Bruce Murphy
Back in the News

Another Journal Sentinel Purge

Veteran county reporter Steve Schultze is among those who may leave.

By - Apr 30th, 2014 11:28 am
Journal Communications Headquarters

Journal Communications Headquarters

For the last eight years or so, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has gone through a periodic bloodletting, shedding veteran, higher-paid staff in response to ever-declining circulation and ad revenues. And yet another round is coming. Betsy Brenner, president of Journal Sentinel Inc. told the Business Journal and reporter Rich Kirchen that the company was seeking more employee “separations” but offered no more details. Nor would she expand on this in a response to my query.

Brenner did tell Kirchen the newspaper faces financial challenges due to the loss of ads from American TV and Appliance, which has gone out of business. Sources tell me the newspaper is expecting a 20 percent decline in revenue this year, due to expected losses after the first quarter. (No wonder the newspaper did so many stories about American TV’s demise.)

The paper typically doesn’t give a hard number of staff it wants to shed, but editors drop hints and suggestions. I’m told that veteran reporter Steve Schultze, who has covered the high profile county government beat, is going to take a buyout (he would not confirm or deny this). Others mentioned include Bill Windler, a senior editor in the sports department (who also wouldn’t confirm or deny) and an unnamed copy editor in the sports department. In an earlier version of this story I reported that Georgia Pabst is also considering a buyout, but I’ve been told by JS columnist Dan Bice that this is not happening. (Pabst did not respond to my email.)

Schultze’s departure would be big deal, as county government, ever since the newspaper was scooped on the pension scandal, has been a key beat. Moreover, there has been considerable tension between Schultze and County Executive Chris Abele, as I’ve reported.

I’ve been a critic of Schultze’s reporting but others disagree: Milwaukee Magazine press commentator Erik Gunn picked him as one of the better beat reporters in town. Schultze has quite a knowledge of the city and its political scene, which is unlikely to be replaced. Any new hirings would be of younger, cheaper staff.

I’ve lost count of all the JS buyouts, but they have occurred every year or so since 2006. The newsroom lost 22 employees in late 2007 and ultimately cut five percent of its staff. Some 130 were let go in 2008.

By July 2009, as the Milwaukee News Guild, the newspaper’s union reported, the paper was offering its fourth buyout in less than three years. “During 2009 alone, buyouts and layoffs cut the newsroom work force by one-third,” the guild reported in October 2011, while noting that six more newsroom jobs would be lost that month.

In 2012 came another purge, which I reported. Jim Romenesko published the memos from the company and the union detailing what was happening.

One spot of good news for the company is Journal Communications stock, still near its six-year peak at about $8, way up from when it cratered at 49 cents in March 2009.

12 thoughts on “Back in the News: Another Journal Sentinel Purge”

  1. Knucklehead says:

    You call yourself a reporter. Check your facts: Mr. Windler is the Senior Editor/Sports at the JS. He will be a bigger loss than Schultze.

  2. Bruce Murphy says:

    Thank you sir, we made the correction.

  3. Observer says:

    The trend towards USA Todayification of the Journal is picking up speed. What a great paper in the 50’s and 60’s (and probably earlier). Sad. I just read the results of a survey that had close to 70% of those polled (State GOP convention?) kicking their son out of the house if he told them he was a homo sapiens. That number may skew higher as our papers get dumber.

  4. David Ciepluch says:

    The demise of quality news media in general including MJ and MS is sad and a real threat to democracy. For many of us in our grade school years of the 50s and 60s we learned how newspapers reported on the who, what, why, where, when, and how of the story and exposed the truth. Loss of the experienced journalists will cut ties to the past and a certain culture of ethics and seeking out the truth for exposure to the public. And many of today’s editorial writers have become mere ad men repeating political slogans, distortions, and fabrications.

    I was an avid reader of MJ starting in 1958 and a route deliverer in the 60s. I canceled my subscription to MJS two years ago for a particular editorial writer that fabricated his pieces that were nothing more than political propaganda, and the tone of many of their headlines. I expected different opinions in MJS but I always was under the belief that the writers believed what they put in print and backed it up with facts. After multiple email exchanges with the author, it was evident that he just made up his editorial stories. That tarnished the entire MJS for me and it was not worth the time reading it.

