Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Preparation suggestions

I asked for them in my last post and got a couple of good ones that I'll pull out here so they don't get lost in the comments.

One person wrote:

I would recommend setting your email to forward to a private account. I only set mine up to auto-respond when I left.

I just tested it, my @dallasnews.com address will still tell you how to reach me. I have been gone for two years. Had I set it up to forward instead...

What you need to do to follow this suggestion is set up a "rule' in Outlook to forward your e-mail to another account, such as a gmail, yahoo or other private e-mail address.

Another person added:

Make sure it's a server rule, vs. a client rule.

But I don't know what that means.

One more suggestion:

YMMV on email still working after you leave. I have been gone for over two years and my regular web email and VPN login access was cut off within a week of departing, however my Blackberry continued to still have access to DMN email and calenders for another 6 months until I wiped the device. For all I know, I would still have access at this point had I not done that.

I would also recommend setting up a voice mail message on your phone alerting callers of alternate ways to reach you. My DMN extension is still active, 2+ years after departing, still with a message alerting callers that I no longer work there and how they can reach me at my new job.

Now that we've told the company about this, it may be that they will be more alert about cutting off access. But we all know that technology is not what Belo does best.

If you have additional useful suggestions, please put in your comment.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Stacking sandbags

I've been watching video from Fargo. What should we be doing while waiting for the cuts? I have two obvious suggestions:

1) Whether or not you think you might be fired, backup anything you have on a company computer that you think you might want. Contact lists, e-mails, notes, clips, whatever you have that is only in their server needs to be in your own. The easiest way to grab text files is using a flashdrive. Photos or videos will require something more elaborate. Alternately, you can e-mail material to your private account. This may be impossible to do on D Day. I read that last week's Houston layoffs were like the first round here: E-mail and computer access off immediately and perp-walked out the door by HR. The most recent round here was more humane. Even if DMN gives the fired a little time this time, however, you do not want to be making these decisions then.

2) Get your resume ready. Sign onto LinkedIn, Monster, or any other jobs database or social network you think you'd want to be on if you didn't have a job. Figuring out what you want your resume to say, which kinds of jobs you'd be interested in and filling out registrations all take time. Get ahead of it. Most of us assume this cut will not be the last. Many of us would prefer a job that does not have the sense of impending doom that is part of newspaper work today. So whatever preparation you do will not be wasted if you're not among the cut this time. It feels productive, too. Many of us need something to do that doesn't feel like just sitting and waiting.

3) Should you clean out your physical desk in advance? I'm not. If I get cut, they'll need to give me whatever time it will take to pack up what I want. It wouldn't take me that long and I am not worried that they won't let me take what's mine. On the other hand, I know that some people feel better if they feel like they're completely ready. Some people also have more to pack. So I suggest doing what makes you feel better.

Any other suggestions?

And here is a question for DMN HR: What will the procedure be for this round? We know that there are legal reasons you can't answer most of our questions. But that cannot apply to the procedure.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What seems like an unlikely rumor to me

A reader sends this in:
Rumor from the other side of the Metroplex is that DMN has hired 40 "community" journalists mostly in their 20s. Any truth to that?

Does this make sense to anybody? We know that the DMN is talking about reorganizing Local News to focus on specific communities. We know that there has been talk about how to recruit "citizen journalists." Can this be related to that?

UPDATE: Look at the comments. There may not be fire, but there is some smoke.

Friday, March 27, 2009

TV Belo cuts

Belo the TV company is now much more cousin than sibling to the DMN, but a reader passes this along:

They did layoffs at TXCN yesterday, a total of 11 people, mostly in production.

Whistling past the graveyard

While we wait for the inevitable.
It has come to me that some of you don't get my Spartacus reference. Too highbrow? Pepsi used it for a Super Bowl ad a couple of years ago, so how smart can it be?

I'm Spartacus - video powered by Metacafe

Here's the original:

(And yes, I know there isn't what you'd call a happy ending to the story...:) )

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Not this week

The staff just got the following terse e-mail from Jim Moroney:

Subject: Reduction-In-Force

You were informed previously that the reduction-in-force would be
completed by March 27. I wanted to let you know that the action has
been delayed to allow additional time to complete the necessary work.

