Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Reaction to the Lee Enterprises bonuses, Montana newspaper layoffs

Posted By on Wed, Mar 28, 2012 at 4:25 PM

Yesterday news broke that Lee Enterprises CEO Mary Junck received a $500,000 bonus for "successfully" refinancing the company, while CFO Carl Schmidt got $250,000. Yesterday word also leaked that staffers were laid off at various Lee-owned Montana newspapers.

Mary Junck
  • Mary Junck
Today, there's continued reaction to the timing of the two moves. The tone is about what you'd expect.

Jim Romenesko's influential media blog picked up on social media updates and online comments that capture the frustration of current and former Lee employees. One describes Junck as "no strategist" and says "you could have thrown water balloons in the newsroom and hit 10 better candidates" for CEO. Another says Junck and other managers "crossed the line from managing to looting a long time ago." Romenesko's awaiting a return phone call from Junck to respond.

Former Missoulian reporter Robert Struckman, who now works for the AFL-CIO, blogged about the news with this strong opening line: "The biggest national news story of the past four years is playing out in miniature among the Montana newspaper holdings of Lee Enterprise — the top boss gets a huge chunk of change while the people who actually do the work get the shaft."

Struckman includes quotes from some of the Montana staffers who were let go or bought out. The Missoulian, of course, is owned by Lee. Last week, the Indy reported the local daily was offering voluntary buyouts.

The United Media Guild, which represents St. Louis-area media workers, didn't pull any punches in its assessment of the bonuses.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch was among the Pulitzer papers purchased by Lee before the economy tanked and the company hit bankruptcy.

Junck and Schmidt are the fiscal geniuses who way overpaid in 2005 when Lee paid $1.46 billion for Pulitzer Publishing and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Their misjudgment of the industry and its future are what saddled Lee Enterprises with the debt that forced Lee into bankruptcy. And now after Lee wrongly eliminated promised health insurance to it’s retirees, forced current employees to take unpaid furloughs, froze pensions, cut pay and laid off hundred of employees across the country — now the fiscal geniuses get $750,000 bonuses. Outrageous!!!

We can only assume that once Junck and Schmidt have finished feathering their nests with $100 bills, they’ll be making an announcement rescinding the scheduled 2012 unpaid furloughs for employees across the company, and enclosing a nice check with their apology to the family of deceased P-D retiree Robert Douglas.

Don’t hold your breath Lee employees; if we’re lucky, maybe we’ll get a pizza party.

The Riverfront Times, a St. Louis alt weekly, put it another way when trying to fathom, from a journalist's perspective, the company's recent history, the industry's ongoing cutbacks, and such large individual rewards.

I can't imagine any private citizen making his or her way out of bankruptcy and having someone give 'em a cash bonus for pulling it off — if that's happened to any of you, please correct me in the comments — but then I'm carrying two dollars and change today, so the practices of corporate high-finance elude me.

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