Prospective journalists, take heed
The columnist and University at Albany J-school professor who Editor Rex Smith recently referred to as “the man who epitomizes the Times Union more than anybody else” narrowly missed earning himself a full year’s salary and a $33,000 stipend for simply leaving the paper. LeBrun could have also scored a year of health insurance coverage minus his co-pay, and “all accrued vacation time, personal days and makeup days” for accepting the buyout package the paper is now offering.
Instead, he announced his retirement in March, meaning he’s technically not eligible for the buyout now being offered by the paper. Now that’s gratitude for 41 years of dedication to a bloodless profession, which is only surpassed by medieval torture cells in its abject cruelty.
Despite being the Capital Region’s premiere online news service, the TU announced this week their decision to offer buyouts to 30 salaried workers. If all the targeted workers accept the buyout, the paper would reduce its staff by about 6 percent. Comparing apples to oranges, this number of buyouts is about twice what the TU lost in print circulation over a six-month period ending on March 31, which was strangely LeBrun’s last full day at the paper.
In a memo released March 11, Smith announced LeBrun’s retirement, ending a career that spanned from suburban beat reporter to city editor to metro columnist. Smith’s memo lauded the aged columnist’s dedication and identified him as the “longest-tenured newsroom staffer.”
Smith also promised LeBrun would be back as a free-lancer, which he has in twice-weekly columns. Ironically, he had a column in the paper last week offering a sort of apologia for lawyers ensnared by the state Attorney General Office’s investigation into alleged double- and triple-dipping into New York’s retirement pension system.
In contrast to these attorneys, LeBrun got one dip into the TU’s retirement pool. And it doesn’t even appear to be the lucrative cash-laden dip his co-workers are now being offered.
Hopefully, Hearst alerted LeBrun of the impending buyout and cut a deal with him to pad the veteran’s wallet on his way into retirement. After all, the company surely knew their financial situation long before offering buyout packages totaling in the tens of thousands of dollars. But the track record of most media companies is dismal, meaning LeBrun was probably escorted out the door as the Hearst lawyers were furtively drawing up plans for the buyout on the other side.
It’s a lesson any future reporter or newsroom flunky should learn and learn well: Working in the news business is akin to having a nice long stay in a maximum security prison. The conditions are miserable, the time is thankless and if you don’t watch your back, there’s likely to be a knife sticking out of it.