Bruce Murphy
Back in the News

More Journal Sentinel Buyouts

At least a dozen more journalists are being let go. And insiders expect some editors will be added to list.

By - Oct 17th, 2014 12:50 pm
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Journal Sentinel Headquarters

It has become a sad and depressing task to tally the ever-mounting body count at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  More layoffs were inevitable, I wrote in July, as a result of the buyout of Journal Communications by the E.W. Scripps company.

The ugly task of realizing “efficiencies” often falls to the current editor as he or she awaits the arrival of the new management. Which in this case means Journal Sentinel editor Marty Kaiser has had to let staff know — for the umpteenth time over the last eight years or so — that more staff have to choose a buyout, or the editors will pick the people to go.

I’m told that the editors wanted 15 volunteers. I’m also told the likely list of departures includes Duane Dudek, Don Walker, Georgia Pabst, Alan King, Mabel Wong, Jan Uebelherr, Gary Porter, Bob Wolfley, Greg Pearson, Tom Tolan, Michael Hunt and Mike Juley.

The biggest names here are TV and movie writer and columnist Duane Dudek, sports columnist Bob Wolfley, and former longtime sports columnist Michael Hunt, who more recently has mostly been a sports reporter. Sports is so important to the newspaper’s readership that cuts have come more lightly there, so the layoff of these two suggests how drastic things are getting.

Walker has been doing a fine job, among other things, of covering the city, partly I suspect, in reaction to Urban Milwaukee’s city coverage. Pabst has long been the paper’s go-to person for covering social service groups and the Hispanic community, which again mostly involves coverage of the city. Together those two, along with Tolan, take with them much of the institutional memory of this community.

Porter is a talented, veteran photographer. Wolfley has been a favorite of mine, a sports columnist with a strong voice who is fun to read.

Most of the people on this list are reaching retirement age and the buyout is probably a good deal. But for the newspaper it’s a loss. (I contacted Kaiser and publisher Betsy Brenner to confirm or deny this story and have heard nothing; I’ll update as I hear more.)

The purchase of Journal Communications will result in a separate newspaper combining the Journal Sentinel with newspapers owned by Scripps, to be called Journal Media Group, and combining the radio and TV stations owned by Journal Communications under E. W. Scripps. A recent Business Journal story by Rich Kirchen quoted Scripps CEO Rich Boehne rhapsodizing about the new broadcast empire this will create. “Television is one of the greatest businesses that God ever created,” he declared. “I mean, it’s just a fabulous business.”

Newspapers, by contrast, have become the ugly duckling of the media. Boehne predicted more consolidation in the print industry and wouldn’t rule out layoffs at the Journal Sentinel.

None of the higher-level editors (and there is still a pretty long list) at the JS are included in the list above of likely departures. As Scripps merges its print operations and editorial higher-ups with those at the Journal Sentinel, how will this shake out? I’m told that Kaiser and Managing Editor George Stanley are worried about their own fate. They have operated as an effective team for a very long time.

Meanwhile the Journal Sentinel buildings are like a ghost town, with most of the facilities empty. Just ten years ago the place was booming with activity and profits. It’s a sad story indeed.

18 thoughts on “Back in the News: More Journal Sentinel Buyouts”

  1. Bob Helbig says:

    You can rest assured that Don Walker would do a fine job of covering the city without the existence of Urban Milwaukee.

  2. bruce murphy says:

    Bob, I quite agree, it’s more about where the newspaper chooses to put its shrinking resources.

  3. PMD says:

    Another daily without a full-time movie critic. That stinks. I don’t always agree with him, but Duane’s a good film critic.

  4. I think we have found the perfect site for the Bucks new arena…MJS isn’t using it…they can move into the Grand Avenue.

  5. Gary says:

    Wasn’t this downward spiral clearly pending when the J/S hired someone to chisel off the entire decorative frieze off the building in 2011(?). That way the building was expendable for future parking lot development and would be less likely to be argued over as an architectural treasure.
    http://content.mpl.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/HstoricPho/id/3674/rec/12

  6. CK James says:

    It has indeed been sad to watch the decline of the JS in terms of trying to adapt and sustain a top notch online product, amongst the barrage of cost cutting measures over the past 5+ years.

    The JS has a rich history of cultivating and keeping very talented journalists. Content quality is still strong, but the reduction in manpower and other resources are now compromising the overall product. Employees are stretched to thin to be able to pursue/update the same quantity or variety of stories across the market.

