Daily Archives: June 23, 2009

Have you got yourself an occupation?

The staff at WXIA learned Tuesday that they’re only days away from getting new across-the-board pay cuts.  The pay cuts will apply to staff in all of Gannett’s 23 broadcasting properties.  Employees making more than $30,000 per year will get pay cuts of up to six percent.  Gannett broadcast president Dave Lougee sent a memo to employees outlining the cuts and the reasoning behind them, a copy of which was obtained by the Gannett Blog.

  • While many are cautiously optimistic that the worst of this economic downturn will soon be over, the broadcast industry continues to feel the effects. The decline in the auto industry alone – once about 30 percent of our division’s ad business – is a major challenge for us. And that’s just one example of the changes we are seeing.  I believe it’s clear there will be a permanent reset of the American economy on the other side of the economic storm. On top of that, our industry has been impacted by the revolution in the way people consume media and the way advertisers try to reach them.

The entire memo is here.

This, of course, is in addition to one-week unpaid furloughs that employees already took in both the first and second quarters of 2009.  It appears the pay cuts are in lieu of additional furloughs — at least for now.  Contract employees are being told they are technically exempt from the pay cut.  They were told the same thing about the furloughs, but most took them anyway.

The pay cuts take effect July 1.  “Here’s a week to plan for your pay cut.”  Thanks, Dave.

This is a queer time to be in the business of broadcasting.  It remains the only mainstream, traditional media source still beloved by consumers of news.  Yet its business model is unsteady and its long-term outlook is distressingly unclear.

The repercussions aren’t limited to WXIA.  WAGA has been demanding pay cuts from its on-air employees this year.  The cuts have typically come when the employee (or agent) shows up to talk about contract renewal.  Or, when an annual 30-day window opens in a multi-year contract.  We’ve heard of cuts at WAGA ranging from 10 to 30 percent, and we haven’t asked around that much.

Unlike Gannett, WAGA has largely declined to give employees details about salary cuts, other than to say “you’re next.”   When Gannett announced its furloughs in great detail, a certain esprit de corps emerged, with under-contract talent taking furloughs that they technically didn’t have to take.  (It was more than that, of course.  Their willingness to play ball took away a bit of ammo the company might have used against them when their contracts expired.)

But at WAGA, it’s unclear which categories of staffers are being selected to take cuts and management won’t say publicly.  This makes no sense, of course.  An employee-by-employee approach gives the staff a sense that management is huddling in dark rooms with calculators, making salary “corrections” designed to undo cost-of-living or merit raises earned over years of faithful service.  That’s much different than taking a pay cut for the team.

This is the kind of stuff that affects not just employees, but their families.  Spouses demand answers and a sense of fairness, a sense that’s nonexistent when this kind of life-blood information is kept under wraps.  It’s part of the solution at Gannett.  It’s part of the problem at WAGA.