Buy-outs, Layoffs Coming to Portland Press Herald
Downplaying the downsizing: The Sept. 14 Portland Press Herald carried a business brief about layoffs at Bath Iron Works, where forty-four workers will lose their jobs. But there’s no similar coverage of the announcement on Sept. 13 of forty or more staff reductions at the Press Herald.
Why these proposed cuts aren’t as newsworthy as those at BIW is one of the mysteries of the Press Herald editorial mind. Or maybe the corporate types at parent company MaineToday Media thought no one would find out.
According to a memo from the Portland Newspaper Guild, the largest union at the paper, the company wants to reduce its workforce by about fifteen percent due to “declining revenues.” To accomplish that, union members and management staff are being offered buy-outs. If not enough employees accept that deal, layoffs will follow this fall.
According to the memo, “The program is similar to what the company has done in the past. People would get the same severance pay as if they were laid off and would be eligible for unemployment benefits.”
Workers have until Sept. 27 to accept the voluntary severance offer.
Signs of budget cutting at the paper are already apparent. In the past week, the Press Herald has consolidated sections – for instance, the Wednesday Food & Dining section has been merged with classifieds – and reduced the size of its news hole, resulting in fewer stories in print and online each day.
Maybe that lack of space is why the Press Herald couldn’t fit in a piece on its impending staff reductions.
A Saga saga: According to Radio-Info.com, Portland may have Saga Communications, which owns eight stations in the area, to thank for its upgrade to one of the top one hundred radio markets in the country.
R-I’s Tom Taylor reported on Sept. 13 that Arbitron now ranks Portland as the 90th largest market in the country, up from 168th. The change is mostly the result of merging the old Portland and Lewiston-Auburn markets and expanding into more of York County. But Taylor says that consolidation came about only after Saga stopped buying Arbitron’s ratings.
“Saga never wanted Portland, Maine to be expanded,” he wrote, “even though the southern end of the Portland metro ends less than ten miles south of the city limits. Saga CEO Ed Christian to Arbitron … and maybe Arbitron finally said, enough’s enough, we’re going to proceed. That’s one theory. …”
The first ratings for the expanded Portland market will be released early next year.
News deficit: The Sept. 14 Lewiston Sun Journal Oxford County edition carried a story on municipal surplus money that came up short. Staff writer Erin Cox reported that Mexico voters agreed to spend $100,000 from a town surplus account to reduce property tax rates this fiscal year. One selectman opposed the move, fearing Mexico was eroding its reserves at a time when it would be difficult to replenish them.
To assess whether that’s a valid concern, readers might want to know how much is left in the surplus account.
Cox doesn’t say.
Which leaves Mexico residents to wonder if the town had excessive funds set aside in the first place. That might mean taxes had been too high in years past. Or is the remaining savings too little to handle some unexpected fiscal crisis? That would mean the town manager’s recommendation to spend the surplus money is irresponsible. It might have been illuminating to know what Mexico’s auditors recommended as an adequate surplus, something a curious reporter could have discovered by asking some obvious questions.
This isn’t a situation unique to one town. Lots of municipalities are grappling with the same issue. Lots of reporters need to be sure their coverage of that debate includes all the clarifying facts.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.