Something was in the air Oct. 8 at The Oklahoman. Last month, the state’s largest daily newspaper announced the company’s 1,100-member workforce would be downsized in two stages: an initial phase of early retirements in September, followed by a second phase of layoffs the next month.
Carrie Coppernoll, an Oklahoman columnist, posted her thoughts at the microblogging service Twitter last week.
“Feels nervous about today. Something’s in the air,” Coppernoll wrote Oct. 8. “Feels sad and scared ” appears that today’s the day.”
Senior OPUBCO Communications Group executives met Sept. 3 to discuss early retirement options with 104 employees. These veterans, who worked a minimum of 15 years and were at least 55 years old, had to take or leave the offers by Sept. 24. Scott Briggs, vice president of human resources, said 59 employees accepted the buyout offer. Fifty-seven of those positions will be eliminated; two will be filled.
“It was an opportunity to receive a year’s base pay as a severance opportunity, in addition to three months of subsidized COBRA coverage,” Briggs said.
Prior to the layoff round, several big names accepted early retirement, including Sue Hale, OPUBCO’s vice president for community engagement and the newspaper’s former executive editor. Others accepting the retirement offer included veteran Editorial Cartoonist Jim Lange, Senior Business Writer Jim Stafford, Senior Capitol Reporter John Greiner, Metro Columnist Ann DeFrange and Sports Writer Bob Hersom.
Wayne Green, editorial writer at the Tulsa World, wrote on his blog that Greiner will be missed at the state Capitol.
“It’s a loss not only to The Oklahoman, and its readers, but to the whole state,” Green wrote on Sept. 25.
“(Greiner is) one of the biggest losses that results from the newspaper’s effort to cut payroll costs.”
The layoffs came last week. Fifty-two open positions were eliminated and 46 individuals were terminated, Briggs said.
In the news and information department, 39 positions were eliminated through early retirement, open-position elimination or voluntary terminations, he said. Sixteen employees from that department took the early retirement offer, 10 were terminated and 13 open positions will not be refilled.
14 PERCENT CUT
All told, OPUBCO is eliminating 155 positions from its workforce, resulting in a 14 percent cut throughout the company, Briggs said.
News and information department cuts included copy editor Matt Caban, reporter Jessica Jackson, state environmental reporter John Sutter and staff writer M.J. Van Deventer. After graduating Emory University in 2005, Sutter was a post-graduate fellow at the Poynter Institute, in St. Petersburg, Fla., according to the Knight Digital Media Center.
In addition to the 10 news cuts, involuntary reductions were announced in the following departments: 11 in production, seven in information services, two from finance, two from human resources, eight from facilities or custodial, four from circulation, one from audience development and one from advertising.
Jackson, a 23-year-old Norman resident, was going out of town after work on Oct. 7, and wasn’t going to be in the office the next day. A May graduate from the Gaylord College of Journalism at the University of Oklahoma, she started at the newspaper in June, covering obituaries and general assignment reporting.
Jackson said City Editor Michael Baker took her into the office of his boss, News Director Robby Trammell, on Oct. 7 and was told that was her last day.
“Obviously, I knew about the cutbacks, and my position was one that was going to be eliminated,” she said. “I just think it’s really unfortunate.”
NO LONGER NEEDED
The following day, Caban learned he was no longer needed at the copy desk. A 24-year-old journalism senior at the University of Central Oklahoma, he was hired in March. He understands why he lost his job.
“Things are changing in the world of the media,” Caban said. “Like everybody else, they’re just trying to figure it out.”
He said he doesn’t appreciate the layoff, but he doesn’t harbor too many ill feelings toward OPUBCO.
“If you don’t have as many people to report the news, it’s not going to be as in-depth,” Caban said. “It’s like shooting off a couple of your toes. I know that sounds really horrible. I don’t really know how to word it another way.”
Van Deventer retired from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum at the end of last September. The veteran journalist had worked at the Tulsa World, Tulsa Tribune and Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She filled in as a reporter covering features and book reviews at The Oklahoman, and was scheduled to leave at end of October anyway.
“I had a great time there and I think I did some really good stories and met some really interesting people,” said Van Deventer, who previously worked as an Oklahoman correspondent in the Seventies.
Briggs said severance packages were offered to those involuntarily terminated, including outplacement services.
Publisher David Thompson has said The Oklahoman plans to move ahead with “quite exciting” digital initiatives, such as NewsOK.com. Working with the Florida-based firm Garcia Media, OPUBCO launched the daily’s redesign last month with a narrower page format.
Are another round of Oklahoman layoffs on the horizon? Briggs said no.
“Our plan is that (Oct. 8) ended our reduction in force that we had announced in September,” he said. “We do not have any other plans for company-wide reductions at this point.”
Commenting on Twitter, Coppernoll summed up the day.
“Feels grateful layoffs are over,” she wrote on Oct. 8. “Glad to (be) employed. Sad for friends who lost their jobs.” “Rob Collins