Houston Chronicle To Employees: No Raises, But Enjoy The Barbecue & 5k Runs

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The Houston Chronicle, like many if not all print-journalism outlets, is still trying to adjust to the ever-changing conditions that have been thrust on it.

Fear not: The paper has undertaken a campaign designed to make it one of the "Top 50 Places to Work in Texas."

How it's reportedly getting there, well, that's another matter.

Memos have gone out (see one at the end of the item) and meetings -- many, many meetings -- have been held between management and staffers.

The memo speaks for itself, in the standard corporate-speak that always seems to be used in these things. The meetings, though, have resulted in some bruised feelings, possible misunderstandings, and a growing sense of frustration, disbelief and paranoia at 801 Texas (the kind of paranoia that leads to staffers airing complaints only through third parties, for instance, for fear of losing a job.)

The takeaway some employees have gotten from the meetings: No more raises.

As in "ever." Instead staffers will be eligible for merit bonuses from a pool.

-- Execs reportedly told employees they didn't want future budgets saddled with raises, so the bonus-payment system is preferable. Apparently the first round of bonuses will come in January.

-- But all is not lost; the perks just got better! As in -- and this is what we're told, we swear we are not making this up -- occasional barbecue catering for the newsroom! And an enhanced chance to get that team spirit by running with fellow Chronsters in 5K runs and to play with them on softball teams.

-- Also coming out of the meetings: Some employees are being reclassified as salaried, which means no overtime. Unfortunately for some, we're told that change took effect just as the Chronicle was making the transition to its highly hyped (and kinda meh) redesigned webpage, and when the inevitable glitches occurred some (possibly just one) newly designated employee had to come in on the weekend to fix things, without getting overtime.

-- There's also been some grumbling that the most noticeable aspect of the redesign is to hide reporters' bylines while highlighting columnists' bylines, but such a star system wouldn't be all that unusual. Even if it would be, again, frustrating for the grunts pumping out the reams of copy needed to feed the web beast.

To be sure, some of the message between management and staff might have been garbled or misunderstood in the delivery -- we're thinking that if you hear "no raises" and "barbecue" strung close together, you tend to lose focus and concentrate on the negative from that point on.

We asked Chronicle editor Jeff Cohen for clarification. He didn't want to get bogged down in details (at all) but did acknowledge a somewhat mixed reception to the ideas set out:

More than 1,200 people work at the Chronicle. As you might expect, we heard a wide range of comments after company-wide meetings. Many people came away excited by the plans; others had ideas that we could build on. The goal here is to be transparent and to involve all of our associates in the process.

Regarding your chron.com question, we're excited about the new design and will continue to work to improve it.

If any Chronicle folks want to add/elucidate, pound away in the comments or Facebook or e-mail. The memo from this summer:

From: Stephenson, Tom (HC) Sent: Thursday, July 26, 2012 9:46 AM Subject: How we're going to make the Houston Chronicle one of Texas' top 50 best workplaces

Dear Chronicle colleague,

Becoming one of the Top 50 Places to Work in Texas is going to take talent, ambition, creativity, vision, planning, tenacity, moxie, and flawless execution. The Houston region continues to lead the nation in economic growth and diversity, with most leading indicators suggesting innovation and investment will continue to thrive, and we are poised to both hasten and benefit from these fair winds.

Realizing a shared vision as the region's preeminent media company begins - and ends - with our people. To do so, we expect contribution and engagement from every level in every department in the organization, so let's start with the blueprint. To facilitate, attached is a high-level summary of our Houston Chronicle Media Group's three-year strategic plan. Please plan to spend some time with it, including how your daily actions can and will contribute to the future success of it.

As the host of our region's great conversations and challenges, we can't expect to remain a dynamic, thriving media organization without recognizing the significant changes facing all industries, particularly media, even amidst improving economic conditions. And while change can be uncomfortable, we will need to both embrace and create unique opportunities, taking full advantage of the relationship we enjoy with our parent company, Hearst, and drawing from the vitality of the great region of Houston as we do so.

We've scheduled a series of interactive employee large group meetings to share the details of our plan. Expect a short overview of highlights, with plenty of time for questions and answers. Because we want to keep the meetings to an hour, please feel free to help us shape our discussion by submitting any questions you have in advance to townhall@chron.com.

The meetings will take place onsite over several days next month, with morning and evening sessions both downtown and at the southwest facility. You'll be receiving a separate invitation by email; please RSVP so proper logistic arrangements can be made. Given the subject matter, we want all employees to be encouraged to attend.

We look forward to opening more lines of feedback and allowing for more transparency within our organization. To that end, while you'll be seeing an increase of communications from us, we thank you in advance for treating this as an internal, confidential document.

Thank you for your heightened dedication to the Chronicle Media Group. We have great opportunities ahead of us, and our success is directly tied to you.


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