America’s local journalists are disappearing. But nobody knows exactly how quickly.
Earlier this month it was Gannett, the country’s largest newspaper publisher, quietly letting go of staffers from its sprawling network of local news organizations. Now McClatchy, owner of the Miami Herald, Kansas City Star, and other papers, appears to be paring down some of its newsrooms. But the company, like Gannett before, is mum on specifics.
Semi-regular rounds of newsroom culling have become as predictable as media corporations’ downward spiral of ominous quarterly earnings reports. It’s in companies’ PR interests to limit news of such erosion of value, but shielding this information from public view conflicts with their own newspapers’ missions.
The number of journalists communities are losing—an important local story and increasingly urgent question for the media’s role in civic life—is anyone’s guess.
Poynter first reported on Monday that the Sacramento Bee was undergoing an undisclosed number of layoffs and buyouts following its parent company’s gloomy first-quarter results. Executive Editor Joyce Terhaar declined to elaborate on the number of job cuts in an email to CJR, adding that her staff didn’t have the full details. Fair enough.
It remains unclear, however, whether the paper will eventually publicize the total. Editors “haven’t discussed this internally yet,” Terhaar says, “but we have not done that with past job reductions.” Terhaar did not respond by deadline to requests from CJR to explain why.
Poynter also cited two additional reports of McClatchy job cuts over the past two months. The Fresno Bee covered layoffs of eight journalists from its own newsroom in early May—the newsroom deserves props for doing so. The Seattle Times reported in April that the McClatchy-owned Tacoma News Tribune would eliminate up to 10 jobs. Still, Tina Tedesco, a McClatchy spokeswoman, declined to specify whether the company’s most recent cuts, at the Bee, were part of a broader round of staff reductions. “I don’t have any specifics as to the scope of jobs lost across the company,” she emails.
Gannett employed a similar PR playbook earlier this month when news trickled out on Twitter that journalists were being let go from a number of its newspapers across the country. A representative similarly declined my request to elaborate on the size of total newsroom job losses, which were covered by just a few of the outlets affected.
After CJR put out calls for Gannett journalists to provide the information their mothership would not, nearly two dozen current and former employees responded. It appears that at least 60 staffers, from at least 15 separate newsrooms, lost their jobs. The real totals are likely higher, and they come in addition to the shuttering of off-site design and production facilities in New Jersey and California, respectively.
Not only are ongoing job reductions important stories for the local economies these news organizations cover, but they’re also increasingly crucial for communities grappling with a future without newspapers. Amid all the hand-wringing over the industry’s fate, and all the discussion of enlisting the public to prop up local media, residents have little information on what they’re actually losing.
So, journalists, consider this a call to action: CJR wants to make public the information your corporations will not. Please ping us with any news of newsroom staff reductions at firstname.lastname@example.org.