Gannett lays off journalists across the country

January 23, 2019
Category: Business & Work

(This story is still developing and will be updated.)

Another brutal day for journalism.

Gannett began slashing jobs all across the country Wednesday in a cost-cutting move that was anticipated even before the recent news that a hedge-fund company was planning to buy the chain.

The cuts were not minor.

At the Indianapolis Star, three journalists were laid off, including well-known columnist Tim Swarens. At the Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel, University of Tennessee women’s basketball reporter Dan Fleser is out after more than 30 years in sports. The Tennessean cut three positions, including high school sports reporter Michael Murphy. Traci Bauer, executive editor of LoHud (New York), was let go.

Six were laid off at The Record in North Jersey after nine took an early retirement buyout earlier this month. 

On and on it continued.

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Four were let go at the Westchester (New York) Journal News. Four were let go at the Ventura County (California) Star. Five were let go at The Citizen Times in Asheville, North Carolina.

The Arizona Republic laid off two, including cartoonist Steve Benson, the 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner for cartooning and a finalist for the award four other times.

News of the layoffs leaked out on Twitter and across newsrooms on Wednesday afternoon and continued well into the night, with reports of cuts at the Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller-Times, the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the Fort Myers (Florida) News-Press and USA Today’s travel section. It’s still unclear how many journalists and how many news outlets were impacted. Gannett did not respond to a request for comment.

So, do Wednesday’s cuts have anything to do with the a possible sale of Gannett to Digital First Media? Probably not.

“I don’t know how many newsroom jobs Gannett is cutting, but the move it is hardly surprising with a bad fourth quarter financially to be reported soon and more of the same expected for the first part of 2019,’’ said Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for Poynter. “These cost reductions are typically planned at the end of the year, then carried out in January.  So I doubt the layoffs and buyouts have anything to do with the Digital First takeover bid.’’

However, Bernie Lunzer, president of The NewsGuild-CWA, laid the blame partly on Digital First Media.

In a statement to Poynter, Lunzer wrote, “Gannett is choosing the low road here — a direct result of the hostile efforts at a takeover by Digital First Media. DFM is once again causing grievous harm to an industry it pretends to be a steward of. Both companies have lost sight of the critical product they are meant to provide — journalism. Newsrooms that could be preserved are being decimated for Wall Street when there are productive paths forward. Let’s find a way to sell these properties to the communities they serve before it’s too late.”

Whom to blame didn’t make the news any less depressing for those in the business and, particularly, those impacted.

Jaci Smith, who worked at the News Journal Media Group in Delaware, tweeted:

“25 years in the industry and it’s over after a 10-minute chat in a sterile conference room. My heart aches for journalism and all my fellow #gannett colleagues who were laid off today. #journalismmatters’’

Kristi Nelson, president of the Knoxville Newspaper Guild, told the State of Newspapers, “It’s distressing to once again be mourning staff cuts in our newsroom. Not only do our hearts go out to our colleagues, we acknowledge that the loss of any trained, professional journalist is a loss to our readers as well; one less voice speaking on behalf of the community we cover.’’

Nelson said the News Sentinel has lost more than 45 journalists and editors through layoffs and early retirement buyouts since 2007. Also included in Wednesday’s cuts were content strategist Amy McDaniel and Charlie Daniel, a cartoonist who had been at the paper since 1982 and has been writing and drawing cartoons in Knoxville for 50 years.

“There is no way to overstate the impact of these Gannett-wide cuts on our ability to cover the community with the depth and breadth we expect and that our readers deserved,’’ Nelson said. “While those of us still in the newsroom remain committed to cover this region the very best we can with the resources we have left, we have to ask: How many more?’’

In Indianapolis, Swarens tweeted out:

“I was told a few minutes ago that @indystar has laid me off. I’m in shock. Not how I wanted 35 year journalism career to end.’’

Another big name is out at the IndyStar: writer and editor Amanda Kingsbury, a 10-year veteran of the paper, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal.  Just a few weeks ago, six longtime IndyStar employees took buyouts.

On her Facebook page, Kingsbury wrote a lengthy touching post despite being laid off. In it, she wrote:

“I know it sounds cliche, but please support your local journalists by subscribing. Try to overlook the typos. And all the ads that slow down your reading experience.”

She went on to write that without the work of the IndyStar, former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar would still be molesting young women. She concluded by urging people to subscribe to the paper, with a link to how to subscribe.

“Don’t tell me you can’t afford it,” she wrote.

The layoffs also reached the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York. Reporter Sean Lahman tweeted out:

“Layoffs at Gannett papers across the county today, including here in Rochester.’’

Wednesday’s news comes just two weeks after Gannett received an unsolicited proposal to be bought by MNG Enterprises, better known as Digital First Media. Gannett owns USA Today and 109 other local media companies. Digital First, which owns the Denver Post and Boston Herald among other papers, wants to buy Gannett for $1.36 billion.

Correction: An earlier version of this story included information about buyouts at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which is not a Gannett property.
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