Friday, November 7, 2014

Newspaper Reporters: No Raises Now or in the Future

Low pay is frozen in time.
Would you go to work for a company whose stated policy was: "We don't believe in giving raises to employes"?

Probably not, right? What if a company bought the company you work for and instituted that policy? Would you look for another job post-haste?

Seems that in a company-wide meeting recently, representatives from B&H Media Group, the Warren Buffett-owned company that recently bought The Roanoke Times and owns a number of Virginia's biggest papers, that very sentence was spoken out loud by an official. The explanation is that the company gives bonuses to employees (something called SPIFF) based on quarterly performance and that can be--but almost never is--up to five percent of their paycheck for the quarter. But no raises, except for promotions.

Young workers are really getting clobbered by the no raise policy because that means they could conceivably spend a long, long time at entry level pay. Promotions generally mean an increase in pay, I am told, but can you imagine the increase in a company that has an official policy of not giving raises?

Richest Lifestyle recently named "newspaper reporter" as the No. 2 worst job in the country (behind lumberjack and even trailing by a couple of spots "TV reporter") because median pay nationally is $37,000 and it is estimated that the decline in jobs by 2022 will be 13 percent. Print journalism has become a young person's profession because older people can't afford to raise their families on the pay. TV reporting has always been for the young.

Morale "is the lowest I've ever seen it anywhere" I'm told, and that is in a business where discontent has traditionally been chronic. Apparently, "about six or seven" people have left the newsroom of The Times recently for other jobs "and a lot more have their resumes out." Not only has the paper instituted the no raise policy, its pay freeze has been in place for seven years and employees are paying more for insurance than ever before. Even the cost of a subscription--always free--is now split between the paper and the employees.

What is alarming here is not so much what is happening at this one company, but that it is beginning to look like the industry standard, one put into place in order to maintain profitability. Cuts will lead to temporary profits, but that is not much of a business model over the long haul. I'm not sure how much more The Times can cut or withhold or how much more like cattle it can treat some very intelligent and good people.

The one change I would suggest, however, is that executives at The Times re-evaluate their expensive redecorating of the building until some arrangement can be made to improve staff morale. Being pretty doesn't help if you're being treated for deep depression.

This is my industry and I am embarrassed. Truly embarrassed.


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