Blood on the newsroom floor: Massive job losses


Today, our longest and worst-ever dose of bad news for our fellow ink-stained wretches, with this week’s body count in the hundreds, with the promise of more bodies to come.

Our list of layoffs covers the country, but we’ll start with another form of journalistic agony, the kind that comes from those damn nylon lashups cops use when making mass arrests.

First up: The Occupy arrest tab

While they’ve not lost their jobs, at least 26 journalists have been arrested during the Occupy actions across the country, reports Choire Sicha of The Awl.

She links to a valuable resource for anyone tracking police harassment of the press during the ongoing protests, a frequently updated Storify web page by Josh Stearns.

And before we get to the done deals. . .

More layoffs likely for San Francisco Bay Area newsies

The grim news comes via the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club, and it concerns BANG, the Bay Area News Group.

BANG’s a unit of MediaNews, the Denver-based chain which controls the largest single share of newspaper circulation in California, with a Southern California units call LANG [Los Angeles Newspaper Group], and the bad news will likely apply to them.

MediaNews has been ruthlessly in delocalizing news at its local papers, which are filled with regional stories and precious little local news, a reflection of the chains consolidation of editing functions into regional hubs where stories are picked and edited by folks with few or no ties to the local papers.

Both BANG and LANG have been ruthlessly downsizing reportorial and editing staffs, most recently in the last month. And now it looks like more cuts are a-comin’:

Ouch! After a painful round of layoffs at the MediaNews Group papers in the Bay Area, more be on the way. At least that’s one way to read a New York Times profile of CEO John Paton. He came from the Journal Register Company, which has papers in Ohio, New Jersey and other states in that part of the country.

His strategy is “outsourcing most operations other than sales and editorial, focusing on the cost side that might include further layoffs, stressing digital sales over print sales with incentives, and using relationships with the community to provide some of the content in their newspapers.”

While print ads pay the bills at most newspapers, Paton “is absolutely convinced that if newspapers are to survive, they will all but have to set themselves on fire, eventually forsaking print and becoming digital news operations.”

But the biggest body count comes from Michigan

And we’re talking numbers in the hundreds.

From WOOD TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan:

The Grand Rapids Press and the Kalamazoo Gazette will lay off more than 200 workers combined as part of a massive corporate overhaul, according to letters sent to the state early this month.

The Grand Rapids Press will lay off 146 employees in January, according to a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) letter sent to Manager of the Workforce Investment Act Stephanie Beckhorn on Nov. 2.

According to another Nov. 2 letter, the Kalamazoo Gazette will lay off 77 employees.

The 223 positions being terminated range from officer managers and clerks, to press operators and technicians, to sales people and editors.

Both layoffs will be effective Jan. 2, 2012.

The letters were sent in compliance with the WARN Act, which went into effect in 1989. WARN requires employers to provide 60 days notice in advance of mass layoffs. The notification must be sent to either union leaders or the appropriate state agency, as well as the local government.

Both the Press and Gazette are owned by the same newspaper company, Booth Newspapers.

Read the rest.

Unhappy news from the homes of the Happiest Place on Earth™

That would be Orlando, Florida, home of Disney World.

From Poynter’s MediaWire comes word that 16 journalists are being given the ax at the Orlando Sentinel:

Current and former staff say 12 of those laid off were full-time employees; four were part-time. Movie critic Roger Moore was reportedly one of them. The cuts came from various parts of the newsroom but appear to have struck the copy desk particularly hard. In addition, I’m told that several open positions were eliminated. Editor Mark Russell told the staff how many had been laid off in a newsroom meeting on Wednesday, a source tells me. I sought a comment from Tribune Co. and will update if I get further information.

And here’s a critical detail from Richard Bilbao of the Orlando Business Journal:

The paper reportedly planned to lay off 20 people earlier this year, and had a mass layoff in 2009 during the recession. That’s when The Tribune Co., which owns the Orlando Sentinel, undertook widespread layoffs and other cost-cutting measures to deal with nearly $13 billion in debt, $8 billion of it incurred in its leveraged buyout in 2007 orchestrated by Chicago real estate magnate Sam Zell. In an interview with Bloomberg Television in late 2009, Zell said the Tribune deal represented “certainly the most amount of money I’ve ever lost in a single deal.”

The detail is of interest to Berkeley readers, because Zell is our city’s largest private landlord, making hefty sums off renting expensive apartments to UC Berkeley students.

The dreaded C-word, consolidation

MediaNews isn’t the only chain engaged in delocalizing news by merging editorial operations for local papers into single, delocalized huds, invariably wracking up body counts in the process.

