Soylent Green is old journalists

Uh-oh. The soft, rustling footfalls of Death can once again be heard in the open-plan offices of Gannett newspapers, including the Burlington Free Press. Gannett CEO Bob Dickey issued this memo earlier today:

I wanted to let you know that today we are offering eligible, long-term Gannett employees within certain business segments and departments of our company the opportunity to take advantage of an early retirement program.

The employees who are receiving the offer all satisfy the criteria of being 55 years of age or older with at least 15 years of service as of October 12, 2015.

That’s right, boys and girls: it may be less than one year since Gannett launched the (Mostly Empty) Newsroom Of The Future, but it’s already time for another round of cost-cutting!

Er, pardon me: “providing the company flexibility to reinvest” and “better align our structure to become a next generation media company.”

Hey, wait: Didn’t you just create the Newsroom Of The Future last year? What’s all this about “becoming” a next generation company?

This buyout could apply to some very familiar faces at the Freeploid. Mikes Donoghue and Townsend, for starters. Don’t know if any other Freepsters are over 55, but I bet we’re about to find out.

No pressure, of course. Dickey insists the program is “entirely voluntary.” But it’s pretty common corporate practice to begin with a “voluntary” buyout, then bring the hammer down if not enough “volunteers” step forward.

And if you turn down this “voluntary” deal, you take the chance that the involuntary version will be less generous.

Speaking of which, how generous is the deal?

An anonymous Gannett staffer tells journalism watchdog Jim Romenesko that employees with 25 years or more seniority would get two weeks’ pay per year*, and eligible employees with less seniority would get 1.5 weeks’ pay per year.

*Capped at one year’s pay. So people with 26 years on the job get one year’s pay, and anyone with 36 years on the job would also get one year’s pay.

I’m not familiar with the world of corporate buyouts, but that doesn’t strike me as particularly good. A quarter-century’s service gets you a year’s pay? Is that all? And in return, a 55-plus-year-old has to re-enter a rapidly shrinking job market? I dunno.

There are no available details about post-“retirement” benefits. If I were a senior Gannetteer, health insurance would be foremost in my mind. I’ll bet the coverage ends when you leave the building for the last time.

The early-retirement offer is open until October 12. After that, we’ll find out if the Burlington Free Press’ staff is about to become smaller, younger, cheaper, and far less experienced.

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