Review-Journal did not have to decimate its top editors

What they did at the Las Vegas Review-Journal this past week is comparable to a general, who draws up a losing battle plan, ordering his most valiant and battle-hardened captains and lieutenants taken out and shot — a perverse form of the Roman army’s practice of decimation.

It was a callous and shameless act of perfidy.

Mike Ferguson, CEO of Stephens Media

There were so many alternative options to cut costs and increase profitability — and staffers were assured the paper is indeed profitable, but obviously not profitable enough. The management chose craven butchery over such alternatives as across-the-board wage cuts, which would, of course, affect those who made this decision.

They could have renegotiated the joint operating agreement with the Sun, again, perhaps cutting the number of pages to fit its unique local content, about two pages instead of eight.

They could’ve tried to boost revenue, though I’m told some Sunday-only subscribers are already being converted to daily subscribers at no extra charge. Circulation has to be enough to satisfy advertisers.

They could put online content behind a pay wall instead of announcing paid apps for content available for free.

Of course, the company could go back to having one person being both CEO and publisher.

At the Tuesday staff meeting everyone was told six top management positions were being consolidated into two. The six are Managing Editor Charles Zobell, City Editor Mary Hynes, Sports Editor Joe Hawk, Features Editor Frank Fertado, Art Director Ched Whitney and Business Editor Jim Wright.

Bob Brown, publisher of R-J

When he returned from vacation on Thursday, Editorial Page Editor John Kerr was given notice, too. Kerr is married to Hynes and they have a high-school-aged daughter. Asked Tuesday if there would be more notices going out, the answer was no.

The seven were told they, and everyone else, could apply for the two openings. But the pusillanimous addition of insult to injury was, according to my sources, that the buyouts they were offered would be withdrawn if they were to apply for the new positions and fail to be hired. Instead of 16 weeks or so of salary and other lovely parting gifts, they would get only a six-week severance check. The hint is not even subtle: We don’t want you. Get out now.

These are the very people who built the paper into what it was before the tsunami of technology and demographic and attitudinal shifts brought the whole newspaper industry to its knees, resulting in massive layoffs and buyouts, closing of papers and some printing only three days a week.

Mike Hengel, editor of R-J

They are now being jettisoned into an economy with an astronomical unemployment rate and a journalism landscape as bleak as that glimpsed by the Martian rover. Most of their lives have been devoted to a singular profession, developing skills and instincts no one any longer wants. Some may have little or no equity in their homes. I know their 401(k)s are mere shadows of the past. To say nothing of the devastating effect on a family that may well lose two breadwinners in one fell swoop.

If the paper can expect two editors to do the work of seven, what will it next expect of reporters, photographers and others? Will they farm out layouts and copy editing to some outfit in the Philippines? Hire stringers to cover news and sports?

This is an Aesop Fable in reverse: Loyalty, devotion, hard work and diligence don’t mean squat if the people who own and operate the place are a bunch of clueless and heartless quislings.

If there is any karma in this world, may it be visited upon the pettifogging poltroons who did this — with a vengeance.

33 comments on “Review-Journal did not have to decimate its top editors

  1. Steve says:

    Not to mention what they are doing to the community that embraced the success of the RJ. These moves are going to radically change that paper even in the face of the momentum you and your people generated.

    Can’t help but think the brains from Arkansas simply want to please the sturdivants of the world. Thats a bad move even on a good day.

  2. Bruce Feher says:

    I don’t know any of these people! Good luck to the old timers I enjoyed your work!

  3. I don’t know who, if any of them, will get the new jobs, Bruce, but all are excellent workers.


  4. Patrick McDonnell says:

    “I want lap dogs, dammit! MY OWN LAP DOGS!”

  5. Anyone at the R-J who would like to comment anonymously or share news about what is going on may send a private email to me at: or Of course, you should use a non-R-J email account. They can and will be checking.

  6. I am sure that is part of the equation, P@.

  7. This is the reality of the modern workplace – even outside of journalism. I had but a cup of coffee in the journalism profession (under your helm! Thank you!) but this is how ALL corporations are handling things. Do more with less money and less people.

    Your points about the journalism business and its inability to build new revenue models and the onslaught of technology did contribute. But, at the end of the day, it’s the business leaders who refused to address the business model and change. These fine professionals could have kept their jobs and even learned new skills had the company invested in them. Alas, like us all, they’re just numbers on a ledger sheet.

    It’s too bad and I wish them all the best. Thanks for the post Tom.

  8. Thanks for the comments, Scott. You are of course correct.

  9. Vernon Clayson says:

    There’s a Buddhism that says “all things are impermanent” so the new management is temporary in their own cycle. Obviously it can’t happen soon enough for the recently disenfranchised but their replacements are in journalism school or in the earnest early stages of their trade, one or another of them will eventually tell the Misters Ferguson, Brown, and Hengel that “we’re going in a new direction and can’t use you anymore”.

