Suicide and the Times-Dispatch

Thank you, Style Weekly!

If you haven’t read it yet, go here. This is an open letter to all Media General shareholders, read at MG’s annual meeting on April 23 by the author, Michael Paul Williams. Williams has the public persona of a rabble-rouser, according to those people I’ve talked with who dislike him. But this letter is gentle, as far as I’m concerned; if I had been speaking up there to the shareholders and the bow ties, much more rabble would have been roused. (Perhaps security would have been called as well, when I started shouting, “Attica! Attica! You’re out of order! You’re out of order!”)

I’m cutting and pasting to make my own comments. Again, here’s the letter in its entirety.

On April 2, 22 of our members were laid off — about 18 percent of our staff. We also lost five deputy editors, all but one of them former union members at the lowest rung of management. No upper level managers lost their jobs.

With “22,” Williams means union members. 37 other people lost their jobs in those two days, and about 20 more the quarter before that.

As journalists for Media General’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, we are committed to accurate, truthful reporting.

But Media General is not being transparent with its shareholders, who aren’t being told, as we are by top management, that the Times-Dispatch is in “survival mode.” They aren’t being told that Media General is demanding cuts in the newspaper that undermine the viability of a flagship product that management acknowledges is profitable.

I think the cuts they’ve made, and the consensus that the newspaper industry is next in line for ICU, should be obvious to shareholders if they have even half a brain in their pointy little heads. However, opinions like Williams’ are, let’s say, frowned upon by the bow ties, as are any public declarations of any instability at all — because it could have a detrimental effect on stock prices.

They aren’t being told that top executives aren’t willing to take pay cuts in exorbitant salaries, beyond sharing in furloughs and forgoing their lucrative bonuses. We have asked them to take additional pay cuts, and we believe they have been asked internally to take additional pay cuts, but they refuse. And yet they are threatening to lay off more of our people to save less than $200,000, which could be accounted for easily by modest cuts in executive pay or trimming of the newspaper’s bloated senior management staff.

And don’t expect the bow ties to give up one damn penny. Instead, read between the lines of the whole letter, ask yourself exactly what are the bigwigs doing, and then ask:

• Why did the Times-Dispatch cancel publication of the Dining Guide — their only affordable and useful publication for area restaurants to reach the public?
• Why has Channels, the TV section, been reduced to a subscriber-only, 50¢ an issue publication?
• Why isn’t there anything to read in the paper nowadays?

The only thing I can come up with is that the bow ties are systematically designing their own escape plan: cut and run. It’s deliberate sabotage. Cut everything that isn’t 105% profitable, raise the price, cut pages, cut employees — and then, when nothing they do stabilizes the books, they’ll tip the boat over on purpose. They will kill the Times-Dispatch, shrug their shoulders, say “We tried,” and run home with their salaries intact, their paisley ties knotted tight below their flabby, red faces, and sit back with a vodka martini or three.

Ah Michael, at least someone of intelligence has spoken out. I do have some advice for you, though, from one rabble rouser to another: you might as well start cleaning out your desk. The end of June — and the end of the fiscal quarter — is right around the corner, and you know how the bow ties — and some ineffectual middle managers I know — don’t like people who rock the boat.

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