Daily management, staff clash over end of A&E

by Craig Gustafson

The Minnesota Daily’s Arts and Entertainment editor Laura Czarnecki arrived to work early Wednesday to interview a local theater director for next week’s cover story.
It is a story that will never run.
The newspaper’s Office of the Publisher dissolved the A&E department by midday and, instead of writing her article, Czarnecki spent the afternoon cleaning out her desk.
Management cited consistent financial debt, readers’ surveys and the department’s structural problems as reasons for the removal. Scheduled to begin in mid-November, a trimmed-down entertainment section will appear four times a week with one to two pages per day.
The circumstances of the mass-firing — with no prior notice or A&E participation in the decision-making process — left several Daily employees questioning the decision of the paper’s upper management: Editor-in-Chief Julia Grant, Business Manager Sam Rosen and President Kevin Nicholson.
All three members of the Office of the Publisher said the decision to eliminate the entire department was not easy. They stressed that the quality of the content by A&E employees was not the issue.
“It was set up structurally in an insufficient manner,” Grant said. “(A&E staff) are the ones who had to suffer for things done long ago.”
The Office of the Publisher makes decisions for the success of the Daily long-term. The business manager and editor-in-chief represent business and editorial departments respectively, while the president essentially mediates, looking toward the future.
Student reaction to the end of A&E has been mixed. Several people were unaware or simply didn’t care, but others expressed doubts about the change.
“It’s a given that they won’t be able to make it as comprehensive and I think that might be detrimental to the whole point of having a huge A&E section,” said graduate student Jenn Root.
“It would be different having things on a daily basis,” said graduate student Russ Burdick. “But I don’t know if they can make it as comprehensive as it was.”
On Thursday, a two-hour staff meeting, attended by more than 40 editorial employees, was held to explain the reasoning and decision process.
Many employees expressed confusion, concern and distrust.
“It was a closed-door operation resulting in a decision affecting many, but made by very few,” said associate editor Mark Baumgarten. “That is not the way this paper should operate.”
Czarnecki said A&E employees were given no prior notice as to the decision, or even that such a decision was being considered.
She called the situation a “cloak-and-dagger affair.”
“We’re concerned that this wasn’t properly dealt with in accordance with Daily policies,” she said.
The Office of the Publisher made the official decision to eliminate the department on Monday. They then waited until after the staff had completed Thursday’s edition on Tuesday evening before sending an e-mail calling for a mandatory meeting at 1 p.m. the next day.
Czarnecki was informed at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday about the decision. She was told to inform her staff members, and that the meeting would be a question-and-answer session with upper management.
By the end of the day, all 12 staff members were unemployed.
None of the fired A&E employees are guaranteed positions in the new entertainment section. They will have to apply like any new employee. If accepted, they would be taking a pay cut or work less hours than before.
Business manager Rosen said it was impossible to sell enough advertisements to turn a profit on the extra addition. He estimates that in the past five years, the Daily has lost $50,000 to $150,000 due to the entertainment section, although several other factors contribute to those numbers.
In the past, surplus profits from other departments have buoyed A&E and prolonged its life. The recent increase in paper cost coupled with the Daily’s budget — which has not increased in 10 years — has brought A&E’s plight to a head, Rosen said.
A Daily entertainment section has been in existence for more than 30 years in some form or another. Several name changes and formats later, it took on its most recent form in 1995 with only slight alterations since.
A&E staff member Andrew Knighton has worked off and on with the department for three years. He says the decision is a troubling one for the Daily and the whole University.
“This says culture doesn’t matter and what really matters is money,” he said.
Knighton said the goal of the paper is to train future journalists, not boost the bottom line.
Besides creating an entertainment section with fewer staff and less content, the Office of the Publisher announced the editorial department will receive an additional news section in coming weeks.
It will be positioned in the space vacated by A&E.
Daily president Nicholson said the two decisions are independent of each other.
Czarnecki said although she is upset about the decision, she is more concerned with the way things were handled — most importantly, the lack of input from current A&E staff about the ousting.
“(Grant) claims to be an editorial representative of A&E, but she never communicated to us that we were in crisis,” Czarnecki said.

— Staff Reporter Mike Wereschagin contributed to this report.

Craig Gustafson welcomes comments at (612) 627-4070 x3222. He can also be reached at [email protected]