Lavishing: <I>Progress</I> employees get $8 gift


Is it really better to give than receive? For unhappy recipients at the Daily Progress, there's truth to that old adage.

The local daily's parent company, Media General, expects sharply higher than anticipated profits from 2004, and that corporate bounty trickled down to Progress employees in the form of an $8 holiday fixings gift certificate at Kroger, not to be used for alcohol and tobacco.

Some ungrateful wretches at the DP call this largesse "insulting," and are scratching their heads about the message the paper is sending them.

"Frankly, it was embarrassing," says one worker, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing her job. "They could have made it an even $10." This employee used her certificate when she shopped for Thanksgiving dinner. "It didn't take much off my total," she says.

"The thing that's frustrating is the company does so well and it pays its employees so poorly," grouses another who also declined to be identified.

Media General's $15.7 million net income for the third quarter was up 37 percent, and the corporation has announced profits for the year will greatly exceed forecasts.

"I see where profits come from," says yet a third unnamed staffer. "Human resources is where it comes from. They squeeze it from us."

This DPer has no intention of using his $8 gift certificate. 'I want to frame it," he says. "I don't know what planet they're on if they think that's going to make employees happy. If that's all they appreciate us, we're in trouble."

Former Progress reporter Jake Mooney, who now writes for the New York Times, recalls gifts of Thanksgiving turkeys that he traditionally forgot to pick up.

"So many of the things that happen in that office that originate from Media General are demoralizing," says Mooney. "These are people who are working in this job that pays miserably because they like it. All you have is morale."

Mooney, who left the Progress in 2002, says he was making just over $20,000 after two and a half years. And he wonders, why $8? "What can you buy with $8– a box of cereal?"

Publisher Lawrence McConnell holds the answer to that mystery, but he's not talking. "I'm not discussing internal matters here at the newspaper with you," he tells a Hook reporter.

Media General does not have a corporate-wide policy on holiday bonuses. "That would be certainly at the discretion of each newspaper and broadcast station," says Ray Kozakewicz in Richmond, Media General manager of corporate communications.

He also says the alcohol prohibition that prevents DPers from spending their gift certificates on a six-pack or a bottle of wine, perhaps to toast their employers, is also made at local discretion.

"You get the feeling they're trying to be insulting– but you're not sure," muses Mooney. "Maybe they're just inconsiderate."

So with Media General expecting to roll in the dough for 2004, is there any sense of embarrassment at headquarters that Progress employees got a paltry $8 gift certificate? "I really would have to talk to the local manager," says Kozakewicz, who did not receive a holiday bonus from the corporation. [Disclosure: neither did Hook employees.]

Another former Progress employee sees one benefit in the change from the free turkey from holidays past. "It's nice they made it a gift certificate for those who are vegetarian."

And employees have been known to gather the certificates to donate them to the truly needy.

It is hard to figure out the perfect gift, and certainly some Daily Progress employees appreciated the $8 toward their grocery bills. Their worst fear? That next year, the griping might earn each of them a lump of coal in their stocking.

The local daily's attempt at holiday cheer fell flat for some employees.