    So in our changing media environment, I have sought out different sources of news and comment including the nonprofit sector. I rely on news like Urban Milwaukee for some of the local flavor.

  5. Mark Johnson says:

    Bruce: I wish you’d hold your own reporting up to the standards you expect of others.
    1. To imply that Georgia did not confirm or deny taking a buyout is dishonest because it suggests that you actually asked her. But you didn’t.
    2. “Purge” implies a forced removal of people who have fallen out of favor. You know that isn’t the case. Losing staff is not a good thing for the paper, but let’s call it what it is: Downsizing (a euphemism, yes, but truthful).
    3. The loss of staff has been difficult, but your story might have at least mentioned how good the paper has been over the last decade in spite of these challenges.

  6. bruce Murphy says:

    Mark, I sent emails to all three people (Schultze Pabst, Windler) whose names I mentioned asking to confirm or deny and didn’t hear back. As for purge, one definition is “an abrupt removal of a group of people from an organization.”

    I should also note that since this story ran, JS columnist Dan Bice put up a note saying Pabst is not taking a buyout.

  7. David Ciepluch says:

    Buyouts are a method of downsizing a business and getting rid of more experienced and expensive labor. It is a short term benefit to an organization.

    We have seen the effects of downsizing – people standing in a rain or snowstorm and calling it news. National news organizations have also cut down greatly on experienced reporters. Supposed news reporting turns into the same talking so-called experts trotted out every day. Essentially watered down in quality and content with less on facts and analysis. More of propaganda, bullet items, and repetitive slogans. More reporting on train wreck celebrity lives than on real, news, problems and analysis for solutions. MJS rarely mentions that all of the recent WI laws were supplied by ALEC and written by corporations for their benefit.

  8. Mark Johnson says:

    Georgia never received a single email from you. Not one. You know, real reporters actually talk to their sources — in person or on the phone. That way you can at least confirm that someone received your email. If you would have actually spoken to Georgia, you would have got an answer.

    Even your definition of purge shows you have taken liberties. This was not abrupt. People have had close to a month to think about it. Nor was this “a removal”. If someone says, Yes, I’ll take a buyout, no one removed them. They left voluntarily. If reporters here operated like this you’d rip them for it.

  9. Bruce Murphy says:

    Mark, I just sent you a copy of the email I sent Georgia. I didn’t hear back from ANY of the three JS folks I emailed regarding the possibility of layoffs, which didn’t strike me as notable as the newspaper is generally tight-lipped about discussing these issues with anyone in the media.

    I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree about the use of purge in a headline.

  10. David Ciepluch says:

    This is the method of downsizing in business. If you are in your 50s and up, you may get the letter and information with the offer and have a certain amount of time to think about it and accept or reject. There is always a statement with the offer that if they do not get enough people to accept the offer, it is rescinded and layoff notices are sent to selected people. So the offer is generally with a threat or gun with maybe half the bullets in the chamber for the selection process. So individuals are under great pressure to accept.

    I got one of these when I was 54 and two other peers that were age 62 and 64 at the time accepted the offer. Neither really wanted to go but from my vantage point is was a financial boon for them. For me, it would have been a loss of 50% on my pension and out looking for another job, and great risk at this point in my life. Because they accepted the offer, I was left standing which was a calculated gamble on the department’s selection process.

  11. Meg Kissinger says:

    Steve Schultze was hardly “purged.” He’s retiring after a long and distinguished career. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege working with him. Steve is a dogged reporter and a wonderful person.

  12. David Ciepluch says:

    Downsizing a company has nothing to do with the individual quality of a person and their work contributions. It becomes a numbers game for a company, and employees that have been at it the longest generally have time of service and numbers that meet the package, and it may be advantageous for them to leave. For some of us, one door closes, and other opportunities come up if you want to take advantage of them.

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