December 11th, 2012

Layoffs can be ugly no matter how they are handled.  Lives can be ruined.

But the Kansas City Star might have taken the stress of being laid off to a new level by telling at least two employees recently for them to determine which one will stay at the McClatchy-owned paper, and which one will likely hit the unemployment line.

Earlier this week it was revealed that Star Publisher Mi-Ai Parrish issued an employee memo right before the holidays that discussed the newspaper’s latest round of layoffs.

According to MediaKC it was the third round of layoffs instituted by Parrish since joining the paper in 2011.

It has been challenging trying to determine who is being let go at the Star or the total numbers impacted, but one story about the layoffs has been confirmed by Bottom Line:  Superb reporters Karen Dillon and Dawn Bormann were told to determine themselves which one will stay at the Star and which one will go.

They were given a week to work it out.

Bottom Line highlighted Bormann, a 14-year Star veteran, for a wonderful story she wrote earlier this year about a local teacher.  Dillon, the KC Press Club’s 2010 “Journalist of the Year” and a 20-year veteran, was highlighted here for a superb story in April highlighting how Johnson County developers have land zoned for agricultural use.

And now either Bormann or Dillon will have a job entering the new year.

And one won’t…

UPDATE: Journalism blogger Jim Romenesko reports (12/12) that Dillon told him “we’ve not made an official decision” on who gets to stay. “It’s one of the most difficult situations I’ve ever faced.”

UPDATE (12/13): MediaKC is reporting that KC Star Publisher Mi-Ai Parrish says her newspaper is cutting its workforce by 17 positions in the latest round of layoffs. 

“These are always difficult decisions, so we will on occasion allow employees to volunteer for a severance package when we are reducing in areas where there are two or more of the same types of positions,” Parrish told NBC News.

She added that if an employee in a group does not volunteer, “then the person with the least amount of tenure is included in the severance program.” Parrish declined further comment on personnel decisions



26 Responses

  1. David Remley says:

    And the product continues to decline…..

  2. Rick Nichols says:

    If this is indeed the case, it’s a sad commentary on how low The Star has fallen in recent years, particularly while the folks in Sacramento have been calling the shots. Moreover, the continuing layoffs are a stark reminder that the general economy very much remains on life support despite the recent gains on Wall Street. Within the newspaper industry there’s been no recovery, nor does it appear that there’ll be one anytime soon. So would the last person left at The Star please remember to turn out the lights? Thanks.

  3. Laura Hockaday says:

    This method, of having one outstanding Star colleague forced to decide the fate of another, is barbaric, as is any layoff just before the holidays.

    The Kansas City Star, which used to be a place full of such warm camaraderie that you hoped you could work there until you died at your desk, has become a cold, uncaring, frightening place to work.
    What a sad, sad life at 18th and Grand, the venerable building full of such wonderful memories for me and legions of others.
    Laura Hockaday
    Reporter 1962-2000

  4. Bob Sands says:

    Laura knows of what she speaks. Cold, hard Bottomline Journalism rules the industry. When the University of Missouri takes in all the funding provided by the profits gained by Donrey you know the profession is in trouble. Donrey mirrored the state of the newspaper industry now — squeeze all the money out of the paper you can and to hell with the readers. Someone should take a look at what the upper management people in the chain are making and just what profit margin they’re seeking.

  5. Zack says:

    The Star has its own version of “The Hunger Games”? What channel is it on?

  6. Dan says:

    I have great empathy for the many excellent reporters at the Star that may see their hardwork and dedication paid off with a pink slip. How can they hope to improve the product with fewer and fewer real journalists on the payroll?

    Ironically, I had to make multiple calls and e-mails to the paper after a recent move as they couldn’t seem to get the paper delivered to me more than 2 or 3 times a week. Here I want to pay and be a reader, but they can’t get the product delivered. They’ve beat up the carriers so bad in recent years it looks like they don’t have any real incentive to help keep the paper afloat. Sadly, the demise of the Star seems more like a when, not an if.

  7. Pat Carlson says:

    OK, so it’s a business and layoffs are a cold reality before a holiday. Then, run it like a business. If you have to fire someone, fire her.

    Telling two employees to decide between themselves which one is going to leave is chickens**t! A business, run as such, would have personnel make the cut.

    What happens if the two reporters can’t make the decision? If I were to survive such a gimmick, I think I would be so demoralized that I would look for another job (irrespective of the fact that more layoffs are coming).

