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Buffalo News Stars Considering Buyout

The Buffalo News

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More than a year ago, Donn Esmonde wrote a column for a Buffalo News retirement party that lamented the departure of nine veteran editors, reporters and columnists who took a buyout or pension enhancement.
His final line for the private audience was: “As a columnist, I cannot imagine what I will do without them.”
In a few months, Buffalo News readers might have to imagine doing without Esmonde as much as they are used to reading him as he may take a buyout that would reduce his workload.
And, according to sources, another big Buffalo News “brand” in his 50s – sports columnist Jerry Sullivan — is considering ( that’s the key word)  the buyout offer.
Esmonde and Sullivan declined to comment about the speculation inside The News.

I hesitated to write about the latest Buffalo News buyout offer because it affects friends of mine. But I came to the conclusion that the newspaper should be covered like TV and radio because some of its writers are considered celebrities.
According to sources, Esmonde and Sullivan are the highest-profile News staffers considering taking the latest company buyout offer that enhances the pension and allows people in their mid to late 50s to take it immediately.
The offer would allow staffers to add a total of 10 years to their age and their years of service in any combination. Someone who is age 55 could use 10 years to get his or her pension immediately. Someone who is age 60 can use five years to get to age 65 and add the remaining five years to their years of service to enhance the amount of money they would receive.
Until last year’s buyout, workers were only allowed a maximum of 30 years towards their pensions. Last year and in this proposed buyout they can get credit for up to as many years as they worked at the paper as long as their pension doesn’t exceed $40,670 a year.
Sources say that Esmonde, 58, would only leave his full-time columnist position if he was assured that he could continue to work part time and possibly cut his three columns a week down to two a week or three over two weeks.
Sources say that Sullivan is investigating other job prospects – including a possible increase in his radio work at WGR – and is less likely to make a part-time offer contingent on his decision whether to take the buyout.
However, it probably would be a good idea for The News and Sullivan if he continued some association with the News even if he decided to leave full-time. His News column gives him visibility and gives The News one of its most talked-about writers.
Additionally, such veteran and valuable News reporters as Dan Herbeck and Jim Heaney also are considering the buyout offer, which must be taken by Aug. 12, if they could work part-time.
Of course, none of the four may leave because they are either too low down the seniority list to be eligible for a buyout offer that is expected to be held to somewhere between five and eight in the newsroom or because the deal just doesn’t work for them financially without assurances they can work part-time.
Additionally, it is much easier to consider the buyout without knowing if one is eligible than it is to pull the plug and potentially leave a job that is in one’s blood. One of the potential risks of taking a buyout even if one is assured coming back part-time is the loss of seniority in case there are future layoffs.

It is unclear if Buffalo News editor Margaret Sullivan would be willing to tell staffers if they would be able to work part-time if they accept the buyout offer. She wasn’t willing to do that during last year’s buyouts despite the Guild’s (the newspaper’s union) request she do so to enable people to make the best educated choice.
Heaney has been at The News for 25 years, is a member of the News investigative team, a former finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and a member of the Guild negotiation team in current contract talks. He confirmed that he is mulling the buyout offer.
“As one of my colleagues said, the buyout offer makes many of us ‘free agents’ in a sense and a lot of us are considering our options,” emailed Heaney. “I’ve got a good job here that I’m hesitant to leave, but the trends here at The News are ominous on many fronts.”

Herbeck, who delivered the News when he was 11 years ago and has been a star reporter there for almost 34 years, said he is considering the buyout if he can work part-time. He is 56.
“I am definitely considering it, and it’s a tough decision,” emailed Herbeck. “The News has been a big part of my life since I started delivering the paper at age 11. These are rocky times for the newspaper business, but I’m still very proud of the work that we do there every day. We have more reporters out asking questions every day than all the rest of the Buffalo media have combined. We provide a very valuable service that I think is more important than ever. Journalism is still a great occupation but a stressful one. I’ve had some health problems in the past two years, and would like to cut back on my workload and stress-load if at all possible.”
Most likely, the News would prefer that staffers in their mid-to-late 60s or early 70s would take the buyout but the pension enhancement or buyout might be less attractive to that age group.
Workers who are age 66 or higher can take Social Security and keep their entire salary. Workers who are age 70 at the News can triple dip – take their Social Security, earn their salary and receive their pension.
Some staffers in their 70s may already be taking their pensions, which might prevent them from getting a pension enhancement that can be 33 percent higher than it was when they started taking it.
It will be a few weeks before regular readers of The News will learn whether the newspaper will lose more of its so-called stars or see them write less than they have been.
One thing is clear: If they leave or reduce their workload, the Buffalo News won’t be the same.

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1 response to "Buffalo News Stars Considering Buyout"

  1. Pergy's friend says:

    It’s getting as beaten down as WIVB News 4.

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