Gannett CEO Mike Reed told staff in a companywide Q&A session Wednesday that Gannett laid off 3% of its U.S. workforce, or roughly 400 employees, in August, according to three people who attended the meeting.
The announcement comes more than two weeks after Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain with more than 200 papers, executed a round of layoffs starting Aug. 12. Though employees and reporters had repeatedly asked Gannett for information about the scope of the layoffs, the company declined to provide that information until now.
CFO Doug Horne, who was also present at the meeting, told staff that in addition to the layoffs, Gannett would not fill 400 open positions. Executives said the company slashed its marketing budget and made other non-payroll cost reductions, according to two people at the meeting. Gannett also reduced its executive team from 10 members to seven as part of a restructuring announced in June.
Spokesperson Lark-Marie Anton confirmed these announcements but declined to comment further on the meeting. She did not answer questions about who was affected by the layoffs or whether Gannett has more cuts planned for the near future.
The August layoffs started just a week after the company announced it had lost $54 million on revenues of $749 million during its second quarter. That day, Gannett Media president Maribel Perez Wadsworth told staff that the company would make “necessary but painful reductions to staffing.”
It remains unclear how many of the 400 layoffs were journalists and which newspapers and departments were affected.
Poynter, which has been tracking the layoffs, has found at least 68 impacted newsrooms, including flagship paper USA Today.
Of the more than 100 layoffs Poynter has tracked, the vast majority affected non-union newsrooms and staff. Unionized newsrooms that are currently bargaining contracts with Gannett were likely protected from layoffs by federal labor law.
A number of executive editors were laid off, as well as journalists who worked with multiple newsrooms. Non-editorial staff were also affected, including employees who worked in administrative positions and customer service. Some of the journalists who were laid off were among the last reporters left in their newsrooms.
Gannett executives at the meeting did not provide detailed information about which positions and publications were hit hardest by the layoffs. Iowa Public Radio previously reported that the regional editor in the Plains Region told her staff that she was instructed to protect larger metro papers, leading to cuts at smaller publications.
Asked if Gannett was committed to its small and medium-sized publications, Wadsworth said at Wednesday’s meeting that local journalism has never been more important and that in order to have strong journalism, the company also had to have a strong business, according to two attendees.
In the days leading up to the layoffs, the Gannett caucus of the NewsGuild, which represents 1,500 journalists across more than 50 newsrooms, called on the company to reduce executive compensation instead of cutting jobs. They drew attention to the fact that Reed had been paid $7.7 million in 2021 while Gannett’s median salary was $48,419. Reed had also bought $1.2 million worth of Gannett stock, or 500,000 shares, immediately before the layoffs.
Executives addressed both of these facts at the Wednesday meeting, according to screenshots of the Q&A transcript reviewed by Poynter.
Horne explained that a large portion of executive compensation is tied to the company’s performance and that the company’s board of directors works with an outside consultant to set executive pay based on market data from comparable companies.
Meanwhile, Reed said that he had bought those shares to show that he believed in Gannett’s mission.
“I believe in what we do every day across the country in our communities,” Reed said. “I believe in our strategy, and I believe our strategy is going to get us to the place we’re trying to go. It’s going to evolve our business, and we’re going to have a long-term, sustainable and growing business. And third, and most important, the reason I made that investment is I believe in you all.”
Those assurances may not be enough for employees. More than a dozen Gannett newsrooms have unionized in recent years. The day before the companywide meeting, journalists at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, announced they were unionizing.