My former company, The Dallas Morning News, made me proud recently.
It announced that its president and general manager, a man named John McKeon, was leaving and would not be replaced.
Translation: Media layoffs are finally affecting even the highest levels.
When I resigned from The Dallas Morning News in September after 27 years as a reporter, the company was implementing yet another round of layoffs of the rank-and-file. I got out just in time.
But in all the previous rounds of layoffs, dating back to about 2005, I don’t recall any top executives like McKeon getting the axe. Upper management was immune from the pain – and it angered reporters and editors many rungs below.
The editor of D magazine, a longtime Dallas Morning News observer, applauded the apparent layoff of McKeon.
“There’s no need for so much executive firepower in a business that is steadily contracting,” Wick Allison, D editor, wrote on its blog.
I want to be clear. I’m not cheering the departure of McKeon because he was a bad person. Despite my long tenure at the company, I never met the man.
I’m saying that maybe newspaper publishing companies are waking up to the fact that they can’t protect highly paid executives while dumping people who put out the paper.
Of course, media companies aren’t alone in shielding top management from layoffs. How often do we hear about CEOs earning multimillion dollar salaries and bonuses after the company laid off workers? It’s infuriating.
If a company is doing well, I don’t resent executives making big money. After all, they helped create the success. But when the fortunes turn, as they have in the newspaper industry for the past decade, top management should be cut equally with the rank-and-file.
Companies in a tailspin, like The Dallas Morning News, often pay too little attention to the morale of workers. Staffers don’t have to be coddled and receive phony pats on the back. But they need to be respected.
When dozens of mid-level workers are being canned – and executives earning many times their salaries are not – it’s a slap in the face to hard-working employees. As a result, workers inevitably care less about their performance and have less loyalty to the company.
I witnessed this erosion from within at The Dallas Morning News, and it broke my heart. My career at the paper dated back to my childhood, when I delivered the paper on my bike. In college, I worked part time as a clerk – always hoping to someday be hired as a reporter.
When I was brought on in 1984, it was probably the happiest day of my life. I loved my job for about 20 years. It was only in the final few years that the Internet began crushing The Dallas Morning News, as well as many other newspapers, and management responded in abysmal fashion.
Instead of trying to inspire the troops to reinvent the company in a changing media landscape, Dallas Morning News executives (and those at many other papers) disheartened workers with poorly conceived, constantly changing directives.
Reporters and editors suffered layoffs as a result of dismal decision-making at the top. As I said, I commend The Dallas Morning News for letting go of its president and GM. The company press release said Jim Moroney, the publisher and chief executive officer, would absorb McKeon’s duties.
But McKeon’s departure is too little, too late. Why wasn’t he laid off back in September, when many of my colleagues were fired? Actually, why weren’t many top executives kicked out the door starting with the first round of layoffs years ago?
I wish companies would learn a very simple lesson: Spread the pain when times get tough. If workers sense that decision-makers have integrity and value the staff’s contributions, they’ll work long and hard to help save the company.
Otherwise, executives will lose the employees. And once they’ve lost them, they’ve likely lost the company.
I hate to see anyone – including well-paid executives – lose their jobs. But I dislike something even more. And that’s when a company’s upper echelon lives in a bubble, immune from the forces that cost low-level employees their jobs.