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Oregonian Sports: Doing More With Less

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Last week, I talked briefly with Oregonian Sports Editor Mark Hester about last Monday's announcement that the paper was laying off part-time employees, cutting salaries and mandating furloughs.  As I wrote last Monday night, "Words to describe the moods of various Oregonian employees in the wake of Monday morning's announcement: livid, confused, frustrated, sad."

My question for Mr. Hester was simple. Will Monday's announcement affect the Oregonian's Blazers coverage?

Mr. Hester stated via telephone and voicemail message...

In a nutshell, Monday's announcement will not have any effect upon our Blazers coverage.  There will be no change in the number of people covering the team. We have in the past couple of years sent 2 reporters to road games less frequently, that's really not a new thing... I don't foresee us ever going down to 0 [travelling reporters].  

The Blazers remain our number one priority as a Sports Department.

I think you've actually seen an increase in Blazers content from us online recently.

Your readers should not see a change [in quality or quantity of content].  What happened Monday has nothing to do with the Blazers.

On the specific topic of road coverage, it's good to hear Mr. Hester repeat Jason Quick's reassurances from back in September.  

As for Mr. Hester's assertion that things will not change and, perhaps, are improving....

  • Oregonian employees were instructed by the paper not to publicly comment about last Monday's announcement.
  • The public announcement that there would be both 5% and 10% salary cuts is seen by more than one employee as misleading.  According to sources, 10% cuts were the norm, particularly for anyone with a long record at the paper.
  • In the case of a few high-profile writers, that 10% cut equates to a 5 figure hit.
  • That the pay cut happened across the board without regard for individual performance or output was mentioned by multiple sources as a sore spot.
  • At least one writer worries that the part-timer layoffs, coupled with layoffs at Oregonlive earlier this year, will place a significantly greater time burden on writers to manage their own content rather than report new content.
  • Hester acknowledged that sections of Oregonlive content, including writer blogs, are entirely self-edited and self-regulated by the writer.   

Asked about both Hester's statements and Monday's announcement via email, Jason Quick declined comment.  

The last 4-6 weeks of Blazers coverage on Oregonlive (highlighted, of course, by the Behind the Locker Room Door pieces) has been the best run in years.  Given the conditions, it's downright incredible.  

But to anticipate things won't change when the staff is being paid less, has access to less auxiliary staff, is forced to take furloughs and is taking on an increased editing burden seems a little... optimistic.

There's got to be a breaking point, right?  At some point, doesn't Doing More With Less become untenable?  

-- Ben (benjamin.golliver@gmail.com)