The Advocate offers buyout to veteran employees

The Advocate is offering buyouts to many of its employees who have 15 or more years with the newspaper with a goal of reducing the number of full-time employees by at least 5 percent.

When businessman John Georges bought the newspaper in April, it had 450 employees — with about 380 being full-time. That would mean a minimum reduction of 19 jobs. Half of the staff reductions will come from the news departments.

“We see this as a mild corrective,” said Dan Shea, The Advocate’s general manager and chief operating officer. “Typically, when a paper is bought, there is very heavy cutting.”

Many newspapers in the country have cut as much as 50 percent of their news department staffs in recent years.

The voluntary layoffs are aimed at putting The Advocate’s staffing in line with industry standards. The Advocate’s newsroom has a few more employees than the typical newspaper its size.

“We’re still investing in all sorts of areas and continuing to do that to make the paper better,” Shea said.

The Advocate recently made a number of hires, including a high-end code developer to work on the newspaper’s website and a full-time New Orleans Saints beat writer.

Since Georges purchased the newspaper in April, The Advocate has beefed up its staffing in its nearly year-old New Orleans bureau in an effort to attract more readers who were upset with The Times-Picayune’s decision last year to eliminate home delivery of a daily newspaper. But Shea said there is no connection between the additional hires in the New Orleans bureau and the need to trim staffing, and that the buyouts are not offered to New Orleans.

“We’re making good on our pledge to produce a seven-day, home delivered, truly local paper in New Orleans.,” he said. “Nothing in this announcement changes that.”

Under the plan, employees taking the buyout would get one week of pay per each year of service, with a maximum of 26 weeks. Employees would have full coverage of health benefits until the end of the year and all accrued vacation would be paid out. Eligible employees have until Sept. 12 to fill out forms for the buyout. Those who volunteer for the buyout will be notified by Sept. 19 if their application is accepted.

Shea said the voluntary buyouts are the fairest, most respectful way to better reallocate the newspaper’s resources. The reduction could be higher than 5 percent, depending on how many eligible employees take the buyouts.

“If an employee wants to go, we’re inclined to let them go,” Shea said.

But the newspaper will look at the number of employees who want to take buyouts to ensure that departments don’t become understaffed.

“In some departments, there’s not much wiggle room,” Shea said.

If not enough employees take the plan, then there would be involuntary layoffs in some departments. The newspaper is not offering buyouts to employees in several areas: All circulation, press room and information technology staff, all sports writers, advertising sales managers, electrical maintenance supervisors and production superintendents.

Shea said the departments that have been excluded from the buyouts are functioning efficiently or are areas where there would have to be a replacement for anyone who left.

“Many of the areas that are involved are in the business and processing part,” he said, “even in the newsroom. This will have no impact on the quality of the newspaper.”