TWT Tries to Pave New Road: Three More Layoffs Hit With New Hires on the Horizon


Out with the old. In with the new.

So goes the slow but steady procession of changes happening at TWT since Sam Dealey came aboard as editor in February.

Not surprisingly, some aren’t pleased.

Three more reporters are being laid off this week – a longtime religion writer, Julia Duin (pronounced Deen), a foreign correspondent and a state department reporter will all have their positions eliminated before the week is out. In coming weeks and months, the newspaper will add reporters in the core news area of politics, FishbowlDC has learned.

To be sure, Dealey has faced an uphill battle that hasn’t always endeared him to staff. Over the past several months, some reporters have questioned his style and intentions. They watched as publisher, Jonathan Slevin, was ousted after clashing with Dealey.

On Wednesday publications such as WaPo‘s Story Lab and Mediaite provided accounts of Duin’s layoff – she is a victim of TWT , both publications reported. End of story.

But there is more to it.
FishbowlDC spoke with Duin by phone Wednesday. The conversation was not smooth, moving in fits and starts of Duin claiming to go on and off the record, of claiming to have no warning signs of her layoff. When questioned about the events leading up to her layoff, she expressed discomfort with the interview and repeatedly wanted to know if FishbowlDC would be talking with Dealey. The answer was always yes, I would seek comment from him just as I sought comment from her.

Dealey wrote to FishbowlDC on Wednesday: “The Times is moving forward in a new direction with new priorities. In some instances that necessitates position eliminations, of which Ms. Duin’s was one. We thank Ms. Duin for her years of service and wish her all the best in her future endeavors.”

Duin says she didn’t see the layoff coming, but there were signs. Even she begrudgingly admits this to FishbowlDC and on her blog (Julia’s blog). Duin writes: “I knew things were going south when my articles were either cut in half, tossed out of the print edition or placed in the back of the paper.” She claims she was let go because of a WaPo story by Ian Shapira on May 1 in which she said there were snakes in the newsroom and otherwise disparaged management.

An excerpt from Shapira’s May 1 story:
The finances are so tight that the newspaper hasn’t paid some of its bills or tended to basic maintenance issues — such as hiring an exterminator to deal with mice and snakes sneaking into the building on New York Avenue in Northeast.

“The feeling everyone feels is that it’s a totally rudderless ship,” said Julia Duin, the paper’s longtime religion reporter. “Nobody knows who’s running it. Is it the board of directors? We don’t know. There was a three-foot-long black snake in the main conference room the other day. We have snakes in the newsroom — the real live variety, at least. One of the security people gallantly removed it.”

Continued after the jump.

> Update: Duin had seven front page stories in April, not three as was previously reported.

In December when the wave of TWT layoffs hit, Duin said she was told that her job was intact. She said she was given a new job description that she had to sign. “There was nothing wrong. I had front page stuff all during the month of April. All of a sudden everything just went to hell. You know when you’re in the doghouse.”

Searches reveal that Duin had seven front page stories in April and one in May.

While Duin claims there was no sign of her demise at TWT, she also acknowledges that she watched her stories get shortened and sometimes eliminated. While she says editors spoke to her about problems with her stories, she also says she was told nothing. Duin was told that the religion stories she was writing for the B section of the paper needed to be geared toward A1.

A former TWT staffer says newsroom employees were shocked when Duin made it through that wave of cuts in December. “Bottom line is she’s being let go because she’s not productive and not versatile enough to move into another slot,” the staffer said on condition of anonymity. “We got rid of good people, of actually good reporters and kept her. She was horribly unproductive. She’s a throwback to an old era where we could have a religion reporter. How on earth could she not have seen this coming? Everyone’s job is in jeopardy. The entire newspaper could shut down tomorrow. The newspaper can no longer afford to have a niche reporter like a religion reporter.”

The former staffer also remarked that Duin’s remarks to WaPo regarding snakes in the newsroom and management were not in good taste. “Nobody’s running the show? If you say that sort of thing about your own company, they might fire your ass. That’s not what you’re supposed to say, especially to the press. If you work at IBM and say this company is all f–ked up they’re going to fire you. Maybe you shouldn’t have said the company is all f–ed up.”

Duin insisted Wednesday that she was the only one losing her job this week. “I was the only one packing,” she said. According to Duin’s blog, Dealey called her in and told her that he wanted to take the paper in another direction and that her position was being eliminated. She remarked, “I’m not saying they are going to hire another religion writer. I was made to understand that I was kept on because they wanted a religion beat. It was a real strength of the Times.”

Duin’s other gripe includes being let go on a day in which she brought her daughter to work. Both WaPo and Mediaite highlight the fact that she is on crutches this week after recent surgery.

But TWT management said it wasn’t the snakes that did Duin in, but rather Dealey’s belief that a niche religion reporter is no longer needed.

Duin thinks differently. “Sam isn’t a real verbal kind of guy,” Duin said. “There have been many changes since the first of April. Sam doesn’t exactly tell us what he is thinking.”

Simultaneously, she accuses Dealey of “verbal abuse” but won’t share examples. “Usually there is some displeasure,” she said. “You’re brought in, yelled at, screamed at.”

I asked Duin if her stories being shortened and sometimes eliminated were signs to her that her job wasn’t intact. “Of course it raised alarm bells,” she said.

Why not walk into Dealey’s office and demand answers? “I asked people under Sam,” she said. “They told me some things. Let’s just say I have had some encounters with Sam that were quite unpleasant.”

Duin added, “I’ve had a run in with him. It was not a real cordial one. Let’s leave it at that. I didn’t want a round of the abuse I’d already gotten.”

But few have heard Dealey raise his voice. Jerry Seper, the investigative editor who has been at TWT for 25 years, said in a phone interview Thursday morning that he has never witnessed Dealey raise his voice to Duin or to anyone. “I have not seen him raise his voice. I haven’t seen him be abusive to anyone,” Seper said.

Multimedia Editor Carleton Bryant also spoke with FishbowlDC Thursday morning and was “very” surprised to hear of Duin’s accusation. Asked if he’d ever heard Dealey raise his voice, he replied, “I have never seen him do that.” How would he describe Dealey? “Very even tempered. Very personable. Very knowledgeable.”

TWT reporter Kara Rowland also hasn’t heard Dealey yell at any newsroom employees. “Absolutely not,” she said in a phone interview Thursday morning. “If anything he’s maybe too nice. Since the day he got here, everything I’ve observed about him has been incredibly professional, incredibly friendly. He’s just a nice guy. I have not observed that or anything that would lead be to believe he would be capable of that. He has been incredibly accessible and willing to listen to anything we’ve had to say. He has been nothing but nice and professional and gracious.”

Duin, when asked if she will take any legal action against TWT, replied, “I can’t announce those kind of plans. I can’t comment on that.”

On Duin’s verbal abuse allegations, Dealey said, “Absolute and utter nonsense.”

To get the latest on Duin’s thoughts, click on her blog, “Julia’s blog” here. Her blog still lists her as employed for TWT and notes a number of her other accomplishments.