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-Ridder just 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.

Steve Trotter
Steve Trotter

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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