Within the next several days, some of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's best-known correspondents -- including an award-winning investigative reporter -- will likely be disappearing from its pages.
Earlier this year, the P-G's parent company, Block Communications, announced sizable losses and negotiated a buyout offer with the paper's nine unions. The deadline for accepting the buyout -- which included severance pay and extended health-care benefits -- expired on Dec. 5. According to sources within the Post-Gazette, about two dozen reporters and copy editors signed up for the buyout, which was offered to senior staff.
Those who have accepted the buyout have until Dec. 12 to change their minds. Rumors are circulating about who has accepted the offer, and some of the candidates rank among the paper's best-known correspondents. Most have either declined comment or could not be reached by press time. However, at least one reporter, Bill Moushey, has confirmed accepting the buyout. Moushey, who would not otherwise speak about the situation, is best known for his work on prosecutorial misconduct and other highly regarded investigative reports.
Business reporter R.J. Hufnagel, head of the Newspaper Guild union representing newsroom employees, cautioned that "We won't know anything for sure until [Dec. 12], and nobody will really be able to speak intelligently about what it means for the future until then."
Reached on Dec. 8, editor David Shribman was similarly cautious, saying he knew the number of staffers who'd signed up for the buyout, but added that any number cited prior to Dec. 12 would be "misleading." Shribman said he knew of three or four news staffers who had initially requested the buyout, but changed their minds.
Some reports from inside the paper suggest the sports department may be hit especially hard. But Shribman said, "My guess is that it is fairly well distributed among departments, and it's not a body blow to any department." Shribman said he had the authority to veto a buyout offer, "but I can tell you I do not plan to use it."
Buyout offers have also been made to union truck drivers who deliver the paper. As of press time, at least six of 100 eligible Teamsters have opted for the buyout, said Local 211 President Joe Molinero. "I know there's been a couple of more interested" Teamsters, he added.
Buyouts were offered to union employees whose age and years of employment (including years at the late Pittsburgh Press, bought by the P-G in 1992) add up to the right figure -- 70 for editorial employees, 80 for Teamsters. But there may not be enough total buyouts among the paper's 1,000 employees to avoid layoffs.
In that case, Shribman allowed, ownership may next open the buyout offer to staffers with less seniority. But, he added, "It is my hope and my fervent desire to avoid layoffs." If the effort is successful, he said, it would "make us one of the only papers in Christendom to do that."