Trotting over the falls with the Metal Factoryís barkeep and into the pasture with The Herald

Trotter isn't the first daredevil to believe a few seconds of terror might translate into a lifetime of riches. Annie Edson Taylor, a 63-year-old schoolteacher, had the same idea a century ago. On October 24, 1901, Taylor became the first person ever to ride the falls in a barrel. She did it for fame and money, but the former proved fleeting and the latter elusive. Taylor died a pauper in 1921. Trotter's contingency plan to avoid the same fate: "If I don't make the million, I'll probably have to do it again."

Knight-Ridderjust isn't making enough money, so the media giant is jettisoning hundreds of employees. Corporation-wide cuts at Knight-Ridder papers, including The Miami Herald, were announced earlier this month.

What hasn't been made public is the manner in which the company plans to shed workers. In a stunning coup, Undercurrents has obtained a top-secret memo authored by Herald publisher Alberto Ibargüen. In a nutshell, the plan is dump the old farts. It makes perfect sense. They're the ones making real money after years of service. And who needs a bunch of crotchety seniors hanging around anyway?

Last week 700 Miami Herald employees, young and old, received letters asking if they were interested in an early retirement or a buyout. Early retirement, by its nature, is directed at older workers. For staffers age 55 or older with at least ten years at the paper, the get-lost carrot includes two and a half weeks of pay per year of service, a lump-sum bonus of $35,000, six months of insurance coverage, and outplacement assistance.

What's interesting is that the buyout plan also offers bonuses to quinquagenarians. Everybody who has put in at least a year and holds a job deemed expendable is eligible to apply for a buyout (though the brass may not accept it -- go figure). This package includes, likewise, two and a half weeks of pay per full year of service, six months of insurance coverage, and outplacement assistance. For a buyout staffer age 50 or older, however, the pot gets sweetened by $35,000 if he or she has put in ten years or more.

Is it a conscious effort to put seasoned people out to pasture? "No," says Robin Reiter, vice president of human resources. "I suppose some of [the reason the buyouts are aimed at the senior set] is that it is more difficult for people in that age group to find jobs."

That's not necessarily the way it's playing in the newsroom, however. Arnold Markowitz, a 34-year veteran, says he personally sees no master plan to eliminate the gray-hairs. But he has heard colleagues speculate along those lines. "Even if [management was] thinking that, they wouldn't admit it," he says. "There is a large body of opinion that that is the case. I don't know it to be true, but it is a matter of concern."

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