Sometime later this year, my old shop will have another series of farewell cakings: The Washington Post plans to trim its newsroom staff through its latest buyout program.
This will be the fifth round of buyouts at the paper over the last decade, courtesy of a still-overfunded pension program. (The Post Guild would add an unofficial round last fall in which about a dozen staffers were at least strongly encouraged to leave.)
I didn’t enjoy learning about this Wednesday, because I remember how much fun the previous episodes were. First you see the announcement, then people speculate about who will be eligible, then you count who took a buyout offer and who declined that exit–and finally, as the newsroom goodbyes wrap up, you realize how much experience and talent is walking out to the sidewalks of 15th and L Streets NW.
It’s not good to watch this happen in a place where people traditionally stick around–the Post has no formal recognition of tenure until you clock 20 years, at which point you get a pin. It’s worse when this keeps happening.
This year’s program aims to whittle away 33 positions out of about 600 in the newsroom–down from roughly 1,100 at its peak, then 850 in 2009. About 200 people could be eligible, but the specified reductions would hurt some sections worse than others: The tiny Investigative section is set to lose three people while Metro would drop nine and Sports only two. Some parts of the newsroom are exempt: anybody hired from 2010 on, foreign correspondents, national politics and government reporters, most columnists and all of Outlook and Weekend, among others.
The reaction from friends inside the newsroom doesn’t seem too positive. Outside it, there’s American Journalism Review editor Rem Rieder’s pithy dismissal of the do-more-with-less messaging: “So cut if you must. But spare us the bogus happy talk.”
I hope the paper I still read and subscribe to keeps doing its job. As for my old colleagues who discover they need to find a new one, there’s a phrase I’ve heard a lot lately: It gets better.