Bruce Murphy
Back in the News

Journal Sentinel Loses Six More Staff

All veterans taking buyout, as staff continues to be purged.

By - Jan 3rd, 2019 12:22 pm
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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Headquarters

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Headquarters

The bleeding continues at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

Six more staff have taken a retirement buyout. They include Mike Mulvey, the political/government editor, Mike Davis, sports editor, and reporters Don Behm, Karen Herzog, Tom Kertscher and Darryl Enriquez. Davis, I’ve heard, will work a couple more weeks before retiring. 

The newspaper has shed many copy editors and consolidated its editing staff in recent years. Meanwhile they are losing many reporters. 

Herzog was a solid reporter who covered higher education. She is married to real estate reporter Tom Daykin, so that leaves one paycheck still coming to their household, though I’ve now learned she has gotten a job as director of grants and communication with the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.

Behm was the classic veteran who covered the environment and county government. Kertscher wrote Poltifact columns, which always felt like they had to be cleared with JS editor George Stanley. Enriquez mostly covered Waukesha County. In addition, business section columnist Steve Jagler left the paper a few weeks ago for a job in media relations at the Graef company. 

All told, the paper is probably losing more than 150 years of experience, with the loss off all these veterans.

The departures come just after a risible column by Stanley announcing that “The foundation of all we do is built on beat reporting.”

That would be news to close observers of the paper. In truth, they were moving away from what editors called “building coverage” — like City Hall and the county courthouse — many years ago. They don’t have a full-time reporter covering either beat today. 

They have a number of beat reporters for the sports section, but there are precious few real beat reporters elsewhere. One obvious example is Daykin, who covers the hell out of real estate. But who else covers a beat anywhere near as thoroughly? 

The morale at the paper, I have heard, is in the pits, with everyone worried about a layoff and only columnist Jim Stingl seen as untouchable. You’re now seeing many staff members imploring people to subscribe to the paper. 

Stingl is a throwback to the days when a good columnist could drive print subscriptions, but those are mostly very old readers today.  Print subscriptions have dropped from well over 300,000 20 years ago to less than 100,000 today, as I recently wrote.

And the paper’s corporate parent, Gannett, is pushing to cut back and perhaps end print editions of its newspapers. But digital readers are more fickle, read less and digital ads make far less money than the print ads of old. 

In short, we are likely to see still more bleeding at the paper. It may still be the state’s largest news publication, but at this point the designation is pretty meaningless. 

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7 thoughts on “Back in the News: Journal Sentinel Loses Six More Staff”

  1. Midthun says:

    I’m a public school librarian. Over the last two years I’ve tried numerous time to subscribe to the JournalSentinel. My staff and even students have asked for it. They deliver for a short period of time, suspend delivery, then demand payment by credit card. Their customer service is abhorrent. They don’t really seem to want to keep it going. We get the New York Times and I’m considering the Wisconsin State Journal, Cap Times, and even the Chicago Trib. All are easier to get than the JS.

  2. Lee Bitts says:

    I have had a very bad experience with Customer Service recently. I also agree that I don’t think there’s any priority there in that regard. I don’t even know if there’s a central supervisor or manager who oversees it.

    I won’t detail everything that happened although I’m tempted to. Because of my omission, no doubt some readers will assume I was a “problem” customer. Well, so be it.

    I will always miss the way things used to be but we’re never going back. Electronic media is the force that rules the world now. And “customers” who don’t want to pay for anything are their biggest consumers. What a bunch of spoiled brats society has produced – people who think the world exists to please and entertain them and at no financial cost whatsoever.

  3. ELLEN FREDERICK says:

    We also subscribed to the print edition after being implored to do so by an employee at a Miller Park booth. The paper came for about the first 3 weeks, then became spottier. We called several times and talked to a customer service person obviously not in the local area. They always said they’d resolve it but never did, and we dropped the print subscription after about 2 months.
    We’d love to get it delivered. But I would imagine with so few subscribers within a neighborhood it doesn’t pay for someone to become a paper carrier anymore.
    I would also guess that Gannett really wants the print version to die so they can cut all those employees and costs.

    Here’s a question: Why can’t they give the papers to the local letter carriers who are going door-to-door every day anyway?

  4. docktora says:

    It is a pretty telling sign when you can get a Groupon for a yearly digital subscription for less than $10.

  5. Gordon Skare says:

    With the post office you would be receiving the newspaper one day after its print date for delivery.
    Assuming JS would provide the daily paper in time to have that service given.

  6. kmurphy724 says:

    The old model of newspapers is gone, and readers easily find news elsewhere online, yet some of the JS’s problems over the last 10 years can be attributed to poorly made business decisions. One example: They spent millions on a software solution (now called Tecnavia) that pleased journalists and editors, but which isn’t used much by customers. And the USAToday branded website is slow and poorly executed. In losing those journalists, MKE is losing valuable resources that helps keep local government and business accountable. I just hope that other local entities (Urban Milwaukee, the Shepard, the Business Journal, Radio Milwaukee) will rise to the occasion and fill this important civic role.

  7. Lee Bitts says:

    I’ve been thinking a bit more about this and I really shouldn’t be so hard on the Milwaukee Journal. I like the paper. I both subscribe to the digital version and I do buy the print version several times a week from my local Starbuck’s outlets. I’ve also noticed that if I pass a hard copy of the paper along to a millennial, they will eagerly grab it and read it. So, I think the millennials are sometimes unfairly stigmatized. Give them a chance and they’ll probably like old school stuff.

    The print version of the press does not need to die. Marketing Dept at JS: promote it; advertise it; sell it. Let people see videos of readers on the bus flipping pages or at their desk with a cup of Joe – it’s very enjoyable! Also, make that paper more available – offer discounts to people who buy it at the counter. Or maybe even free with a certain store purchase. What do you really have to lose? More revenue? No, maybe not. Bottom line: encourage people to buy it!! I really like the idea of promoting a Starbuck’s product with a free paper as a bonus.

    I also want to say: I complained about Customer Service in my previous post but they really did try to help me. I was a little frustrated because it took a while to get my issue resolved. So, I apologize to JS for that negative comment I made.

    Final thought/question: Does every modern advancement have to obliterate everything that existed at an earlier stage? No, it doesn’t. Let’s celebrate the past and not try to act as if it’s all irrelevant in today’s world!! Lots of people like old buildings and want to preserve them, don’t they? C’mon let’s preserve print journalism, too!! We, as consumers, can do that.

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