Off Beat

Stribbed Down

AS THE ECONOMY slows, newspapers everywhere are feeling the pain. The Star Tribune is no exception. The paper's Sacramento, California-based parent McClatchy Co. announced its first-quarter results last week, reporting a slight decline in revenue and a 33 percent drop in profits. Overall, ad revenues for the first three months of the year are down one percent at McClatchy's 11 dailies and 13 nondaily papers. The Strib, though, is down more than five percent--which, in real money, translates to $4.2 million. Why the discrepancy? "We have a much larger category of employment advertising," Strib publisher John Schueler explains, noting that employment advertising is down everywhere. To deal with the declines in revenue, Schueler says, the paper is deploying several strategies. For one thing, he says, "We're looking at every position that comes open." Management also unveiled the Star Tribune Special Time Away from Work Program, designed to encourage employees to request up to four months' unpaid time off or design alternative work schedules, such as a four-day work week. Reporter Margaret Zack, who chairs the Strib unit of the Minnesota Newspaper Guild/Typographical Union, says management has offered assurances that this is not a scheme to thin the herd. "I think the biggest concern is what is going to happen to the work?" Zack opines. "Is it going to essentially be a work speed-up for other individuals who aren't taking advantage of the time off?" So far, though, she hasn't detected a groundswell of folks who want to take the company up on the offer: "Most people need their paychecks."

Jumping Strib

ONE STAR TRIBUNE staffer who's planning some very special time away from the office next year is editor Tim McGuire. A recent Strib article about McGuire's appointment as the president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) reported that McGuire will leave his Strib post in June 2002 to pursue "work in spirituality." That will give publisher John Schueler--installed by McClatchy Co. when they bought the paper in the spring of 1998--a chance to pick his own editor. For now, Schueler claims he's not sifting through résumés. Might the publisher promote managing editor Pam Fine to the top job? "Pam is terrific, she's just outstanding and she's just been great here," he tells Off Beat. "But I won't even think about it until early next year."

Strike Two

LAST WEEK EMPLOYEES of First Student, the largest school-bus company in the Twin Cities, rejected joining Service Employees Local 284 by a vote of 615 to 511--the second time in two years that the bus drivers opted not to unionize. The second vote was mandated by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which ruled in December that the company had unfairly influenced the previous vote by raffling off free trips to Disney World (see Paul Demko's "Labor Drive," March 28). Local 284 organizing director Shelly Hagglund says First Student didn't play by the rules this time either, although she declines to name specific infractions and will only say the union is contemplating filing a second protest with the NLRB. "We're not going anywhere," Hagglund promises.

Two-Bit Mistake

STILL PICKING THE sleep from our eyes while perusing the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Monday, April 9, Off Beat noticed something mighty peculiar: The price had doubled overnight, from 25 cents to 50 cents. At first we figured that this was just another way to square up the books. But on Tuesday morning the price listed on page one had returned to a quarter. Brows furrowed, we put in a call to publisher Rick Sadowski. His assistant, Barb Johnson, assures us the whole fiasco was "just a typo," not some one-time ploy to raise a little ching. Putting aside the question of how such a "typo" might have occurred, Off Beat's wondering how the Pioneer Press intends to reimburse every poor lunk who got ripped off.