'Layoff' is an understandably dirty word around The New York Times newsroom(s) these days. As the company prepares to finalize the sale of its Regional Media Group to Halifax Media Holdings this week, both The New York Times Company and Halifax are tip-toeing around using the six-letter word to describe what could soon happen to a bunch of journalists. In a memo leaked to Jim Romenesko, the Times Company explained to its regional employees a pretty grizzly detail about Halifax's planned takeover of the Regional Media Group, which includes local papers across the country. Emphasis ours:

4. What is the process for determining who will be hired?
Halifax has decided who it will hire. Again, you will be notified within the next 48 hours whether the buyer will be offering you employment. The New York Times Company has not been involved in that decision.

Layoffs and acquisitions often go hand in hand, so it's not a huge surprise that Halifax is picking and choosing who it brings into its salaried embrace. It's also unclear whether Halifax is planning to rehire journalists, business staff, or both. But let's be honest: Regardless of whether you write articles or sell ads for a Times Company Regional newspaper, Halifax saying you will be notified if you will receive a job offer is a very polite way of saying that you'd better get ready to lose your job. Another warning sign comes from the note at the top of the memo from the Times Company vice president in charge of compensation and benefits. "You and your family members may also contact the Company’s Work/Life Assistance Program through Corporate Counseling Associates by calling (800) 833-8707, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and speak with a professional counselor confidentially," Susan Murphy wrote. Once again, being offered counseling is not a good sign for any given employee's job security.

We spoke to a source who works for one of Regional Media Group papers, and he described the mood in his newsroom as mixed. "I would say right now the mood is apprehensive, although at [my paper], there's some very cautious optimism, at least on [the] news side," said the source, who shall remain anonymous so as not to hurt his chances of being hired by Halifax. "Everything is pretty up in the air, and I personally haven't been contacted by Halifax," he told The Atlantic Wire. "It's basically wait and see and hope for the best."

You can just imagine what the other Regional Media Group employees are thinking right now. Maybe: At least The Times waited until after Christmas to break the bad news! Or: Boy, I can't wait to see how small my severance package is compared to what my soon-to-be-former employer just paid to push out its chief executive. (Spoiler: it cost nearly $20 million for The New York Times Company to get rid of Janet Robinson and fund buyout packages for a baker's dozen of its veteran newsroom employees.) We realize we're stretching our ability to speculate about what's going on in the heads of the hundreds of journalists waiting for Halifax's judgment day, but we're pretty sure that the group of Times newsroom employees who recently signed an open letter protesting the company's treatment of its employees (specifically the company's habit of freezing pension benefits) weren't thrilled to hear about the possibility of more journalists losing their jobs. 

The New York Times Company, meanwhile, has been careful to push back against the idea that it will have any say in who Halifax does or doesn't layoff. "Halifax agreed to offer employment to the vast majority of employees," Abbe Serphos, the company's executive director of corporate communications, told us in an email. Adding the same line we read in the leaked memo, "The New York Times Company has not been involved in that decision."

It's unclear how much The New York Times Company and Halifax discussed the future of the regional papers in its negotiations. Once again, it's worth considering that Halifax might just rehire everybody. (Suggested subject line for that memo: "Happy New Year! You still have a job.") We ought to know on Thursday, though, when our source will find out whether or not his fellow employees were being a little reckless with their optimism. 

The Full Memo from The New York Times Company to employees of its Regional Media Group:

December 27, 2011

Dear Regional Media Group Colleague,

Today The New York Times Company announced that it intends to sell the properties within the Regional Media Group. Since it is understandable that this change can be cause for concern regarding your future employment with The New York Times Company, we prepared this letter and the attachment, Frequently Asked General Questions for Regional Media Group Employees, to assist you. Please review the attachment and feel free to contact the Shared Services Center with your questions by calling 800-900-8698.

You and your family members may also contact the Company’s Work/Life Assistance Program through Corporate Counseling Associates by calling (800) 833-8707, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and speak with a professional counselor confidentially.

Sincerely,
Susan Murphy

December 27, 2011

Frequently Asked General Questions for Regional Media Group Employees

1. Why are you selling the Regional Media Group?

While it was not planned, we were approached by Halifax Media Holdings LLC. We are pleased that the newspapers will be sold as a unit and that Halifax Media Holdings anticipates offering employment to the vast majority of employees. The sale of our Regional Media Group will enable The New York Times Company to continue our transformation to a multi-platform media company and further sharpen our focus on the development of our brands nationally, globally and in the northeastern U.S.

2. Does Halifax currently have any newspaper assets?
Yes, Halifax Media Holdings owns the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

3. How many employees will be retained by Halifax?
That decision will be made by Halifax, but they have committed to making offers of employment to the vast majority of employees. You will be notified within the next 48 hours whether the buyer will be offering you employment.

4. What is the process for determining who will be hired?
Halifax has decided who it will hire. Again, you will be notified within the next 48 hours whether the buyer will be offering you employment. The New York Times Company has not been involved in that decision.

5. Will all employees be given their same jobs?

That decision will be made by Halifax, but the requirement is that the job be comparable.

6. Will there be any changes made to the properties?
That decision will be made by Halifax.

7. Will the buyers reduce headcount?
That decision will be made by Halifax.

8. Will the RMG employees receive severance?
Those benefits-eligible employees not offered comparable jobs by the buyer will be eligible to receive severance from The New York Times Company. The severance will be one week for every six months of service, with a cap of 26 weeks.

9. Will employees who do not become employees of Halifax Media Holdings be eligible for other jobs at The New York Times Company?
You are free to apply for any open positions with The New York Times Company, but overall the Company has reduced its staffing. Please note that if Halifax Media Holdings offers any benefits-eligible employee a comparable job by the closing of the sale and you reject it, you will not be eligible for severance.

10. When will we meet the buyer?
An exact date has not yet been determined, but we anticipate they will soon be providing information about employment and benefits.

11. Should I plan to look for another job?
We cannot advise employees on their personal, professional decisions.

12. What was the sale price?

$143 million, subject to certain adjustments.

13. When is the sale expected to close?
It is expected to close in a few weeks.

14. Are you planning to sell other Times Company properties?

As you know, it is our long-standing policy not to comment on acquisitions and divestitures.

Except for the historical information contained herein, the matters discussed in this document are forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those predicted by such forward-looking statements. These risks and uncertainties include national and local conditions, as well as competition, that could influence the levels (rate and volume) of retail, national and classified advertising and circulation generated by the various markets, material increases in newsprint prices and the development of digital businesses. They also include risk factors detailed from time to time in The New York Times Company’s publicly filed documents, including its Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 26, 2010. The New York Times Company undertakes no obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statement, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.