Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Yet More Staff Cuts for Journal Sentinel?

Parent company Gannett announces 6% staff reduction, coming on heels of November layoffs at Milwaukee paper.

By - Nov 21st, 2022 02:47 pm
330 Kilbourn, where the Journal Sentinel offices are located. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

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

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.

Walker declined to disclose how many staff would have to be cut, but a story by the Poynter Institute included this estimate from communications chief Lark-Marie Anton, who said the target was a 6% reduction. “With a headcount of 3,440, that would amount to roughly 200.”

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.

The financial bleeding at Gannett is forcing repeated cuts. As Urban Milwaukee reported, in August Gannett announced a round of staff cuts after suffering a dismal second quarter 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. The later round may have been the one that led to the loss of the veteran journalists in November, but the Journal Sentinel has declined to explain this or name the staff who were let go, which Urban Milwaukee learned from inside sources.

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.”

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.

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.

One thought on “Murphy’s Law: Yet More Staff Cuts for Journal Sentinel?”

  1. GodzillakingMKE says:

    I still blame the JS for the totalitarian Republican traitors that took over this state.

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