I appreciate your patience.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Somebody thinks AH Belo is a good value

A reader sent us this:


Brian Ferguson and a couple of West Texas companies just bought a 7% stake in AH Belo shares. These are the guys who negotiated to buy Rocky Mtn News, but didn't close the deal.

How I plan to handle D Day here

What's happening in Houston today and tomorrow is a reminder that ours is coming. Here's what I'm planning to do on the day.

1) I'll be at work and I do not post on company computers, so do not expect live updates. I do have other resources, though, so I'll try to provide information as I can. (If I'm laid off, I'll be able to blog from home, of course.)

2) I will need help. I'm sure some of you will be keeping lists. What I would like are breakdowns: How many people from each department. And categories of people cut -- reporter, copy editor, photographer, line editor, etc...If you have a list and are willing to share, e-mail it to me.

3) If you are laid off and are willing to have your name posted, send me an e-mail along with any contact information or thoughts you want to share. I do not plan to post names from people who have not given permission. People have been hurt by that happening after previous layoffs.

If anybody has a suggestion about this, send me a note or post a comment.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Layoffs in Houston today

Many of us have friends there so I'm posting here.

Layoffs have begun today at the Houston Chronicle. Incredibly, it will
take them two days to do it.
The Houston Press is blogging about it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

About AH Belo and EBITDA

A commenter has posted this and I thought it needed it's own posting.
Is this person correct? Read for yourself:

While I am not an expert in corporate finance, I am concerned about AHBelo's cash flow and its loan obligations to its lenders.

The information I am going to refer to is in the company's annualreport (10-k report), available on the web at http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=219524&p=irol-sec

Here is a summary of that it says regarding its credit arrangements with the banks:

-- On February 4, 2008, the Company entered into a $100 million credit agreement with JP Morgan Chase Bank, J.P. Morgan Securities, Banc of America Securities and Bank of America. At that time the company had no debt.
-- As of September 30, 2008, the Company was not in compliance with the credit agreement. The company has used $10 million of its line of credit.
-- During the fourth quarter of 2008, the Company's bank group approved an amendment credit agreement. (In part reducing the line of credit to $50 million.)
-- On January 30, 2009, the Company amended its credit agreement again. Among other matters, the amended credit document creates a line of credit secured by the Company's accounts receivable, inventory, real property and other assets; and sets earning benchmarks that the company must meet.

Under the credit agreement the Company must meet the minimum adjusted EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest Taxes Depreciation and Amortization) as outlined below:

For the six months ended March 31, 2009: -$4,000,000 (a negative number)

For the nine months ended June 30, 2009: $6,500,000

For the 12 months ended September 30, 2009: $15,000,000

For the 12 months ended December 31, 2009: $22,500,000

The key question is whether the company and meet these benchmarks. If it doesn't, several things could occur:
-- AH Belo renegotiates its credit agreement
-- The banks foreclose on AH Belo's property
-- The company goes into bankruptcy

My question: How realistic is it that AHBelo will meet any of those goals? Do we hit the wall at the end of the month?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hoping for this RIF to pass over?

A religiously aware reader points out that the Jewish holiday of Passover starts sundown Wednesday April 8, which may or may not be around the time the layoffs happen. Our reader directs us to the book of Exodus for how the Hebrews managed their escape:

12:22 And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the bason, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the bason; and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning.

12:23 For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.

Dallas job opportunity

A former DMN-er and a friend to many of us, Steve Kenny, sends us this:

This just moved Friday on the Northwestern University group at LinkedIn, and I thought it might be worth posting. It's from Robert R. Frump, editorial director of Clark Consulting.

