Dallas Morning News lays off 20 newsroom employees

January 7, 2019

The newspaper industry took another hit Monday as one of the country’s biggest and most-respected publications underwent major cuts.

The Dallas Morning News eliminated 43 jobs, with nearly half coming in the newsroom. Its leaders say it was necessary to lay the groundwork for aggressive investment in technology to boost the Morning News’ digital products. But the move comes just as the paper’s owner, A.H. Belo Corporation, was expecting dreary fourth-quarter financial results from 2018.

In a statement, A.H. Belo’s chief financial officer Katy Murray said, in part, “We believe these steps are key to making the transition to a dynamic journalistic entity that can thrive in the digital world.’’

Meanwhile, Morning News publisher and president Grant Moise, in a separate statement, said, “After considerable thought and analysis, our management team has determined that our business in the future is largely supported by subscription revenue and the need for more aggressive investment in our digital products.’’

Belo said the company will be “creating 25 roles’’ to achieve upcoming goals, but did not elaborate. Moise did not respond when asked about the creation of 25 new roles.

The 43 cuts represent about 4 percent of the 978 employees working for  A.H. Belo Corporation.

The notable names of the 20 let go in the newsroom included veteran culture critic Chris Vognar, who had been at the paper for 23 years.

“Any journalist who has been doing this long enough can’t be that shocked when this happens,’’ Vognar said when reached by phone Monday afternoon. “It’s the reality of the business, unfortunately. It’s awful for those it happens to.’’

Other cuts, according to social media, included news writers Tasha Tsiaperas, Jeff Mosier and Dianne Solis, features writer Brendan Meyer and photographer Louis deLuca.

Tsiaperas tweeted, “Hi, Twitterverse, I was one of these people. I do hope these layoffs don’t turn you off to local journalism. It needs your support now more than ever. Hopefully I’ll still be seeing y’all around.

On Facebook, part-time DMN music critic Kelly Dearmore wrote, “So many great talents and cool people will be looking for a new gig today.’’ On Twitter he wrote, “It’s been a dream come true to write for the paper, but I’m also really sad so many of my friends there have also lost their job.’’

According to the Morning News, through the first nine months of 2018, revenue for A.H. Belo declined nearly 19 percent from same period the previous year — from $184.55 million to $149.77 million.

That’s why Monday’s news didn’t come as a total shock, even to those laid off.

“Really, you just had to look at the quarterly reports from last year to see that the start of this year wasn’t going to be much fun,’’ Vognar said.

The Morning News reported Monday that, at the end of 2018’s third quarter, A.H. Belo Corporation had $58.47 million in cash and no debt. It also had put the former downtown Morning News building up for sale and a developer signed a contract to pay $33 million for the historic structure. The developers were hoping to, according to the Morning News, land one of the exclusive Amazon second headquarters projects, which would have been a big boost to the Morning News finances.

But the deal fell through when Amazon decided to split its second homes between New York City and Washington, D.C. The old Morning News building remains empty and up for sale.

Here are the full official statements about Monday’s layoffs.

“In 2019, we are committed to aligning the Company’s investments and resources with the goal of becoming the best possible subscriber-first digital organization. Today, The Dallas Morning News announced internally that it is realigning resources by eliminating 43 existing roles within the organization and creating 25 roles to support this goal. In 2019 The News is also investing in technology platforms that support subscribers’ online experience and enhance customer service at every level. We believe these steps are key to making the transition to a dynamic journalistic entity that can thrive in a digital world.” — Katy Murray, Chief Financial Officer, A. H. Belo

“We are focused as a company on building The Dallas Morning News so it is positioned for success.  After considerable thought and analysis, our management team has determined that our business in the future is largely supported by subscription revenue and the need for more aggressive investment in our digital products. We are rebalancing our financial resources to support these new foundational elements so we are positioned for success and can deliver quality journalism for many years to come.’’ — Grant Moise, President and Publisher, The Dallas Morning News