April 26, 2017

Earlier this month, the staff of the East Bay Times won a Pulitzer Prize for their breaking news coverage of the Oakland Ghost Ship Fire. Last week, their editor informed them of coming newsroom layoffs.

“The timing’s unfortunate coming after the Pulitzers, but the alternative would be not to have told people as soon as we knew what the schedule would be,” said Neil Chase, executive editor of the Bay Area News Group, which includes the East Bay Times and The San Jose Mercury News.

Chase declined to say how many staffers are being laid off but said the change is coming as the Digital First Media-owned newsroom is consolidating design operations.

The consolidation will mean a loss of 20 positions, according to the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Last year, the Bay Area News Group lost 11 copy editing positions.

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Digital First Media isn’t the first corporate news organization to consolidate its design and copy editing. Gannett, Gatehouse and McClatchy have all created centralized hubs for newspaper production in recent years. Earlier this year, The Dallas Morning News outsourced print production and cut 25 newsroom positions.

Pulitzer-winning newsrooms aren’t immune from layoffs, of course, or from losing people because of the pressures facing the industry.

Two Pulitzer Prize winners from 2015 left journalism for jobs in public relations before receiving their awards. Rob Kuznia, who contributed to an education exposé for The Daily Breeze, departed the Los Angeles County newspaper for a job at the University of Southern California before he won the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting. Natalie Caula Hauff was already working as a media relations coordinator for Charleston County government when she received word that her old employer, the Charleston Post and Courier, won the Public Service Pulitzer for a story she helped with. And in 2016, Brian Gleason had already left the Charlotte Sun to work in county government before sharing in that paper’s Editorial Prize win.

At East Bay, Chase hedged on the numbers because some new jobs are coming that might help offset the loss, he said.

“Is it a bad time for this? Sure,” he said. “Is there a good time for this? No.”

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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