The latest C-move from Media Bistro’s Rachel Kaufman:

The American Independent is consolidating all its news from seven state sites into one larger site, which has resulted in at least one layoff so far.

The Minnesota Independent was the first to announce the news publicly, with a post from American Independent founder David S. Bennahum.

“After five years of operation in Minnesota, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news into a single site, The American Independent at Americanindependent.com,” Bennahum wrote.

>snip<

MN Independent reporter-editor Jon Collins has lost his job, he told MinnPost’s David Brauer, who had the MN Independent shutdown news first.

Similar (okay, totally identical) farewell messages have been posted to the websites of the Michigan Messenger and the New Mexico Independent. Nothing yet from Colorado, Florida, and Texas, where the American Independent Network also has sites.

The Washington Independent shut its doors nearly a year ago, citing financial problems.

Read the rest.

And at least five bodies black-bagged in Virginia

From Joe Dashiel of WDBJ television in Roanoke:

A difficult economy and a shifting marketplace continue to bring changes at the Roanoke Times. A reorganization announced this week includes two voluntary retirements, three layoffs and other reassignments.   Managers say they are also positioning the newspaper for a “Digital First” approach that will bring dramatic changes in the way it delivers news online.

“We know that we have to bring down our expenses like a lot of companies in this economic environment,” Editor Carole Tarrant told News7 in an interview Tuesday afternoon, “but also if we were going to be making these changes, it was a good time to look at our overall structure and say is there a way to invest.”

>snip<

Two longtime employees, Cody Lowe and Rob Lunsford, are retiring.  Three other employees will lose their jobs in a staff reduction.

Read the rest.

Two jobs gone in Centennial State

So named because Colorado was admitted into the union in 1876.

This time the layoffs are in Grand Junction, on the western slope of the Rockies.

From the Associated Press:

The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction is trying to win back thousands of dollars in advertising revenue lost when Mesa County’s public trustee began publishing foreclosure notices in two weekly newspapers instead.

The Sentinel newspaper has printed the legal notices for decades. But trustee Paul Brown says that after a mistake appeared, he learned the Palisade Tribune and Fruita Times could scan the notices and publish them in a format that would reduce mistakes.

Brown says The Sentinel wanted to charge more than double what the weekly newspapers offered to do the same thing.

Sentinel Publisher Jay Seaton counters that his newspaper’s circulation is 10 times larger. He says publishing in smaller newspapers improperly limits who sees the notices.

Seaton says Brown’s move prompted two layoffs at the newspaper.

Not newsies, but. . .

At least 11 people have lost their jobs at USA Today’s advertising department. Some of the details are in this post from Gannett Blog:

Lee Jones, head of USA TODAY advertising, fired all three of his vice presidents [Tuesday]  — Lori Erdos, Chris Wilcox and the very popular Tony Hill. All three are longtime ad executives.

In addition, as many as six others in sales, including in the L.A. office, were let go as well.

These layoffs are viewed as a recognition of the failure of advertising to bring in new business or keep many old clients, especially in print, where the numbers are falling off the cliff. These are not cost savings but an effort to try a new approach with new people.

At least one new VP has been named. That name may not be public yet.

Nine jobs on the line in Albany

The jobs aren’t gone yet, but they’ll be going soon.

From Barbara Pinckney of The Business Review in Albany, New York:

The Times Union, the Albany, N.Y. area’s largest daily newspaper, is looking to trim up to nine positions through an employee buyout.

“We are taking a very cautious view of 2012, and we are not overestimating what the local economy will do,” said Publisher George Hearst. “There are areas where we think we can reduce, including manpower.”

Hearst said the paper made the buyout offer to members of the Albany Newspaper Guild last week, with a Nov. 11 deadline for replies. The Guild represents more than half of the Times Union’s 400 employees.

>snip<

Management will now look through the applications and determine whether or not to accept them. Hearst said the paper would reject a request for buyout if, for example, the person holds a vital position and would have to be replaced.

It is not clear how many positions will be eliminated, but Hearst sees a “magic number” of between six and nine.

>snip<

If the paper does not meet its cost-cutting goal through the buyout, “we will have to address the staff reduction in another way, and that could mean layoffs,” Hearst said.

Read the rest.

But some good news for some laid-off Albany newsies

Seems the last time the Times-Union axed jobs, they violated federal labor laws, an act that’s costing them a hefty payout.

From the Albany [New York] Newspaper Guild:

The Times Union owes 11 workers the company illegally laid off in 2009 about $600,000 in back wages, the National Labor Relations Board has determined.

That figure is actually low, the NLRB said, because it does not include pension accruals that the board says are owed to the 11. Interest on the debt continues to compound daily so that the actual number is already over $600,000.