    It’s all too common now to see the same stale articles, headlines and layout structure on the website, lingering in a seemingly frozen state for hours and days at a time. Not acceptable for the flagship news outlet in the state. It’s a virtual death sentence for the JS, (and countless other print or broadcast news organizations facing similar scenarios).

    At the JS, it’s a frustrating and futile fight to remain employed and to stay relevant for those who remain on the payroll. Each worker realizes that the eventual fate of the organization is at no fault of their own, but must also admit this course and outcome have been obviously coming for quite a while now.

  7. Gene B. says:

    Well when u report the left version of almost ever story, ignore other meaningful stores completely and ignore the Right you are setting up for failure. Had the Journal explored both sides of a story and report both sides of a story they probably would not have a empty building. The public can see right thru and into the paper thin facade of the MJS.

  8. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Tell me Greg Borowski, Tom Kertscher and the rest of the clowns at Wisconsin Politi-“fact” are part of this purge. These guys have gone out if their way to help Scott Walker with false equivalence and tougher standards for Dems and left-leaning groups over the last month, and it’s been the final nail in the coffin for the J-S to have any legitimacy left for the honest people in this state.

    Bruce, you know what I mean. You’re the only guy that remembers Walker’s duplicity on SpotShotter last year, and would call out the hypocrisy, while “Milwaukee’s newspaper of record will do everything to ignore it and soft-sell Walker’s cynical lies

  9. Observer says:

    And Christian Schneider remains. smh It would appear that the JS has taken a page from WTMJ and cast their lot with white suburban older men. That would explain suburban football teams taking the front page in sports.

  10. Jackie Gray says:

    As a former Journal reporter, I look forward to seeing Marty go. After all the people he’s let go over the years, I like the idea of him finding out first hand what is feels like to worry about one’s job and career. (I have nothing against him as a human being, indeed I didn’t know him outside of the office.) Marty will probably land on his feet financially, which is more that many of the people he let go can say. However the other folks, particularly Georgia, Mike, Gary and Don will be a huge loss to both the quality of the paper and to the institutional memory. They are all class acts.
    Good luck to what remains.

  11. Leon says:

    This is so, so sad. The names on the list include some of the most talented and dedicated journalists left at the JS. I feel like I should buy each of them a beer.

    Milwaukee used to be a great newspaper town. But then, Milwaukee had a newspaper….

  12. Bill Kurtz says:

    As a former Journal reporter, I can attest that Hunt, Juley, Tolan, Walker and Wolfley are all first-rate and will be badly missed. A departure by Duane Dudek would also be lamentable. We can get movie reviews elsewhere but who else will cover local broadcast media, as feeble as they are?

  13. It’s been like we have been watching a fatal car crash in slow motion (for years).

    Maybe it will be better to be finally done with it, and then see what happens.

    Then someone might realize what we have lost and invest in Urban Milwaukee!

  14. More Power to ya says:

    I think the JS will be better off with fresh faces. The layoffs are sad, and the cuts are to those a bit long in the teeth, stuck in their old biases. I hope they can collect social security, and that they have a retirement plan.

    The current reporters rarely criticize the Barrett administration, the light rail projects, any of the city government programs. The JS reads like public release memo’s by the mayor’s office. Few have the guts to ask tough questions.

  15. Observer says:

    Bob? Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob. Bob. These reporters will not be replaced. At least by no one local. They will buy articles to fill the space or use a. E.W. Scripps one size fits article.

  16. Urinal says:

    When will they go after the top-heavy administration – aka editors – who seem unable to perform a simple spell check? Just like any other “down-sizing” they let front-line workers go first (which is why their paper sucks) and try to protect their proletariat until the end – which is coming.

  17. Wayne J. Rodriguez says:

    40 years working in the JS composing room showed me that without our negotiated Lifetime Job Guarantee we printers would have been gone a lot earlier than we did go. As one of the last 10 to leave we were able to get what I consider to be the best JS buyout ever. We went out on top and on our terms!! It was fun working with the makeup editors on nights. We were always having a good time. Ink on a editors phone is one example I will always remember as hilarious. To all those leaving, take care and good luck.

  18. Shay says:

    “Well when u report the left version of almost ever story”

    Uh, no. You seriously have no clue what you’re talking about.

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