Editor’s note: We’re gathering the names and numbers we can collect about these layoffs here.
Layoffs were underway Friday at Gannett, which merged with GateHouse in late 2019 to become the largest newspaper chain in the U.S. with 261 newspapers in 46 states.
We don’t yet have a clear picture of how many people and positions were affected and will update this story when we do.
It’s unclear if the layoffs are in response to the economic impact of the coronavirus or the result of the merger with Gatehouse, though one source told Poynter the cuts relate to the GateHouse/Gannett integration and that sites with overlap were getting the cuts. Gannett executives told The New York Times in November that they would look for “efficiencies” after the merger.
A Gannett company spokesperson didn’t provide a number or a reason for the layoffs, but did email Poynter this: “We remain steadfast in our efforts to integrate our new company in order to realize the full potential of our combined resources and scale to sustain and preserve quality journalism for the long-term. The moves, while imperative, are tough. The elimination of any job and the loss of valued colleagues is deeply felt.”
Meanwhile, around the country, local and national newsrooms have been hit by furloughs, layoffs and closures because of the coronavirus pandemic.
RELATED: How to navigate the fine print of a layoff
Nathan Papes, a staff photojournalist at the Springfield News-Leader, tweeted, “After more than 10 year at the News-Leader today I was laid off. My official last day is next Friday. It’s been a fun ride Springfield.”
But an hour later, the Springfield News Guild published a release that said Papes’ layoff, as well as that of another News-Leader employee, had been unlawful.
“On Friday Morning, Gannett attempted to illegally lay off two of our members,” the release said. “When we became aware of this action, we notified Gannett that its decision violated our status quo protections under federal law and would not stand. Minutes later, Gannett informed our members they were no longer laid off.”
Papes later tweeted, “A few hours after being told I was laid off I received a phone call saying I was laid off in error and I still have a job. I still haven’t received an explanation as to how this error occurred or an apology.”
In a statement provided to Poynter, Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild-CWA, said:
“The local news industry continues to suffer death by a thousand cuts, and it couldn’t be coming at a worse time. These reporters, and the thousands of others who have lost their jobs in recent weeks, are being taken off the front lines of a global pandemic, preventing them from providing for their families and giving millions of Americans the life-saving information they need. Congress needs to step up in a bipartisan way to stop the bleeding, and help save local news for the long haul.”
Viorel Florescu, a photographer at Gannett’s New Jersey publications, posted on Facebook, “About two hours ago I received a phone call and I was told that today is my last day with Gannett !!! It was a good run! Moving on.”
Travis Dorman, a reporter at the Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel tweeted, “Some sites across New Gannett are seeing layoffs today. The Tennessean lost a talented photographer; the News Sentinel and Commercial Appeal are unaffected. This is said to be the result of the merger, not COVID. Thinking of colleagues dealing with this as they do important work.”
Sean Lahman, a watchdog reporter at the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York, tweeted, “Gannett/Gatehouse is conducting layoffs this morning across the country. Some Rochester folks are among those being impacted.”
Nick Wagner, a photojournalist at the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman, tweeted, “Hey editors! I’m your newest freelancer available for hire in Texas/northern Mexico. I am fluent in Spanish, excel under pressure, & nothing stops me from making photos (just ask Bevo XV). @Gannett just laid me off from @statesman as a result of its latest merger. DMs are open!”
Brandy Beard, a reporter at the Gaston Gazette in Gastonia, North Carolina, tweeted: “Gannett is doing another round of layoffs, me included.”
The layoffs follow furloughs and other cost reductions implemented in response to advertising losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Reporters and editors who earn more than $38,000 are taking one week off, unpaid, on a rotating basis. Executives are also taking a 25% pay reduction and Gannett’s operating CEO, Paul Bascobert, will receive no salary.
In the memo announcing the layoffs and furloughs, sent to staff March 30, Bascobert said:
“By choosing a collective sacrifice, we can keep our staff intact, reduce our cost structure, deliver for our readers and clients and be ready to emerge strong and with opportunity to grow when this crisis passes.”
Kristen Hare covers the transformation of local news for Poynter.org and writes a weekly newsletter on the transformation of local news. You can subscribe here. Kristen can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @kristenhare.
Ren LaForme is Poynter’s interim managing editor and digital tools reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @itsren.
This article has been updated to include comments from Jon Schleuss, President of the NewsGuild-CWA.