Denver Post Buyouts: 20 Applicants Could Be Just the Beginning

Update below: On Wednesday, someone at the Denver Post shared the following Facebook message: "Uh-oh...newsroom staff meeting tomorrow."

Uh-oh is right. At a 3 p.m. session yesterday afternoon, Post supervisors announced their latest buyout offer — one intended to shrink the staff by at least twenty employees, and quite possibly more.

The announcement takes place against a backdrop dominated by the continuing possibility the Post could change owners — although how soon that will happen is anyone's guess.

In September 2014, Digital First Media, the publication's parent company, announced that its newspaper properties were for sale.

At the outset, DFM was hopeful a single buyer could be found to buy its entire newspaper operation — a strategy it abandoned last month, around the time that CEO John Paton announced that he would be stepping down from his post on June 30.

However, interest cropped up in select DFM properties — and this past March, Apollo Global Management, a private equity fund, seemed on the cusp of purchasing the company's fourteen Colorado papers (counting the Post).

That deal didn't happen, but others have. Last week, eleven DFM papers in Texas, New Mexico and Pennsylvania were sold to Gannett.

The publications all were previously owned by MediaNews Group, the Dean Singleton firm that held the Post prior to the involvement of Digital First Media.

What's all that got to do with the buyout offer at the Post? Nothing, editor Greg Moore told the Denver Business Journal after yesterday's meeting — something cynical newspaper types will probably have a hard time believing.

As for the specifics of the latest proposal, Moore, corresponding with us via e-mail, writes: "We are offering buyouts to a select group of employees: those over 55 with ten years or more of service are eligible. Ten to nineteen years get two weeks for every year plus four additional weeks and six months of Cobra in a lump sum payment.

"Those with twenty-plus years get two weeks for every year plus eight additional weeks and a year of Cobra in a lump sum," he continues.

The rationale for the buyouts, according to Moore: "We are trying to reduce expenses and hope reductions can be accomplished with the buyout to avoid more dire measures."

The ominous tone of this last phrase is reinforced by the number of folks the Post is hoping will accept the offer — which is "totally voluntary," Moore stresses. In his words, "We will take twenty applicants and reserve the right to take more if there are more applicants. "

Even twenty people would represent more than 10 percent of the Post's overall staff, which currently stands at around 165.

The staff sported approximately 200 employees in 2011 prior to buyout offers that year accepted by nineteen people.

Can the Post meet the standards it's set as a recipient of several recent Pulitzer Prizes with that many fewer bodies? Moore is confident but regretful the step is necessary.

"We believe despite these reductions we can continue to do quality, ambitious journalism," he maintains. "But it is always tough to lose good people who have contributed so much to our success.

"People have 45 days to decide," he points out, adding, "I think it is a generous offer, and so we wait. These are tough decisions."

Update:  Just received this note from Post editor Greg Moore: "I neglected to add the pay for the buyout is capped at a maximum one year's pay, so if you are over 26 years, you simply get one year for the buyout."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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