One worker who has not yet found a job is owed more than $105,000. Another is owed more than $98,000. A third is owed more than $80,000.

Read the rest.

The death of another newspaper

From DownEast.Com’s Al Diamon:

The Midcoast Beacon is no more. The free weekly published by the Bangor Daily News called it quits with its Nov. 10 issue. In a front-page announcement, Bangor Daily editor Michael Dowd said the decision to shut down the operation was caused by “rising production and delivery costs.”

The Beacon, a mix of soft features and columns, was launched in May of 2009. It was originally mailed to every household in Waldo and Knox counties. In recent months, it had been included as part of the parent newspaper’s Thursday edition. Its editor, Roxanne Moore Saucier, was among those who took buyout offers from the BDN last month.

Also making cuts are the Village Soup newspapers. In a Nov. 9 column, publisher Richard Anderson announced that the twice weekly Herald Gazette, covering Rockland and Camden, would go to one-a-week publication as of Dec. 1.

>snip<

Anderson said Village Soup would continue to cover breaking news on its websites.

In July, Anderson’s company closed its Rockland printing plant, laying off seventeen people.

>snip<

Also gone: Ron Bancroft, whose Tuesday column on politics and business ran in the Portland Press Herald for several years, is among the victims of cutbacks at that paper. His last entry was on Oct. 25.

Read the rest.

Now a newspaper, but a major source of news

That would be struggling cable news network CNN, which is undergoing major layoffs.

From Chris Ariens of TV Newser:

Layoff notices are being handed out across CNN/U.S. . . Photographers, editors and other staffers in Atlanta, New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles and Miami are being let go. In all, at least 50 positions are being eliminated. As many as 12 staffers in the Washington, DC bureau alone, four of whom are longtime photojournalists.

CNN Senior VP Jack Womack writes in a note to staff that the cuts come after a 3-year analysis of the company’s work processes.

The CNN Library, which houses CNN’s archives, is centralizing in Atlanta. The library in CNN New York is closing, while there will be cuts in staff at the library in Washington, DC. New positions will be added to the CNN Library in Atlanta.

“As a result of these technology and workflow changes, CNN is reducing the number of media editors in our work force in Atlanta,” Womack writes, adding, “Some photojournalists will be departing the company.”

“We cannot begin to thank these individuals enough for their service to CNN. They leave with our respect and our sincere best wishes.”

Even with today’s cuts, CNN anticipates adding staffers in the New Year with overall staff levels at this time next year, around the same.

In a separate note to the DC staff, bureau chief Sam Feist announced the reorganization of the Live Production Unit which is seeing staff cuts today, and the posting of two new positions in the near future. “I realize that these transitions can be very difficult and create many questions,” writes Feist. “However, we believe that the changes we are making here in Washington and across CNN will make us even stronger going forward.”

Read the rest.

A revised body county for a subway tabloid

The paper in question is the New York Daily News, one of the Big Apple’s two major tablods, the other being the Post.

By Foster Kamer The New York Observer:

The bad news keeps coming at the New York Daily News. Another two staffers have been let go, and the rumor is that there are more to come.

We’ve received word that Michael Bowers, a copy editor at the New York Daily News and a twelve-year veteran of the paper, has been let go, along with Jane Ridley—a senior features writer at the paper—who was escorted out this morning after being given the final word that she was being cut from the staff.

A source familiar with the situation described Ms. Ridley as a “gracious young mother of two babies,” noting her as “just the sort of person who needs to be escorted out, right?”

They concluded: “I haven’t seen so much talent so mishandled since Ishtar.”

Read the rest.

And the bodies will start falling in Toronto

The Toronto Star is the largest paper in our neighbor to the north, and it’s publishers are planning a massive layoff, setting the stage with an buyout offer to all of its employees, reports Dave Friend of Metro News Toronto:

A spokesman for Canada’s largest daily newspaper publisher Torstar Corp. says the company plans to offer voluntary severance packages to its 1,050 Toronto Star employees.

“The company is in negotiations with the union leadership,” Torstar representative Bob Hepburn said Thursday.

Once the talks are complete, Torstar plans to officially make the offer to editorial, circulation, advertising and human resources staff at the Star, Canada’s largest-circulation newspaper.

Torstar employs about 6,600 people at its various businesses, which include the Star, other daily, community and free papers, the Harlequin book publisher and numerous digital properties.

Hepburn said the company held the first of three town hall meetings with Star staff Thursday to answer questions and two additional meetings are scheduled for Friday.

Torstar did not provide details of the pending buyout offer or how many employees it hopes to cut from its workforce.

Read the rest.

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