DETROIT, MI — Want to learn what the deal is with the hundreds of layoffs unfolding at Gannett newspapers across the country? You can get slivers of the story from the local business press and alt-weeklies, and stabs at a big-picture take from industry-watching blogs.
But one place you won’t find news about the layoffs? Many of the affected newspapers themselves.
The wave of job losses began around the end of July; on Aug. 2, Jim Hopkins, author of the independent Gannett Blog, reported that an estimated 226 jobs had been cut—the vast majority through layoffs—based on tips from his readers. At about the same time, a Gannett spokesman gave Jim Romenesko this less-than-robust explanation of the moves: “Some USCP (U.S. Community Publishing) sites are making cuts to align their business plans with local market conditions.” An Associated Press story reported that the same spokesman “declined to say where the cuts are taking place,” or even how many jobs would be eliminated.
Since then, the cuts kept coming. As of Friday, a spreadsheet maintained by Hopkins tallied an estimated 324 layoffs and open jobs eliminated, both newsroom and non-newsroom, at 52 work sites. (The layoffs come less than two months after Gannett announced plans to buy Belo Corporation in a $2.2 billion deal, nearly doubling the number of television stations the company owns.)
Authoritative information, though, remains hard to come by, and not just because corporate is tight-lipped; the affected papers themselves have at times failed to report on the changes and been uncommunicative when presented with questions. Here’s what happened when I tried to get more information from a couple publications in the upper Midwest region I cover for CJR.
No good-byes in Green Bay
According to the Gannett Blog, which is widely cited in other media accounts, the company cut 31 jobs in Wisconsin, including six at the Green Bay Press-Gazette. One of those laid off was veteran editorial cartoonist Joe Heller, reportedly the last staff cartoonist in the state. As Jim Romenesko pointed out, “Press-Gazette readers asking on Facebook about Heller’s departure get a cold ‘the Press-Gazette does not comment on personnel matters’ reply. That’s a nice send-off for a 28-year local newspaper legend.”
The Press-Gazette apparently doesn’t cover layoffs, either, or publish sentimental send-offs to departing staff, or even archive their past work. A search of the paper’s site turned up no coverage of the job cuts. And when I searched for “Joe Heller” on the site, the first result read, “Joe Heller Cartoons - www.greenbaypressgazette.com/joeheller.” But when I clicked the link, it was dead: “Unfortunately, that page could not be found.”
This week, I reached out to multiple staffers at the Press-Gazette for more information. The one response I received was from Scott Johnson, the president and publisher, who said, “I am really not the best source for this.”
He added, “We had a handful [of layoffs] at my site and some have already been rehired here or have opportunities at other Gannett sites.” That’s good news for the rehired folks, but only modestly illuminating in terms of what’s happening.
A ‘restructuring’ in Cincinnati
But the situation in Green Bay is crystal-clear compared to what happened at The Cincinnati Enquirer, which experienced its own job reductions, though it’s hard to say quite how many. Cincinnati Business Courier puts the number at 11, and says that was confirmed by Enquirer editor Carolyn Washburn; Cincinnati CityBeat, citing Gannett Blog, says it’s 23, “but it’s difficult to confirm the report because of Gannett’s secrecy with staffing issues.”
The Business Courier and CityBeat also both initially reported that the Enquirer was closing its northern Kentucky and West Chester, OH bureaus. When those reports prompted an outcry on Twitter from readers concerned that the paper was abandoning coverage of their region, Washburn responded on Twitter: “Not true. Same # reporters. Not closing office.” She later supplied a quote to the Courier that led that publication to update its post. “The physical bureaus are staying open, with seats the reporters will use,” Washburn said. “Reporters will work sometimes downtown with editors, sometimes in the bureaus.”