Fun with Dicks and Jane

You’d have to be Jane Musgrave’s age to remember the Dick and Jane children’s books.

Those simple, slender hardcovers taught mid-century Americans to read – and to accept some real traditional gender roles.

Jane Musgrave is anything but traditional. The Palm Beach Post reporter raised her daughter as a single mother and later adopted a son. At 57, she’s still a hard-bitten newspaper reporter, but one who’s embraced new technology so well that her news editor publicly lauded her in a blog post titled, Palm Beach Post social media star: Courts reporter Jane Musgrave.

That was 17 months ago. Last week, Musgrave was offered a “voluntary buyout” that she found slightly compulsory and fairly insulting.

Like many still-struggling newspapers, The Post is past the massive layoffs of the recession (because there aren’t any massive blocks of employees left) and is now targeting its older and more expensive employees. While not illegal, it’s certainly ageist – and a tad sexist and classist, since the mostly male senior executives aren’t being nudged out of their jobs.

It’s also short-sighted, since The Post itself has recently published articles called, Some employers see perks of hiring older workers and Older job seekers have track record, connections on their side.

This over-55 buyout was offered during a clumsy meeting that would’ve assuredly made the paper’s metro front if it happened at any other large local company. It’s no secret that newspapers have been informally forcing out older reporters for while, but this is the first such targeted buyout I’ve heard of. Then again, I don’t get out much.

But when Musgrave offered to tell her story, I was moved. Not only does she tell it well, she’s brave enough to put her name on it. Here it is…

My dad went kicking and screaming into forced retirement at age 75. My mom, unfettered by similar hang-it-up-now rules, retired at age 76.

This week, at age 57, I was told via email that I was a geezer who was surely ready to embrace those carefree days of golf and bridge games. Never mind that I loved my job, had expected to follow in my parents’ footsteps and had failed to learn the finer points of either of those otherwise fun-sounding pursuits.

Like roughly 40 other designated geezers at The Palm Beach Post, I was offered a “voluntary buyout.” All of us earned the designation by passing what otherwise didn’t seem like an important milestone: our 55th birthdays.

While I was out covering a trial and unable to attend the invitation-only geezer gathering, I’m told publisher Tim Burke said we were targeted because many of us had surely contemplated retirement and, if not, could probably use the skills we honed during decades in the news business to land other jobs.

The publisher, who turns 55 this month, doesn’t have to fret. As a bonus of his position, Burke isn’t being forced to contemplate his own carefree days of golf, bridge and frustrating (if not fruitless) job-hunting. And apparently, he hasn’t been paying attention to what all of us old farts have been doing the last several years.

Most of us have been working our asses off, hoping the economy improves and someone in the brain trust comes up with a way to save the business we love. While we wondered whether it could be done by posting videos of fender benders, dogs playing with babies and soft porn on our web site, we believed if we worked hard enough to cover for the colleagues we lost in the last wave of buyouts, we might have a fighting chance.

Instead, we are now faced with age warfare.

Since the emails went out, younger reporters have looked at us like fellow passengers on the Titanic. If we don’t jump overboard with our buyout packages in hand, there will be no room for them on the life rafts. Instead of us, the iceberg will be heading at them.

Some among them have graciously questioned the legality of targeting what we have dutifully learned is a “protected class.” However, as my friends in employment law and countless other geezer reporters at countless other newspapers know, if there’s one thing newspaper managers know, it’s the law.

By calling the program “voluntary,” it’s all perfectly legal. There are rules, of course. But as long as they don’t include packets of Geritol in the buyout packages or joke about the health care costs they’ll save on Viagra prescriptions they can decide one day that the life rafts are full and the geezers must go.

Even if it’s not legal, some legal advisers say, do you want to spend the rest of your life in court, proving you were wronged but right? Age discrimination cases take years. Make golf, not law.

Oddly, various publications have reported a reversal of the time-honored trend of getting rid of older workers who are more likely to command higher salaries. Some companies actually value experience and remember there’s a reason they pay experienced employees more. Many work faster and smarter. They teach younger workers the sometimes confusing tools of the trade.

A human resources manager said he preferred layoffs for that reason. Layoffs can target obsolete jobs and lazy or unproductive workers. They can cut the proverbial dead wood. Voluntary buyouts are scatter-shot. Managers don’t know who will leave or who they will be left with. Sometimes, he said, the results aren’t pretty. And neither is this.

In about three weeks, the results at The Post will be in. The jury is out on whether Burke will hit his goal of watching 15 to 20 of us grab our canes and limp out the door.

Times are still tough. We learned from the last round of buy-out victims that quick cash doesn’t cover long-term losses. Many who reluctantly, but hopefully, took the buyout five years ago are now freelancing for pennies on the dollar with no health insurance or paid vacations.

But the buyout then seemed fairer somehow. Anyone who had worked at the paper for at least five years was eligible. We lost young reporters and old editors and all ages in between.

This time, it’s only part of the newsroom that’s under fire. My forced retirement is another reporter’s job security. If the requisite number of designated oldsters don’t leave, younger reporters and editors, along with some older ones who don’t accept the buyouts, will be ushered out the door under far less favorable terms – one week of pay per year instead of two.

Many in our beleaguered business got nothing but the door. I understand that.

