Back on the 13th, a NYT story, “New Orleans Struggles With Latest Storm, Newspaper Layoffs” by Campbell Robertson, with this passage:
In New Orleans and across the state of Alabama on Tuesday, as part of a basic restructuring of the news business at four papers owned by Advance Publications, scores of employees walked into one-on-one meetings and walked out 10 minutes later with severance packages. They included advertising employees, copy editors, press operators, crime reporters, photographers and graphic artists.
The Web site al.com, the online site for The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times and The Mobile Press-Register, reported that 400 employees in Alabama would “experience an employment loss.”
The Birmingham News had a newsroom of 102 going into Tuesday; by the end of the day 61 were gone. The Times-Picayune laid off more than 200 people, or nearly a third of its overall staff.
I’ll say a bit about the substance of the story, but first a note on the remarkably indirect euphemism for be laid off: experience an employment loss.
The vocabulary in the sensitive domain of employment termination is huge and varied, taking in brief and direct expressions as well as euphemistic and indirect ones, administrativese and everyday language, informal (even coarse) and formal expressions, and dialect-specific variants. Some examples, in their transitive forms:
fire, let go, lay off, downsize, rightsize, make redundant, sack, cashier, shitcan, terminate, pink slip, show the door to, RIF (reduce in force), dismiss, discharge, give notice to, get rid of, give the sack to, boot out, give the boot to, surplus
In some contexts, substantive distinctions are made between some of these variants: laying off vs. firing, for example. And that’s the case for experience an employment loss, which turns out to have a specific legal meaning in the U.S. Code. Excerpts from the preliminary release of the Code:
29 USC § 2101 – DEFINITIONS; EXCLUSIONS FROM DEFINITION OF LOSS OF EMPLOYMENT [preliminary release]
(a) (6) subject to subsection (b) of this section, the term “employment loss” means
(A) an employment termination, other than a discharge for cause, voluntary departure, or retirement,
(B) a layoff exceeding 6 months, or
(C) a reduction in hours of work of more than 50 percent during each month of any 6-month period
… (b) Exclusions from definition of employment loss
… (2) Notwithstanding subsection (a)(6) of this section, an employee may not be considered to have experienced an employment loss if the closing or layoff is the result of the relocation or consolidation of part or all of the employer’s business and …
So the al.com site’s usage was carefully phrased in legal terminology — a move that newspaper readers might not appreciate, though the NYT story did go on to make it clear that the downsizing was paired with a refocusing of the papers’ operations, that some employees would be “invited back” (though in a new position), and that some positions would be filled with new hires:
“We knew two things about our future,” [Jim Amoss, the editor of the Times-Picayune] said. “One, that it would have to be digitally focused, and the other, that we would have to reduce the overall size of the company. And both of those factors played into the decision of how to go forward.”
Who will be invited back and who ultimately laid off? Candidates for being invited back:
“People who know where the bodies are buried, people who know who had what fight with which person 30 years ago,” said Stephanie Grace, an editorial columnist for The Times-Picayune, who was invited to come back as a news reporter. “This is the stuff you need to know in New Orleans.”
Ms. Grace is not the only journalist whose job title will change if she chooses to stay. Several of those who were invited back said they knew little of what to expect, even what their titles meant, and could not get their questions answered.
John Archibald, for example, a columnist for The Birmingham News popular for sending barbs at city and state political figures, was told he could return as a “local buzz reporter.” Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer for The News, has been invited to come back as a “community engagement specialist.”
But many people have indeed experienced an employment loss.