Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Journal Sentinel Loses Six More Veterans

More cuts by Gannett: David Haynes, Bruce Vielmetti and four others taking buyouts.

By - Nov 1st, 2022 12:56 pm
330 Kilbourn, where the Journal Sentinel offices are located. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.e.

330 Kilbourn, where the Journal Sentinel offices are located. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Back in August Urban Milwaukee reported that the Gannett company, after suffering a dismal second quarter, planned to make more staff cuts at the more than 100 daily newspapers and nearly 1,000 weekly papers nationally it owns, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. This was followed by a memo in October by the company’s CEO Mike Reed announcing more slashing of expenses for staff, as veteran media blogger Dan Kennedy reported. This included a Voluntary Severance Offer, where the company would pay severance to an employee in exchange for their voluntary resignation, if they applied by October 18 and worked through November 4, 2022.

On Friday, sources say, six veteran Journal Sentinel staff took buyouts and will soon be leaving the newspaper. They include Joe Taschler, Bruce Vielmetti, Guy Boulton, David Haynes, Mike Johnson and Dan Kwas, Urban Milwaukee has learned. Some of them may step down this week and some may continue through November 8, to assure the newspaper has enough staff to cover the fall election. Whether these layoffs came as a result of the August announcement or the latest voluntary severance offer is unclear.

Urban Milwaukee contacted all six staff members seeking comment and did not hear back. Nor did Devi Shastri, health and medicine reporter for the JS and president of the Milwaukee Newspaper Guild, respond to requests for comment. Such staff departures, which occur on almost a yearly basis, are rarely disclosed or discussed by the newspaper.

Probably the biggest name among the six staff leaving is David Haynes, who served for many years as the editorial page editor, though that position eventually became the Ideas Lab Editor, as the paper deemphasized editorials. Even so the newspaper took an unprecedented step, in February 2021, of calling on Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson to step down from office after his “disgraceful… whitewash” of the U.S. Capitol riot.

The paper followed up with an editorial declaring that “Ron Johnson, Scott Fitzgerald and Tom Tiffany should resign or be expelled for siding with Donald Trump against our republic,” in January 2022 and just a month ago with another editorial declaring that Johnson has “no business being a senator anymore” and “is the worst Wisconsin political representative since the infamous Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

The first two of these editorials bore the slug “Ideas Lab,” while the most recent went back to the old slug, Opinion/Editorial, underlining the confused stance the newspaper has had regarding its editorials. All three were presumably written or co-written by Haynes, though they included no byline.

Next to Haynes, Vielmetti was probably best known for covering the courts, including many stories on the Waukesha Christmas parade killings and the trial of Darrell Brooks Jr. Reporter Guy Boulton, who covers the health care industry, had an important beat (and one few reporters wanted to cover), but his stories seldom had much drama or impact.

The Journal Sentinel has suffered repeated rounds of staff cuts going back 15 years, under several different owners. When the news broke in August that there would be more cuts by its current owner, Gannett, JS staff were among those at a number of Gannett Newspapers to hold a “lunch out” to protest the cuts. As veteran JS scribe Tom Daykin tweeted, “Gannett journalists throughout the nation are taking an hour off today from 1 to 2 p.m. CST to bring attention to our concerns about upcoming layoffs at the nation’s largest newspaper chain–even as its CEO makes nearly $8 million in annual pay.”

Shastri took the unusual step of criticizing the company in an interview that month with WORT-FM 89.9 in Madison.

“The frustration for us is we care about this newspaper, we care about this community and we’re just questioning those priorities,” said Shastri, noting the level of executive pay. “Why is the first thought, ‘we need to cut people’?”

“We’ve gone through so many owners at this point and every time it comes with more cuts,” Shastri lamented. “The reality is we’re paying off a bunch of debt that this company took on when we merged.”

The 2019 merger of Gannett and Gatehouse nearly tripled the long-term debt of the two companies and made more staff cuts inevitable, as Urban Milwaukee reported back then.

Shastri noted that the Journal Sentinel Guild contract requires the company to offer buyouts that pay the most to those reporters with the most years on the job. “That means losing a lot of our more experienced members,” she noted. “That’s a loss of really great talent.”

Together the latest staff being let go probably have some 200 years of experience. For all of them the Journal Sentinel was the culmination of their career. Vielmetti has been a journalist since 1985, as a reporter and then editor with the St. Petersburg Times. He came to JS in 2001, where he was for many years an assistant metro editor, before moving back to reporting in 2009.

Boulton joined the Journal Sentinel in 2005 after pervious previous jobs with The Tampa Tribune, Cincinnati Enquirer, The Wichita Eagle and The Salt Lake Tribune. Haynes came to the JS in 1994 after working at news organizations in Massachusetts and Indiana.

Joe Taschler has been with newspaper since 1997, after getting his college degree in 1988. He has served as a business and weather reporter/editor handling breaking news, weather, aviation and grocery retail. Dan Kwas has been a journalist since 1989, coming to the JS in 1997 as a copy editor and transitioning to a “Digital Producer” as the online operation grew in importance. Mike Johnson, a digital producer, copy editor and reporter, graduated from college in 1979 and has worked for decades for the Journal Sentinel and one of its predecessor papers.

Other recent — but voluntary — departures from the Journal Sentinel include state reporter Patrick Marley and science reporter Mark Johnson, who both won jobs with the Washington Post in recent months. Even so, the Journal Sentinel’s staff directory still lists at least 100 remaining names, including reporters, editors, photographer and designers.

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2 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Journal Sentinel Loses Six More Veterans”

  1. GodzillakingMKE says:

    The managment of JS comunications is soley responsible for the Republican tyranny unleashed on this state.

  2. CraigR says:

    The Journal Sentinel is a sad emaciated version of what it once was. There are so many local stories that don’t get covered, and ever since the move to print it in Peoria there is no timeliness to its stories. If it wasn’t for my strong interest in gutter guards, garage doors, and hearing aids, I probably wouldn’t continue to pay the $84 a month to get it delivered to my door.

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