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MEDIA
Counting beans and bodies at the Herald
BY DAN KENNEDY

The muddled economic picture at the Boston Herald will become a bit clearer on October 14, the deadline for unionized newsroom employees to decide whether to accept an early-retirement incentive known as a "buyout." But it may be some time after that before anyone knows whether layoffs can be avoided (see "At the Herald, Waiting for the Shoe To Drop," This Just In, September 26).

Last Friday, Herald publisher Pat Purcell offered a buyout to editorial members of the Newspaper Guild with 10 or more years of service ó reporters, photographers, copy editors, columnists, and support staff.

The terms: two weeks of pay for each year of employment; an additional 12 weeks of pay on top of that; and $8000 toward medical insurance. Management dropped an earlier proposal to limit the offer to employees who are 45 or older. Management can decide whether to accept buyouts on a case-by-case basis. And employees can rescind their offer to retire up until the end of November.

The problem, says Newspaper Guild of Greater Boston president Lesley Phillips, a Herald staff member, is that management wonít tell the union how many of the newsroomís 130 Guild members must take the buyout in order to make layoffs unnecessary.

"The biggest problem we have, and itís really outrageous, is that we canít get any numbers from the company as to what we need. And itís causing a huge, huge problem for everybody," she says. "Iíve heard a lot of numbers. I donít even have a gut feeling as to whether theyíre looking for three or 30. Iím dismayed."

Phillips also calls the terms of the buyout "almost an insult."

But Herald editor Andy Costello says itís hard to talk about numbers because much depends on what can be saved by cutting such items as the freelance and wire-service budgets and shrinking parts of the paper, such as stock tables and comics. He adds that reductions are also being made in the Heraldís sister operation, the 100-paper Community Newspaper chain, whose work force is being reduced primarily through attrition.

There are also more than 80 nonunion management employees in the Heraldís newsroom, and Phillips says she has been unable to get any answers as to whether they will be offered buyouts. Costello responds, "This is a first step, and weíll have to see how the numbers look."

Purcell, who was out of the country, could not be reached for comment. His spokesman, George Regan, said he was not authorized to talk about the buyouts.

Buyouts are nothing new to the Boston newspaper market. In June 2001, the Boston Globe accepted 193 buyouts, thus avoiding layoffs at the cityís dominant daily. And Costello notes that, nationally, a severe drop-off in help-wanted ads has resulted in newspaper budget cuts from Baltimore to Seattle.

Although the Herald bought out a handful of employees in 1994, Costello says, "We havenít had a layoff here in the 20 years since Iíve been here, which is pretty remarkable."


Issue Date: October 3 - 9, 2003
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