Monday, May 08, 2017

Gannett lets more people go at its papers but says little about it; columnist boils down the conundrum

Gannett has 109 daily newspapers. Its many weeklies are not shown on this map.
Gannett Co. had another round of layoffs at its newspapers last week, but it and the papers are saying little about it, reports David Uberti of Columbia Journalism Review.

"The scope? Gannett executives refuse to say," Uberti reports. "The corporation has foregone such transparency with its latest round of cutbacks, which come a week after a quarterly earnings report in which publishing revenues fell more than 10 percent compared to the same period last year, excluding acquisitions."

The company is cutting 1,000 jobs, including 600 layoffs, ABC News reported. "The cutbacks represent about 3 percent of the workforce at Gannett's local newspaper division." (UPDATE, May 10: Uberti takes a close look at Gannett and its USA Today Network.)

The Anderson (S.C.) Independent-Mail, one of the former E.W. Scripps Co. papers bought by Gannett, was one of the few papers in the chain to cover its own layoffs, announcing a cut a seven newsroom positions but not giving a total: "The bulk of the positions impacted clerical positions and editing. Keeping a strong group of reporters committed to covering Anderson was important, News Director Steve Bruss said."

"The other paper that covered its own reductions, the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico, similarly omitted the number of remaining staffers." Uberti writes. "While the three journalists it lost is minute relative to the more than 3,000 journalists Gannett employs nationwide, such totals can be sizable bites from small newsrooms. The Santa Fe New Mexican, which also covered the layoff news, put the Sun-News’ editorial staff around 10. The paper’s managing editor also announced her resignation on the same day."

Columnist David Waters of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis wrote a column that didn't mention the latest round of layoffs but referred to a long line of cutbacks: "We're still here, Memphis. Still publishing a Memphis newspaper every day, even though we're printing it up the road in Jackson. Still covering Memphis news, even though we no longer publish a separate daily section marked Local. Still part of the largest -- by far -- news gathering organization in the Memphis area, even though we're a quarter of the size we once were. Still committed to local, independent journalism, even though we've had three out-of-town owners in three years." The Commercial Appeal and the Knoxville News-Sentinel were among the Scripps papers briefly owned by Milwaukee-based Journal Media before it sold to Gannett, which had papers in the Nashville area.

Waters boiled down newspapers' struggle to a few big factors and a statement of principles that seem to be in more conflict than ever: "This is a big lug of an enterprise from an analog, old media world run by Main Street, now trying to make its way in a digital, new media world run by Wall Street. . . . The people who run this news organization -- as well as those in Nashville, Knoxville, Clarksville, Murfreesboro and Jackson -- have a fiduciary duty to manage and protect it for the people who own it. The people here in Memphis who work for this news organization believe we have a higher calling to inform and protect the people who rely on it."

Waters' column was accompanied by a promotional video with music that some might find uplifting but others may hear as vaguely funereal:

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