Wow… it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on over at the Lincoln Journal Star these days.
I’m told eight veteran newsroom workers recently agreed to voluntary buyouts that were less than generous — putting the newsroom on edge about whether that’s enough cutting to stave off layoffs.
The buyout was offered to employees with at least 15 years of experience — and if those positions are left empty, the difference will definitely be felt in a newsroom of about 50 employees. That’s a 16 percent reduction in staffing, if my math serves me. But perhaps they will fill some of those positions with cheap, young workers.
And then today comes news that a new publisher has been named: Julie Bechtel, who worked at the Journal Star as circulation and operations manager before leaving in 2002 to become publisher of the Bismarck Tribune in Bismarck, N.D., and then moving to the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa, in 2005.
Yes, I worked for Julie in Bismarck. I found her to be an unorthodox publisher — she is definitely not a boring, stuffy suit. Far from it. I could tell you some stories.
As with most publishers, the bottom line was paramount with Julie. I remember one morning at the daily reporters’ meeting, a reporter was all excited about doing a story about a person who’d found a tiny, live lizard in her head of lettuce bought at the local grocery store. They’d even gotten a produce employee to talk about it, and they’d rather wisely said it’s not that big of a deal when you’re buying lettuce from South America, for example.
I just laughed though, because I knew there was no way in hell that story would get in the paper. Grocery stores, you see, are newspapers’ bread and butter, so to speak.
Sure enough, by day’s end, Julie had spiked the story. She said she’d consulted other Lee publishers before making her decision. Something about how the story lacked news value…
Of course, it was a rarity for Julie to get involved in such a decision. But I love unorthodox managers and found her to be a barrel of fun and fair on other important matters, so it should be interesting to see what she does with Lincoln’s newspaper.
However, with buyouts underway and layoffs looming (?), becoming publisher in Lincoln may not be that fun right now.