Journal Sentinel Veterans Vanishing
Seven more journalists leaving, including some big names, as paper shrinks further.
One of the crummiest things about the brutal and never-ending run of layoffs at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is that very good journalists, typically with decades of experience, disappear with no notice given in the newspaper. These are reporters whom many readers often knew by name and followed regularly, but the JS won’t report on their departure because it would make the newspaper look like it’s declining.
If anything, the lack of transparency has been worse under the ownership of Gannett, as Andrew Pantazi, a reporter for The Florida Times-Union and president and co-chair of the Times-Union Guild, has noted. Gannett, he tweeted, “has forced people to sign NDAs [non-disclosure agreements] in order to get severance and now the company is telling **journalists** to stop tweeting about layoffs. This is the transparency we can expect from the largest newspaper company in American history.”
Pantazi has been tracking the layoffs and as of Monday, 215 jobs had been eliminated from the many newspapers owned by Gannett, including 29 at The Indianapolis Star, 35 at its corporate headquarters, 11 at ThriveHive, and 11 at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (including eight newsroom jobs and three other positions at the JS) as the industry publication Subscription Insider reported.
“The natural question at this point,” Bascobert wrote, “is ‘are we done?’ The honest answer is No. I have tried to be very transparent with you all and not spin things in a way that you wouldn’t believe anyway, so let me tell you where we are.
“We just named our leadership team and while we were able to identify this reduction, the new team will need some time to finalize their organizations, and I expect there will be some additional reductions. It will take a few months to work through this process, and I expect this will conclude the bulk of the synergy actions.”
Which is to say there will be further “reductions” followed by more “synergy actions.” Dana Neuts at Subscription Insider predicts that the latest cuts are “only a fraction of what can be expected in the coming months.”
That echoes the predictions of experts who have predicted a total reduction of at least 3,500 employees.
The departures at the Journal Sentinel include some big names, which were first reported at the Business Journal. They include columnist Jim Stingl, food editor and writer Nancy Stohs, business reporters Rick Romell and Paul Gores, general assignment reporter Jesse Garza, environmental reporter Lee Bergquist and night news editor Bob Friday.
It’s a big loss for the newspaper, with the biggest losses being Stingl, Romell and Bergquist.
In the old days of newspapering, a top columnist like Jim Stingl would have been retained at all costs. But the changing economics of newspapers, and the fickle, headline-skimming habits of online readers have made even columnists less indispensable than in the past. (Mike Royko must be rolling over in his grave.). Stingl was largely a self-made columnist (the newspaper’s editors, more geared toward news coverage, aren’t much help with columnists) and created a unique voice that was very Milwaukee and often quite funny. He will be missed.
Romell was one of the paper’s best and most versatile reporters, combining excellent reporting with a sense of style. Bergquist was less flashy but a dogged, scrupulously objective reporter, who managed to cover the decline in the state’s environmental regulations under Gov. Scott Walker while weathering the state’s polarized politics, in which anything a reporter writes can become a red flag to either side.
Together the seven journalists leaving the building will take with them hundreds of years of institutional knowledge that is unlikely to be replaced, And they will vanish with no notice from the paper they served for so many years.
Post-script: I’d also like to pay homage to the late Whitney Gould, the newspaper’s former architecture critic, who passed away, and got a nice obituary. Her name has come up frequently in Urban Milwaukee stories because she served on the City Plan Commission, where she continued as a force pushing for good architecture.
All in all, a sad week for local journalism.
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