that will shape the public image of the new company. It bears mentioning that those who were eliminated are required to work until September 30 in order to collect their full severance. How would you feel going to work every day for the next three months knowing that you are considered fully dispensable and unnecessary to the organization?

 Shame on you, Times-Picayune, or Nola Media Group or whatever you like to be called these days. Shame. You did a very bad thing here and believe me, New Orleans will long remember it.

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