By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
At one point, a memo went out saying the paper would no longer provide free coffee. After mass protests, this directive was rescinded — but employees still had to buy their own creamer.
Things got even weirder last winter, when Cox sent a fresh-faced 34-year-old publisher named Alex Taylor, nephew of CEO Kennedy, to run the Post. The new boss seemed a tad insensitive to a staff that had just been unceremoniously chopped in half.
Last July — one year after the buyouts — Taylor announced that another management shakeup and job cuts were on the way. This time, there would be layoffs, not buyouts, meaning workers had no choice in the matter and received just one week's pay for every year of service.
Taylor chose this moment to send out an email urging staffers to brush up on their customer service skills and not act so glum about the death rattle of their industry.
"If someone says to you, 'I hear things down at the Post are tough. How are you doing?' you could say, 'Yeah it stinks, no one knows what's happening,' (not good) or you could say 'It's a fascinating time to be in the business. Things are changing quickly and dramatically and I think it's exciting to be on the leading edge of how media is evolving,' (good, positive). Two ways of looking at the same thing, but one is just a lot more uplifting."
In preparation for the next round of layoffs, which arrived this September, Post reporters and editors spent a harrowing few weeks receiving formal job evaluations for the first time in years. They scurried to apply for different posts in the newsroom and worried themselves sick. On the last day, they waited at their desks for phone calls informing them it was time to pack a box and go home. By then, Taylor had already announced he was leaving for a new job in Ohio.
Meanwhile, a new brand of electronic cheerleading was invading the Sun-Sentinel's newsroom. Lee Abrams, Tribune's new chief innovation officer, had begun sending out "think pieces" designed to help usher in a new era of profitability.
These memos are long, exhaustive, seemingly steam-of-consciousness missives littered with Abrams' catch phrases like AFDI — Actually Fucking Doing It.
One famous "think piece" told people to evaluate their offices and rid them of "traits" that make them "average" such as "UPTIGHT/PARANOID: You know the drill. You can FEEL the fear."
Another suggested adding more "man on the street" segments to the company's TV news shows. He considered this concept a revelation:
"Every day, an average person is interviewed about top stories," he wrote. "We've heard what the experts think, let's open it up to REAL people. This could be red hot. What the average citizen's take on the topics is."
These memos were not exactly welcomed in the newsroom. In fact, they made some people wonder why the Tribune spent money to hire a memo writer. "We found the memos absurd," says one ex-Sentinel employee, who did not want to give his name. "To me, he [Abrams] wasn't grounded in reality."
In a phone interview, Abrams said he just wants to get people to be more open to evolving and reinventing their industry. The memos are meant to "get people thinking and talking and debating" about new ways to serve readers.
But with so many staff cuts, who has time to read them?
"I was too busy working," says Mc Nelly Torres, a recently laid-off Sentinel reporter.
At the Herald, editors are constantly huddled in meetings, leaving reporters in the lurch and creating a sense of fear and mystery, according to one current staffer who wanted to remain anonymous. "I don't know what the fuck they're doing in the meetings," he said.
The staffer says that he's still proud to be at the paper but that the newsroom has dramatically changed. "It seems post-apocalyptic to me half the time... Overall, you just feel that the air has been let out of the balloon."
"Everybody's scared," adds Torres, describing the vibe at the Sun-Sentinel. "I'm so glad that I'm out of that environment. It's just a very toxic environment."
Many reporters are simply demoralized. They're accustomed to using their best stories to climb to a better beat or to a more prestigious newspaper. But with papers like the New York Times struggling, there's nothing left to aspire to.
To top it all off, the vicious competition that used to be the lifeblood of all South Florida newsrooms has vanished. Now the papers save money by doing what was once unthinkable: sharing stories and photos. Furthermore, the Sentinel prints the Post on its presses, and the Post has surrendered its turf war in southern Palm Beach County, letting the Sentinel cover breaking news in the area.
Dave Barry, the humor columnist who launched his career at the Herald, summarizes the mood this way: "If I were a young journalism school graduate, I would just take my diploma and kill myself."
Emily Minor cried the day she walked out of the Palm Beach Post headquarters for the last time. After 30 years in journalism, 13 of them as a feature columnist in West Palm Beach, she felt the loss keenly, even though it was her choice to accept the buyout.