I'm looking for two senior financial writers with editorial and promotional and DM, plus web writing skills. Dallas area location. ABout 10 -12 years career experience preferred.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

A note to DMN staffers who are not in the newsroom departments

A comment to an earlier post noted that the newsroom is not the only department facing cuts. The limited scope of this blog intends no slight to those other departments. It's all I can do to try to get information on the editorial operation. If someone from another department wants to set up a blog, send me an e-mail and I'll be pleased to share what I think I know about how one should do this. The technology is simple. But there are issues to be aware of.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A limited defense of management

In comments and a couple of e-mails, people are blaming the Belo bosses for where we are at. One reader writes that management actions in the past few years had been like boring holes in the bottom of a leaky boat to let the water out. We still remember CueCat.

But if our problems were mainly management, wouldn't better managed papers be in better shape? Are there any examples of that out there?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Luminant is looking for a "communications specialist"

I got an e-mail from the Luminant corporate communications office asking that I pass this new job posting along for a Communications Specialist. The description of the job includes:

The ideal candidate for this position will have a strong background in all facets of internal and external corporate communications. A strong knowledge and experience with Web-based channels (both internet and intranet) and implementing digital initiatives is required.

Responsible for generating all content to engage a diverse and diffuse workforce, creating new and sustainable internal and online communications vehicles that may not currently exist. Position requires strong writing skills and the ability to seek and uncover new, creative story ideas. The candidate will also be tasked with enhancing and maintaining the company’s intranet and external Web site.

It's a Dallas job. Apply online.

What we learned today -- not a lot

George Rodrigue answered questions for an hour during an informal lunchtime conversation. I'm told there was very little new news. Readers say he did make a few points:

1) A list of proposed RIFs is now in the hands of HR and the corporate lawyers. If the list is approved the process will complete quickly. How long will the review take? George would not say. When will the RIFs happen. A week or two into next month seems to be a reasonable bet. But if there are legal reasons to change the list, or if financial news gets so much worse that more are needed, that could delay things.

2) How many will lose their jobs in the news operation? George refused to give any estimate and said the final number has not been set. But he did say that the number now being reviewed is significant. It is the third "official" number. The first demand from corporate was reduced after evaluation of what it would mean to the content in the newspaper. Then after the unexpectedly bad financial numbers from the first couple of months of this year came in, the number went back up.

3) The real estate reshuffling among Belo properties seems most related to the people now in rental space in the Founders Square building. Company wants to end that ASAP, so there will be reshuffling in the buildings we own and where there is space. See comments on earlier posts for some other suggestions about what is happening.

4) About the future shape of Local News. There will be fewer fulltime editors. There will be what George called "team leaders" who will do some writing and some editing. Some will be current editors asked to take on writing. Some will be current writers asked to take on editing. Projects reporters will be deployed sometimes to work with community reporters on relatively fast-turnaround stories.

5) The real controllers of AH Belo at this point appear to be the banks that loaned the company money last year. The banks set quarterly cash flow goals that, if we miss them, the banks can literally own us. George says the details are available online in SEC filings. I've heard that the first goal, set for March 31, looks hard to attain. But I'm not good enough at reading that material to offer an opinion. I'm sure there are others out there who can do better. Please comment or send me an e-mail.

In general, there seemed to be a general sense of appreciation that George had put himself forward to take questions, along with frustration that there were not more or better answers.

If I've missed any headlines, the comments are on.

Anonymous comments now enabled

Lots of settings in that settings panel. I hadn't noticed the Comments choices. If anyone had wanted to comment but didn't want to create a new gmail account to preserve anonymity, I've fixed that. But I will enforce the ironclad rule about personal attacks. Do not.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

More details about the restructuring of Local news: Back to the future

Editors had a meeting this afternoon. Some details are filtering out. The plans sound more ambitious than scaled back. The idea is to better serve the "core readers" in those communities where we have the most of them. That means other communities will get less attention: NE Tarrant and the southern Dallas suburbs in particular.

What will the identified communities get? Small teams of reporters. A government reporter and a schools reporter, maybe. But there will still be GA reporters. There will also be an emphasis on analysis and context stories. Maybe some cuts in specialties, though there aren't many of those positions left.

