The layoffs at Gannett-owned papers in the region have been upsetting. Here in Connecticut, The Norwich Bulletin’s executive editor Jim Konrad was laid off after nearly 30 years with the paper. Janet Butler, dedicated newsroom assistant for the Providence Journal, was laid off after 50 years–she was about to retire effective September. Susan Pawlak-Seaman, editor of The Standard-Times in New Bedford, Mass., was laid off after 45 years.
Gannett has been at best ambiguous about the full scope of layoffs and other cost saving measures, according to a report by Poynter. What is clear is the negative impact these layoffs will have on local, community news. Gannett owns more than 20 dailies and weeklies in Mass. as well as the Providence Journal and the Newport Daily News in R.I.
The newspaper mogul stated in an April 1 press release that it “expects to reduce expenses in 2020 by an additional $100 – $125 million…through implementation of reductions in force and furloughs, significant pay reductions for senior management, and cancellation of non-essential travel and spending.”
But that’s really the last anyone has heard from the company publicly about its plans to scale down newsrooms amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As of the date of this article, Gannett and GateHouse have not returned The Laurel’s inquiry.
Gannett completed a merger with GateHouse Media in November 2019. The combined company owns one in every six newspapers in the United States. As a part of cost saving measures in the merger, the companies’ executives rolled out layoffs. In the past couple years, the number of Gannett employees has fallen by one-fifth, according to the Washington Post. McDowell Communication Group’s Maura Fitzgerald wrote about the merger at that time.
The New York Times reported the following last year:
Paul Bascobert, the chief executive of the former Gannett who will hold that same title for the new Gannett’s operating company…[said] the company’s mission “is to connect, protect and celebrate local communities.”
“And the core of that is great local journalism,” he added. “That’s the engine that has gotten us to the place we are today, and that’s the engine that’s going to carry us forward.”
It’s an all too familiar story: a chasmic disconnect between a media conglomerate’s executives and the local journalists who shoulder the weight of sweeping changes passed down from above.
Gannett owes it to hundreds of localities and thousands of journalists to be transparent with the public, especially at a time when local news is most needed.
Poynter reporter Kristen Hare summed it up nicely on Twitter: “If you’re in the business of pushing for, demanding and going to battle for transparency, you better give it right back.”