“In profit,” Variety fires veteran staffers anyway

Variety, the long-running daily show business trade newspaper, has just fired several staffers, including its lead movie and theater critics. Jim Romenesko’s valuable media news clearing house has the internal memo announcing — and “justifying” –the firing. Here’s a slightly abridged version:

From: Gray, Tim M (RBI-US)
Sent: Monday, March 08, 2010 1:14 PM
To: Editorial Staff
Subject: internal memo, for Variety editorial staff only

Change is always scary, and at Variety, we have had a lot of changes in the past few years. But change is not always bad.

We are making further changes in the newsroom. We will post a story to the web, which the Dailies will run tomorrow. That’s to update the outside world. This memo is to give details to you staffers, and we will have a meeting this afternoon to address any questions.

Today’s changes won’t be noticed by readers. Our goal is the same: To maintain, or improve, our quality coverage. But internally, we hope the changes — which will include several new hires coming aboard — will make things more streamlined and efficient, will eliminate unnecessary work, and will increase coordination and communication in the newsroom…

As for the bigger picture:

Reviews: We are not changing our review policy. Last year we ran more than 1,200 film reviews. No other
news outlet comes even close, and we will continue to be the leader in numbers and quality. It doesn’t make economic sense to have full-time reviewers, but Todd, Derek and Rooney have been asked to continue as freelancers. And, of course, we still have great people on staff, including Justin Chang, Peter Debruge and Brian Lowry, who will continue their work as critics while performing their other key duties. And we will of course still use David Benedict in London and other freelancers.

Legit coverage: It’s part of our heritage, and we will naturally continue. But the recent readers’ survey reminded us that our approach to legit was a throwback to another era.

Since Variety is about business news, our coverage will be smarter, more geared for the industry and less consumer-y…

Newsroom restructuring: Variety editorial is the engine that gives the Variety “brand” its credibility and
importance. Don’t ever forget that. For the readers and advertisers who matter, we are still “the gold standard,” as one reader put it. That comment is both a pat on the back, and a challenge to continue at
that level. We’re raising the bar on our coverage, to make it sharper. Nobody is asking you to work harder, but we all need to work smarter.

Reasons for optimism: The economy will bounce back. Ignore the bloggers (who obviously are trying in vain
to steal our readers and our advertisers), ignore the obits for Old Media, ignore the negatives and the craziness that this economy has created. The people in the Depression bounced back, and so will all of us
who are going through this crisis. I cannot repeat this often enough: Variety is in profit, which means we’re here to stay.

In conclusion: Call our exiting colleagues, just to check in. This is hard for all of us, but it’s harder for them.

Be sensitive to co-workers. Doom-&-gloom helps no one. It may make you feel better to talk about your darkest fears, but it might make them feel worse…

You guys are doing great work. I am constantly impressed with your level of professionalism, hard work, ethics and good humor. As responsibilities and pressures have increased, you have all shown amazing grace.

You should be very proud of yourselves. Which may be the most important paragraph here. (Oh, no, I buried
the lede…)

Thanks.

Tim

To which I’ll add: I worked for Tim Gray at Variety, freelance, for several years (earlier than that, before moving on to another job, I’d been on staff). I like him a lot personally, and found him to be a hard-working professional. It grieves me to see his name attached to this piece of crap; I hope he wrote it with some of the anonymous corporate overloads standing at his shoulder.

That said, referring specifically to Gray’s contention that “Today’s changes won’t be noticed by readers.”

I don’t know how long the New York-based theater guy, David Rooney, has been there, but Todd McCarthy (whom I vaguely know) has been their chief film critic for decades. As a long-time reader, I can tell you that even when I disagreed with him I understood his point of view. Part of that comes from having read enough of him to make the distinction. You don’t get that from freelancers; at least not as much, and not until you’ve seen their bylines a whole lot of times.

McCarthy was one of the paper’s more public faces. He got quoted a lot, and has written extensively on film. (People familiar with McCarthy’s cineaste tendencies won’t be surprised to find that his Wikipedia entry is in French).

This booting of veterans by Variety isn’t without precedent. As I recall, Tony Scott, who covered the television beat for years, successfully sued the publisher for age discrimination after his firing, several years ago,

And he’s not the only long-time employee to get the boot from “The Bible of Show Business” relatively close to retirement age…and, presumably, the attendant benefits. Variety tried to fire long-time columnist Army Archerd, who to many people had been (if only as long-time red carpet guy at the Oscars) “Mr. Variety.”

Such was the outcry that they wound up relegating him to a blog.

But you know whose replacement by freelancers wouldn’t be noticed by readers?

Editors.

(Sharon Waxman of The Wrap chats with McCarthy
The Hot Blog responds to the memo)

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