One of my readers said the plans made him think of the scene in the movie Apollo 13 where the astronauts need to power up the command module but only have enough battery power for a couple of light bulbs. Getting it to work took very careful planning. How to "power up" local coverage while cutting the editorial staff will take very careful planning.

Questions from a reader

Some questions with what few answers I have:

I understand we should expect salary cuts and furloughs later in the year, on top of the job cuts. (I, for one, prefer furloughs to salary cuts.) What do you know about this?

I've heard that both are "on the table" where they were not a couple of months ago. Isn't a furlough also a salary cut?
I wouldn't be surprised by furloughs/salary cuts because I think our cash position is frightening. A drop in cash flow would presumably trigger a debt covenant, that could boost our interest rate cause big problems on the balance sheet.

I thought our debt position was better than other media companies? Better for sure than the other Belo? Or McClatchy?

Also, what's with the real estate reorg? Are they going to lease space in DMN building? Wouldn't it make sense to lease out space and make a little revenue? Or sell the building and move us to the Belo building?

I heard today that it's more likely we'll be seeing people from the Belo building filling space on the fourth floor that has been and is being vacated by lifestyles.

As always, anybody who knows better, please let me know.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What a rearranged Local operation might look like

Bob Mong indicated a change in the Local news focus in his house ad letter to the readers this past weekend. It was short on details. Here's what I'm hearing: That it could be a smaller-scale version of the zoned coverage the DMN has been working with for quite some time. Arlington Morning News, Collin County initiative, the series of zoned sections that were rolled out and back. Even NeighborsGo was an attempt to increase coverage of specific areas.

But instead of trying to increase coverage everyplace, a few specific communities would get the extra focus this time. The targets have not been identified to the staff, but the northern suburbs where the DMN still has significant "core readers" would be one logical direction. We're still selling a lot of papers in Dallas itself, so maybe there are parts of the city that would also get the team focus. How we do all that with a smaller staff, unless other coverage areas or beats get eliminated? I guess it's all in the plan.

If I'm off target, or if anybody has more to add, please e-mail me.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A worthy reminder that social networking tools may be of use

From a reader:
There is a DMN alumni group on LinkedIn that might help those departing the hallowed halls of Belo find other employment.
The direct link to join can be found here.

Or you can just go to:
and search Dallas Morning News under groups.
To which I'll add: For those not familiar, LinkedIn is the professional/business equivalent of FaceBook. But it takes time to create a profile worth having. Start now.

(One other bookkeeping point: If you send me a note, let me know if it's OK to post your name. I think this contributor would not mind, but I'm assuming nothing.)

UPDATE: Bob Wasinger gave permission to give his name. He's the owner of the group.

One more thing we know: From Bob Mong's house-ad letter to readers

From Sunday March 15, on page 25 A:
"Based on your requests for more in-depth local coverage, we will assign specific teams to our communities -- including reporters who specialize in schools, government and community affairs, and investigative reporting."

That could mean a substantial redeployment of the Local news operation that will somehow happen in addition to the layoffs. Will this change of assignment affect how the layoffs will be done? Maybe editors have been told what this will look like. I'm not aware that the reporting staff has been informed.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What we think we know now

The last official information we had was from Jim Moroney's meetings. We were told that AH Belo would be cutting about 500 jobs. That Riverside would be cut proportionately worse than the DMN. That the DMN should hear by the end of February something about how many cuts we would have, and maybe something about how departments would be affected. And that the cuts should be completed by the end of March.

February came and went. We've seen cuts at some smaller departments at the DMN, notably al Dia. (If anyone who was cut from al Dia wants to use this blog to post a farewell, you are surely welcome.) But we have not been given any further official information about the size of the cuts.

Last week, we got semi-official word that the newsroom layoff has been pushed back at least a week, to April 7. We also heard that furloughs and pay cuts were now being considered in addition to the layoffs.

There was also a persistent rumor about the number of proposed cuts to the newsroom -- in the mid-60s. There was also a rumor that a preliminary list had been sent to corporate but was not approved.

That's all I know. If anybody has additional or better information, please send it to me.