But whether we get the door with a so-called generous buyout or a door that leads to the unemployment office there’s no indication that this call for (in truly news-speak) voluntary or involuntary volunteers will be the last. And the way our geezer-first deal is structured, there’s no incentive for those left behind to dig deeper, write tighter and push harder, knowing that the payoff is that they’ll be spared.

The lesson? All it takes is to be born in the wrong year.

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  • Nancy

    At least those reporters will get buyouts. My paper offered me a voluntary buyout, which I accepted, but then they told me they didn’t have to accept my acceptance, and they weren’t. Then they made my life miserable until I quit, receiving no severance, no health care, no outplacement counseling, no nothing, after 21 years of service including returning to that newspaper after I had successfully battled cancer.

    So it could be worse. But thanks for sharing, Jane. They truly are dicks.

  • Nancy:

    Hey, I’m the guy who runs this blog. I’d love to share your story, too. If you’re up to it.

    Just over 1,000 people read Jane’s just yesterday. Why? Let’s face it, newspapers aren’t going to cover their own controversies with the same vigor they cover others. So this might be the only place to learn about what’s really happening in the trenches, outside of a few Facebook posts among friends.

    Feel free to email me at And from one cancer survivor to another, Nancy: Hang tough.


  • Mary McLachlin

    Jane Musgrave is EVERYTHING a newspaper needs and should value in a reporter — smart, energetic, articulate, hard-working and packing a wealth of local knowledge and institutional memory in her remarkable brain. What a dismal future our once honorable industry is creating for itself, forcing people like her to abandon the work they love and do best, when they have so much more to contribute. We watch in despair as the ship continues to sink; at some point, it will have nothing — and nobody — left to throw overboard.

  • Sam

    Yep, they are living up to their name Cox!

  • Randy

    Jane u r a writer write a tell all! That would be fun weekend reading!

  • George

    Let’s face it: newspapers are going the way of the LP, 8-track, cassettes and now CDs. Newspapers are not relevant anymore. Anyone under 30 (probably 35 now) don’t care or want a newspaper. You can get the news you are interested in online or on your mobile device. What gives newspapers the right to decide what the reader should read? With the internet you get a choice of what you are interested in instead of the latest court murder trials, DUIs and sex crimes. People don’t care about that. What they do care about is what is happening in their communities. The Post is full of news about WPB, but has nothing on the communities surrounding it (they once did, with 5 or 6 local editions, with reporters and photographers in bureaus, but not anymore). That is why publications like the Coastal Star and the Town Crier are flush with local news. That is what people want. That is why they are flourishing and they can easily tap into the journalists who left the Post in the last 3 buyouts. The front page is full of NYT stories (which we get online) and 3 days a week the local section has a half page ad (Accent and Sports sometimes as well). Wonder if any of the “old” sports guys are getting the buyout. Seems as if Mr. Publisher has placed all his old cohorts in prime newsroom positions anyway. Sure it sucks you have to take the offer or retire when you don’t want to. You should have read the writing on the wall during the last 3 purges. What’s coming next? Cox sells the property to a commercial developer and moves what’s left of the operation (maybe two editors, 5 reporters and 1 photographer) into a strip mall. Get over it. Your career is over. There is life after newspapers.

  • Ginny

    Canceling my subscription.
    I worked sixteen years at the Boca News. Watched it dismantled and sunk by greedy know nothings. Watched the Sun Sentinel become a worthless waste of newsprint. Loved the Post. Now I will read my news on line. Cancel subscription to the resurrection.

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  • Villager

    We at the Village have seen the decline of the Post accelerated by the mismanagement of it in Atlanta. A stupid roll out of the pay website without adequate testing was the latest gaff. So many good people have left, been forced out or fired there is not enough talent left to cover the local news as it should be covered. There are still a few excellent reporters hanging on and doing their best. Jane Musgrave is a great person and reporter. She will be missed. PS to Ms. Highwater: Would you rather be in a foxhole with Jane and others like her or the folks in Atlanta?

  • Caroline

    To George and others who use the same argument —

    Where do you think the online and mobile stories come from, if not from a newsroom? Whether you call it a newspaper or a media website, it’s using reporters, who more and more are being forced out.

  • SGCampbell

    What’s sad when we lose experienced people like Jane is that we are razing local newspapers in a way the industry will never recover from. This isn’t Sherman burning Atlanta – which many Posties may be for right now. This is salting Carthage so nothing ever grows again. Bloggers and local weeklies, try as they might, don’t usually have the space, budget or experienced writers and editors to dig into local, county and state governments and keep them honest. Let me put it this way. I’m an ex-Postie, but now I work in DC doing press. Several years ago, I got a call from a local reporter who was completely puzzled that state senators and U.S. Senators were different. Fortunately, she had an editor who knew the difference. But that reporter was in the vanguard of the stupidity slouching its way up the ladder. And, given what we see in these buyouts, by now she is probably an editor. Be afraid. Be very afraid!

    Good luck Jane!

  • SGCampbell

    Oh! And hat’s off to whoever did the graphics on this.

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  • Downhill PBSO

    Jane Musgrave is a reporter who uses her position to benefit sleazy politicians and other corrupt individuals who can make her life easier. You can tell these select politicians when her story wreaks of bias, back patting and her knowingly attributing false facts to someone else. I suspect this is the primary reason she has been asked to leave.

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