The Incredible Shrinking Herald

People are fleeing in record numbers and not being replaced. Morale has hit bottom. News coverage has been severely curtailed. Money is scarce. And the corporate bigshots love it.

job as a cub reporter for a South Dade "Neighbors" section. The former executive, who says he is thrilled at the opportunity to try his hand at writing, is now the highest-paid "Neighbors" reporter in the paper's history.)

Two months ago Olds left the newspaper (Reisinger remains), and is now working as an assistant managing editor for features at the Newark Star-Ledger. "To lose my job at the Miami Herald was heartbreaking for me," she recalls. "I was terribly disappointed, and that whole period was a frightening time. I don't think it was handled well, but I don't think it was handled maliciously, either. It was a case of handling something very awkwardly, and they made all of us feel bad." Olds stresses that she harbors no animosity toward Clifton, who helped her find her new job. "I consider Doug Clifton my friend," she says. "He's like everybody else A he's good at some things and not so good at others. I think he's a real smart guy who sometimes is real ham-handed, clumsy."

Olds acknowledges that she, too, is concerned by the number of people leaving the paper. "I think there is no doubt the Herald has lost a lot of quality people, and that can have an effect," she says. "I think they [Herald executives] had real tough decisions to make. It's easy to sit and say, 'This wasn't a good decision.' I don't know what I would cut. I just think the whole situation is rotten. And some things just don't have rosy solutions."

Managing editor Saundra Keyes notes that the worst scenario has been avoided. "Above all we wanted not to have layoffs, and we achieved that," she says. "And we've tried our best to be fair in the reassignments. I think we've handled this as fairly and as honorably as we know how."

Executive editor Clifton says he doesn't understand all the grousing, and contends (without providing details) that the editorial staff is actually larger now than it was five years ago. "Even when you shrink it, you grow it," he offers inscrutably.

"I don't think quality can necessarily be measured in numbers," adds Keyes. "I don't see a correlation between the number of people in a section and the quality of that section."

Both Keyes and Clifton say they realize they've become targets for attack since last year, when the Herald began scaling back in earnest. "I've got my detractors, I'm sure," Clifton allows. "Saundra has her detractors, I'm sure. Together we both have our detractors. And I know we have our supporters. But honest to God, I'm not in the business to win popularity contests. I'm not an easygoing guy. I'm an intense guy."

Clifton and Keyes may have established a sort of kinship in defending themselves against their mutual detractors, but their rapport otherwise has become the subject of comment and concern among many in the Herald newsroom. More than a dozen current and former employees interviewed for this article say they believe the two executives simply cannot get along with each other. That perception has led to a widespread rumor that publisher Dave Lawrence intervened by hiring a counselor to mediate the bickering. And that, in turn, has only heightened a sense that staffers' confidence in the Herald's top management is shrinking along with the paper itself. (In this case, the rumors were true. Lawrence confirms that he recently employed a "facilitator" to "help the two of them in team-building.")

In an atmosphere of such uncertainty, rumors of all sorts are bound to proliferate. Among those currently being circulated: The recent departure of the paper's food editor, Felicia Gressette, will spell the end of any food sections. Tropic magazine will soon be killed or folded into some revamped version of the "Living" section. Saundra Keyes was nearly fired three months ago but was spared at the last minute. A "Knight-Ridder grand jury" was impaneled to gather testimony regarding Doug Clifton's management style. And the newest buzzword making its way into the newsroom lexicon A "re-engineering" A is a euphemism for severe staff cuts. Current guesses put the figure at 45 jobs soon to be lost. "Even if most of these rumors aren't true," says one editor, "the point is that most people believe them. Reporters and editors who are supposed to be cynics and skeptical of everything they hear believe that just about anything could happen to this paper at this point. They just don't have faith in the management doing what is best for them any more."

Dave Lawrence says he's aware of the many rumors, and tries his best to sort fact from fiction. "No one has been peremptorily tossed into Biscayne Bay, and no one is going to be peremptorily tossed into Biscayne Bay," he points out. "This is not an easy year for us. This has been a very tough year. And there is no doubt that to reach our short-term goals, we are going to have to do something." Without being specific, Lawrence assures that "nothing significant" is in the offing.

Based on the measures Herald executives have taken recently, and on the memos they've written to employees by way of explanation, a reasonable person might believe that the paper is hemorrhaging red ink, if it isn't actually on the verge of financial ruin. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. Knight-Ridder's annual report for 1994 describes the Miami Herald as "the company's largest profit center." More profitable, in fact, than any of the other 27 daily newspapers owned by Knight-Ridder nationwide.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Miami Concert Tickets