Yet More Staff Cuts for Journal Sentinel?
Parent company Gannett announces 6% staff reduction, coming on heels of November layoffs at Milwaukee paper.
It’s getting to be a broken record. The top leadership at Gannett, the parent company of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, have announced that they will institute still more staff cuts in December. Earlier this month, Gannett announced a third-quarter net loss of $54.1 million as revenues fell.
Henry Faure Walker, CEO of Gannett’s United Kingdom subsidiary, who recently assumed the top role directing U.S. news operations, released a memo to employees thanking them for their “commitment, hard work and professionalism,” and then let them know that due to “economic conditions” besetting industries like the media sector more cuts in staff would be required.
This comes on the heels of an estimated 6% cut in staff less than a month ago for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. As Urban Milwaukee reported, six veteran Journal Sentinel staff took buyouts in late October which were effective in November (some on November 4 and some after the November 8 election coverage). They included Joe Taschler, Bruce Vielmetti, Guy Boulton, David Haynes, Mike Johnson and Dan Kwas (though Haynes’ status is still unclear).
Gannett has said it will notify affected employees on Dec. 1 and 2. Whether the JS will suffer some of the 200 cuts is unknown. In fact the details of the coming cuts are a complete mystery. “In tweets and emails, Gannett journalists complained about the timing of the note – leaving them in suspense for two weeks about whether they will be asked to leave,” the Poynter story reported.
But the JS is one of the largest newspapers with what was the biggest staff of any publication in the chain, so it may be difficult for it to be entirely protected.
In the latest memo Walker essentially blamed the high cost of journalism, stating that “our News cost base is currently too high for the revenues it generates.” But hey, he did capitalize the word news, letting us know how important that is.
Journal Sentinel union (Local 51) president and reporter Devi Shastri took issue with Walker’s reasoning, offering this salvo to the Business Journal: “Make no mistake: Gannett’s poor financial decision making is what has brought us to the point of two rounds of job cuts in two months… Our members sacrifice so much to do this work. Now, they face horrible uncertainty in the run up to the holiday season. Frankly, we’re tired of it. We’re doing our jobs. When will the people at the top do theirs, and realize you can’t cut your way to prosperity?”
Shastri has in the past criticized the company for its high executive salaries (“its CEO makes nearly $8 million in annual pay”) and because “we’re paying off a bunch of debt that this company took on when we merged.”
That debt is probably the biggest factor causing the continued staff cuts, but there is also some truth to Walker’s point that the news business is not making enough money. Most of the money for ads related to journalism gets gobbled up by Google, Facebook and other big tech companies. The truth be told, the entire economic strategy for Gannett is to consolidate a drastically declining industry — daily and weekly newspapers — and squeeze out any revenue still to be made. Meaning cut, cut, cut.
The Journal Sentinel union now includes 80% of the news staff. The Louisville Courier news staff have just voted in favor of joining a union. Unions may provide some protection from the most devastating cuts, one analysis suggested.
The JS management typically does not discuss any staff cuts nor respond to questions, and longtime journalists typically disappear without a word written about them. Of the six that Urban Milwaukee reported would be taking buyouts, Taschler, Vielmetti, Boulton, Mike Johnson and Kwas have all vanished from the JS staff list. But David Haynes is still listed as Ideas Lab editor. Has his job been saved or is this a temporary reprieve? Your guess is as good as mine.