But as Hopkins pointed out in an Aug. 3 Gannett Blog post, what was missing from Washburn’s response is a real account of what did happen at the Enquirer (not that it could fit in a tweet). Meanwhile, search Cincinnati.com for “layoff,” “job reduction,” “Gannett,” and “Kentucky edition,” and you won’t find either a reported article or an official announcement of the changes. Here’s Hopkins’s attempt to suss out the situation:
Washburn says the Kentucky office will not close. But she doesn’t acknowledge that the office, which was responsible for a Northern Kentucky edition, will no longer be staffed with reporters, according to that edition’s editor, Steve Wilson [who was laid off]…
In the end, this may be all about semantics and rearranging the deck chairs. The Enquirer is shutting down its Kentucky “bureau” (journalism terminology) but keeping open an office for business purposes. And it’s keeping the same number of reporters, but only by cutting other jobs in the newsroom.
I contacted multiple people at the Enquirer for clarity on this story over the past week. Washburn is out of the office until Aug. 19. Senior news editor Randy Essex initially said, “I’ll decline your request” for an interview, and told me that the Enquirer’s marketing director would pass my information to a Gannett representative, neither of whom he named. Later the same day, he sent me this statement:
Enquirer Media completed some restructuring as part of a need to manage our costs and adapt to a quickly changing marketplace. That’s the reality of our industry today. We reorganized resources in some departments to ensure we can focus more sharply on the right audiences and drive revenue across key segments of business.That’s something. But precisely because it’s about a “restructuring” and not just a shedding of well-paid veterans, it prompts a series of other questions: which resources in which departments? Which audiences? Which content areas? Etc. When I asked Essex if I could indeed be connected the Gannett rep for more information, he told me, “It’s being left to us to comment.”
We believe content will improve in some areas. That’s because we’ve aligned reporting resources with editors who are experts in their subject areas and we are establishing seamless relationships between the content team and our digital and audience engagement leaders.
I also reached out to Laura Trujillo, managing editor of digital content, who thanked me for writing this piece and directed me to the out-of-the-office Washburn and the marketing rep, Mark Woodruff. Woodruff responded with this: “You should have received a response from Randy Essex. We have no further comment and decline an interview.”
So there’s that.
Does Gannett think Gannett matters?
Hopkins, in that Aug. 3 Gannett Blog post, wrote that every Gannett paper he’d checked had declined to carry the AP story about the layoffs. In fairness, not every paper failed to cover its in-house job cuts. The Journal News in New York’s Hudson Valley, for example, produced a brief but straightforward announcement disclosing 26 job cuts within its group, including 17 newsroom positions.
But it’s bewildering, and troubling, that both corporate headquarters and numerous Gannett publications could not clear even that low bar. There’s an obvious problem of hypocrisy when news organizations, staffed by members of a profession that rightly demands transparency of government and other major institutions, are not themselves transparent. There’s also the question of responsibility to readers. The most engaged, most valuable readers want to know what a paper’s plan to cover their community is. They want to know why someone whose work they’ve seen for decades is abruptly gone. When they don’t know, they may lose trust—and, over time, interest.
Finally, there’s the question of what this approach says about the value of news, and of newspapers. It’s obviously true that this is a tough time for newspapers. The market is changing; the quality is not always all it should be; in some cases, “restructuring” may be unavoidable. If you believe that journalism matters, and that the sort of newspapers Gannett owns can be a source of journalism that matters, that’s an important story—which means that reporters need to be set free to cover it aggressively, and the managers implementing these changes need to be out there explaining, at every opportunity, how their papers are going to get better.
But that’s not happening. For all the grief Hopkins has given the company lately, his obsessive coverage at Gannett Blog rests on the idea that Gannett newspapers matter. As for what the company itself has to say? Not so much.