Oklahoman sells to GateHouse Media, lays off several newsroom staffers

September 27, 2018
Category: Business & Work

The Oklahoman Media Company, the state's biggest, announced today that it was being sold to GateHouse Media — and laid off 37 staffers.

An estimate was that about 15 of those job losses came from the newsroom, though two people agreed to retire.

A story on newsok.com says that the sale will be final Oct. 1.

Employees reported being alerted via email yesterday to a mandatory meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday. They sat through a 35-minute presentation about the sale and upcoming changes before being informed of the layoffs.

Publisher Chris Reen addressed the staffers and said those who'd been laid off had just been notified via email, and their firings were effective immediately.

The entire room then checked their phones, as the meeting disintegrated.

"It was kind of pandemonium, trying to see who was safe and who was gone," one staffer reported. Cuts were made across the organization, including the Oklahoman's digital marketing agency, BigWing, according to people inside the organization.

Newsok.com says Reen will hand off his duties to interim publisher Jim Hopson of GateHouse, while Reen will remain employed with the paper's current owner, businessman Philip Anschutz of Denver.

Editor Kelly Dyer Fry is quoted in the story as saying, “GateHouse is a great owner and we have partnered with them for several years. They allow their local markets to dictate coverage and editorial opinions independently. I am excited for the future and look forward to their leadership and support.”

A call and texts to Dyer Fry were not answered as of publication.

Gatehouse CEO Kirk Davis led part of the presentation. He and other personnel spent some time in the building talking to employees after the announcement. 

He said there were now at least 65 remaining newsroom employees, and that GateHouse was "thrilled" to be acquiring the Oklahoman. 

"We're grateful that we have a chance to operate this paper and add it to our portfolio," he said in a phone call to Poynter on Thursday afternoon.

He emphasized the importance of righting the paper's financials as part of the impending sale. 

"One of the most important things I stressed to the staff," he said, " … that we need to do quickly is stabilize the financial situation at the newspaper."

He declined to elaborate beyond that statement.

GateHouse manages 145 publications and has a presence in 570 markets in 37 states, according to its website.

The Oklahoman was last sold in 2011 to Anschutz. The media company moved to a new space in downtown Oklahoma City in 2015.

It had previously been family owned for more than 100 years by the E. K. Gaylord family.

This story has been corrected to reflect the number of newsroom employees remaining.

This story has been updated to include comments from GateHouse CEO Kirk Davis.