  8. Mike Rice says:

    I am very saddened to see my two friends and former colleagues being treated this way after a combined 35 years of service to The Star. Whoever hatched this idea of telling Karen and Dawn to decide between themselves who should leave is a gutless coward. Unfortunately, The Star’s upper management is so top-heavy, that whoever did it will not have to be accountable.

    I don’t know Mi-Ai Parrish but I do know that she reports to former Star publisher Mark Zieman, whose people skills rivals those of the creature from “Alien”. Based on the work environment that I saw Mr. Zieman foster during my time at The Star, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by how low this place can stoop when it comes to the treatment of its rank-and-file employees. This, however, represents a new low.

  9. Scott Simon says:

    I have little respect for Mi-Ai Parrish. A Publisher with no backbone. How can anyone expect her to make the right call for publishing stories? Wishy-washy is NOT an asset in journalism.

  10. John says:

    Fire the manager for incompetency, and promote the Dillon. Problem solved and while an incompetent manager was removed at the same time.

  11. Bob says:

    They are going to teach Mi-Ai Parrish’s leadership style in MBA schools across the country.

    What a coward. Chickenshit coward.

  12. Tony says:

    I don’t understand. Aren’t they pretty lopsided left on their opinion columnists? Why not drop a couple of the lefties? That would solve two issues – decrease FTE’s and put the EB in a better ratio.

    Bob there was a leetle more harsh on Mr. Parrish than I would’ve liked, yet I agree with his sentiment.

    I left the Star back in the early 90′s, and watched from different perspectives as the publishing world changed, first by inches, then – BAM – by light years about 2001-02 with ever more powerful personal computers, and sophisticated software. The WWW provided a worldwide platform to birth the New Media, and the world hasn’t looked back.

    As for this dead tree in KC, I’m not surprised by Parrish’s hive mind, no-finger prints, under da bus management style.

    Heck, the high profile political master of that very style sits in the Oval Office.

    Best of luck to all you Star employees.

  14. Art says:

    If Mi-Ai spent less time dictating cubicle decoration standards and more time thinking of revenue sources, The Star might be better off.

    As for Fannin, well, everybody there knows what his problem is.

  15. Gene says:

    wtf? Two good friends, no winners regardless how it comes out. I’m still wondering who else got chopped. How many? Who? If they’re cutting this deep into the bone, who is left? There is life after print, online. But a lot of it is 1890s yellow journalism standards. Beyond our comfort levels, but still fun.

  16. Joe Shmoe says:

    When I was somewhat younger, everyone in this city read the Kansas City Times. It was a GREAT newspaper. About a fourth of the city read the Star at dinner time; a nice, folksy, local paper.

    Now we have nothing. Thank out-of-town ownership for this mess. You get these people from foreign cities involved and you are doomed. They have no soul.

  17. jmhaney says:

    Here’s a solution. Keep them both and fire Diuguid. His salary will more than cover both of theirs and will free up the news hole for some real reporting. Yes Lewis, I know your dad is in his 90′s and is a chemist. You have written about it 150 times in the last 10 years. And, by the way, how many “conferences” does this guy go to every year and how much does that cost?

  18. Casey Sol says:

    I read this story 2 days ago on KC Confidential, look like you did too!

    • JohnLandsberg says:

      Please, comparing this site to his is like comparing the New York Times to the National Enquirer. We also heard the news about the Star’s issue with Karen Dillon and Dawn Bormann, but wanted to verify it with sources before printing anything. We do our very best to verify what is printed here before just printing things. These are real people making a decision that will impact both their lives.
      Yes, we were told that Hearne “broke” the news that Dawn Bormann is out at the Star. He is now backtracking on it. He had about a 50-50 chance of being right.
      People expect more from this site.

  19. James Wright says:

    Just fire Lewis Diuguid. His racist rants are the main reason I stopped my subscription.

  20. John Altevogt says:

    Indeed, Mr Wright. Why should either of these reporters leave? There’s not a blog around that can produce the stuff they do, but can the same be said for any of the editorial staff? Shelly? Pepper? Diuguid? Abouhalkah? Really, Abouhalkah? The only thing that could make this story any more embarrassing for The Star would be for someone on the editorial staff to opine on it.

  21. John Altevogt says:

    My favorite Diuguid quote was “negative diversity yields negative productivity” and I thought how the hell do you operationalize those concepts and then it hit me, Lewis is an excuse for the former and an example of the latter.

    Dump editorial, all of them.

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