  10. Anthony says:

    These are all very fine, seasoned professionals who made significant contributions to the success of the Review-Journal. It’s regrettable that they’re not regarded as assets instead of liabilities in the “cost” column. The ongoing loss of talented, committed staffers will contribute to the ongoing decline in the quality of the newspaper. Best of luck to these good people.

  11. Jim Day says:

    I remember well that reverse Aesop Fable. The central characters in the story were a hyena, a toad, a snake and a weasel.

  12. Rincon says:

    Unfortunately, government doesn’t have a monopoly on stupidity. Corporate management seems to have a generous amount also. In both cases, when the people on top make stupid (or selfish) decisions, the people underneath suffer.

  13. Steve says:

    Difference is, in corporate settings we promote to a level of incompetence and that is where it stops. In government the completely inept can be elected directly to a position of extremely high power and responsibility.

  14. Athos says:

    Words escape me. To see the way this world is changing, is like waking up from a nightmare, and realizing it wasn’t a dream. The hyenas, toads, snakes and weasels are dropping the charade and are now ruining, er running, things now.

    At least the emperor, when the child told him he was naked, felt some sort of embarrassment.

  15. […] light of recent self-immolations, such as the decimation of top editors at the Las Vegas newspaper, the Detroit and New Orleans papers no longer printing daily, the loss […]

  16. Tom, it seems that Vin is suddenly in a hurry to write about things that were never mentioned in the controlled mainstream media before. The public has tired of the non-information from the MSM, whether print or broadcast, and is now embracing the wild and crazy internet for real info. I don’t blame you or Sherm for not wanting to lose your journalism cred, but these subjects should have been fairly reported and discussed years ago in the RJ, whether about the federal reserve or 9/11 or the federal bldg in Oklahoma City. I know that this could lead to “yellow journalism”, but let’s face it, the web has changed the rules on information transference, and most people want to hear the whole story, not just what the elite media that considers itself superior to the rest of us want us to know.


    Hey Athos, long time no see…

  17. Winston, Vin has been writing about those things off and on for years.


  18. Yep, I know Vin has been all over the federal reserve in the past, but the MSM as a rule has not. My comment wasn’t meant as an indictment of Vin, who has always done a great job exposing some things, but of the controlled MSM generally, who won’t touch the globalist bankster machinations, since they own so much of the media. To paraphrase the NY Times, “All the news that fits…”

  19. I agree, Winston.


  20. Dave Lanson says:

    I think the non-journalist powers-that-be at the R-J will soon learn how a lack of experience can affect the product they are selling: Coverage of the Las Vegas Valley. Those seven editors were paid pretty well for a reason: they had all done the jobs they were overseeing: Those editors know the difference between a politician’s mindless blather and the real answer to how a problem occurred or how it will be fixed. The front page has virtually become the “if it bleeds, it leads” page and has included assorted other stories that they hope will attract the attention-challenged readers who believe the size of Kim Kardashian’s butt is a major issue of the day. I believe the R-J poobahs will eventually learn about being penny wise and pound foolish and that eventually you find out that you do get what you paid for.

  21. […] far it appears the only one of the seven top editors at the Review-Journal to apply for one of the two positions that are open to them is Business […]

  22. […] which for most includes 16 weeks of salary and some period of company-paid health insurance. In a heartless and Machiavellian move, they were told anyone who applied for the two openings and failed to be hired would forfeit the […]

  23. […] after two weeks of silence, the Review-Journal finally got around to announcing their craven and cowardly decision to boot its most experienced, most loyal and most valuable top editors with much more than […]

  24. […] axing well more than a half million in salaries and benefits by consolidating seven jobs into two and letting go more than a century of experienced editors, the skinflints at the Las Vegas […]

  25. […] are known for but it is the ads that pay the salaries of reporters. With fewer ads there are fewer reporters and editors and less reason to pick up a newspaper or visit its website, making the value to advertisers that […]

  26. […] they slashed reporters. Then, they slashed editors. Now, they have slashed pages and content. Next, they might as well slash their […]

  27. […] they slashed reporters. Then, they slashed editors. Next, they slashed pages and […]

  28. […] what is the budget for the dominant R-J today, after excising a couple of centuries of newsroom experience, and higher salaries, of course, through termination of a dozen or so top […]

  29. “though I’m told some Sunday-only subscribers are already being converted to daily subscribers at no extra charge”
    As one of the schmucks delivering the paper, let me tell you that currently the promotion was an attempt to bring back customers who had previously canceled or let subscriptions expire by giving them a deeply discounted Sunday Only subscription for 8 week runs. This has gone for two cycles as of 8/26. The conversion your talking about will be happening soon, but its where F,S,S and Fri-Mon customers are converted for no extra charge(usually with the hope they dont notice and renew at higher rate later).

  30. “They could put online content behind a pay wall instead of announcing paid apps for content available for free.”
    This is exactly what Ive been saying since I started delivering! I get stops all the time and the message says “reads online”. Why do the expect people to pay for something in print that they get for free online without having to walk to the driveway!?

  31. I also said that for years, Brien. Look where it got me.

  32. […] couldn’t have happened to more deserving people, considering the way they treated […]

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