October 15, 2020

Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper company with more than 250 daily titles, will begin offering another round of newsroom buyouts next week. It has not yet said how many.

The offer will also be extended to Gannett staff in other departments.

The changes were announced by CEO Mike Reed during a companywide virtual town hall Wednesday, two Gannett journalists told me. Letters will begin going out Monday, and more detail is expected then.

In a brief email, Reed confirmed the action but minimized its potential impact. “Voluntary means it’s up to an individual employee to choose. Maybe zero newsroom employees choose it.”

Reed continued as CEO when the parent of the GateHouse chain, which he ran, bought Gannett roughly a year ago (the new company retained the Gannett name).

In Gannett’s last quarterly earnings call with analysts, Reed said that he expected the company to add to its net overall newsroom staffing over the second half of 2020, while looking for savings elsewhere.

“My comments from before stand firm,” he added in the email.

I have found in earlier exchanges on staffing that Reed considers the elimination of some jobs offset by the creation of new jobs to be holding even or increasing the news workforce.

That doesn’t take away the sting for those invited to leave, and the first quick newsroom reactions I picked up were negative.

One editor said, “Letters will be going to people picked out for it, and apparently it will be similar to past GateHouse buyouts. And basically if you get the letter, you are toast.” He added that typically those affected will be offered one week of severance for each year of service, plus a small bonus.

With Gannett’s financial results from the third quarter known internally but not yet reported publicly and the impact of the coronavirus ad recession continuing, I have expected that buyouts, layoffs or furloughs were in the works.

During the first wave of the COVID-19 shock, Gannett instituted a system of rotating weeklong furloughs for most employees, together with temporary pay reductions and suspension of its contributions to 401(k) plans.

Several other large chains quickly adopted variations on Gannett’s plan, and my guess is that the follow-the-leader dynamic will be repeated now.

In his town hall talk, Reed also said that the fourth quarter is off to a good start financially and that the company continues to make progress paying down the large debt it took on to merge the Gannett and GateHouse chains.

The company has said it employs roughly 5,000 journalists at USA Today, the regional papers and other vertical digital sites.

We removed a line about the rotating furloughs occurring in the spring because, in some Gannett newsrooms, they continued for longer. The story has also been changed to reflect that the buyout offer is for all of Gannett, not just the newsroom, and that pending financial results are for the third quarter, not the second.

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Rick Edmonds is media business analyst for the Poynter Institute where he has done research and writing for the last fifteen years. His commentary on…
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