PiPress Veterans Take Buyout


More than a dozen buyouts and two lay-offs announced at PiPress.

Matt Peiken would love nothing more than to continue covering the Twin Cities arts community for the Pioneer Press. But last December he was assigned to track breaking news in suburban St. Paul. His job is watching 12 Ramsey county communities, he said, “but I’ll be the first to admit I don’t watch them very well.” A 10-year Pioneer Press writer, he confirmed today that he’s taking the contract buyout offered by management last week. He’ll be joined by journalist Ellen Tomson and 13 or more others who will take part in the second round of buyouts since December.

The final buyout list, released late Wednesday, includes 10 full-time staffers, plus a note from editor Thom Fladung that two part-time library employees would be let go. “[T]his combination of buyouts and other changes should allow us to meet our immediate and critical need to respond to the changing business conditions we face,” he said.

While Pioneer Press management had hoped for 15 buyouts in the newsroom, only 10 full-time employees signed up. But, in an email to staff Wednesday evening, editor Thom Fladung said that additional cuts would not be required at this time.

The 10 include reporters Mary Bauer, Beth Gauper, Sheryl Jean, Matt Peiken and Ellen Tomson; photographers Joe Rossi and Craig Borck; researcher Kathleen Rysgaard; graphics designer Diana Boger; and copy editor Jeff Sjerven.

Tomson, a veteran reporter with more than two decades at the paper, has won numerous awards and created long-form pieces on a range of topics, including — most memorably — last year’s remarkable account of how 16-year-old Mariah Mills sensed on September 11, 2001, that “one of my parents is dead.” Born out of wedlock and adopted by the Mills family as a baby, she wouldn’t find out until three years later the identity of her father: Bloomington native Tom Burnett, who died a hero while fighting hijackers aboard Flight 93. Tomson’s 4,800-word piece sensitively chronicled the story, all the way through Mariah’s meetings with her birth mother and the Burnett family.

While a deadline prevented Tomson from commenting on her rationale for this article, Peiken admitted the progress of ongoing labor negotiations between the paper’s unit of the Minnesota Newspaper Guild and MediaNews guided his decision in part.

“I don’t think the Guild has a ton of leverage,” he said. “I think management values less and less the individual talents, the individual characteristics that go into making a strong newspaper. I think they see us more as interchangeable and exchangeable parts. A guy like me does not survive well in that kind of environment.”

His plans for the future include — wait for it — poker-dealing school. He says he’s planning a book related to the topic and has proposals for two other nonfiction books in the works.

Rumors have been swirling about who will be on the management-approved buyout list (which, as of this writing, has not yet been released), but those speculating name staff from the paper’s library, a trio of photographers, a page designer, and several reporters. But those who make the cut will make a swift exit. In a memo to staff last week, editor Thom Fladung said the 15 newsroom staffers, in adddtion to 15 more in other departments, will finish work this Friday, July 27.