Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain with more than 250 newspapers, made a series of layoffs on Friday, a week after the company announced its second-quarter results: a loss of $54 million on revenue from $749 million.
That same day, Gannett Media President Maribel Perez Wadsworth told staff in an email that the company would make “necessary but painful headcount reductions” and eliminate some vacancies.
Those layoffs began on Friday, and it’s unclear how many people were laid off. Spokeswoman Lark-Marie Anton declined to answer questions about how many employees were laid off, what departments and/or newsrooms they worked in, and whether Gannett had planned further rounds of cuts.
“We have been transparent about the need to evolve our operations and cost structure in line with our growth strategy while having to take quick action given the challenging economic environment,” Anton wrote in a statement sent by mail. electronic. “These staff reductions are incredibly difficult, and we are grateful for the contributions of our departing colleagues.”
Journalists began tweeting on Friday that they had been fired. Stephanie Allen, government and education reporter at the Banner-Herald in Athens, Georgia, share on Twitter that she was working on several stories when she was informed that Friday would be her last day. She urged sources to contact her so she could put them in touch with other reporters.
“I’m not going to let these stories die just because I’m not here,” Allen wrote.
The journalists of St Cloud (Minnesota) hours, Monroe, Louisiana News-Star, Billerica (Massachusetts) Minuteman, Panama City (Florida) News-Herald and the Mail Journal (Kentucky) also said they were fired. A former St. Cloud Times sportswriter noted that years ago the newspaper’s sports department had six full-time and four part-time reporters. Now the newspaper only has one.
Friday’s layoffs also affected non-journalists. A reporter at the Pueblo (Colorado) Chieftain tweeted that the paper’s only customer service representative, who earned less than a dollar above minimum wage, had been fired after working there for 16 years.
The NewsGuild, which represents more than 1,500 Gannett reporters in about 50 newsrooms, had tracked 35 layoffs in 20 newsrooms as of Friday afternoon, according to chairman Jon Schleuss. Two of them came from syndicated newspapers.
The union called on Gannett to cut executive salaries and “frivolous spending” instead of cutting jobs. Last year, CEO Mike Reed earned $7.7 million while the median salary at Gannett was $48,419. The company also implemented a $100 million share buyback program in February. Earlier this week, Reed bought 500,000 shares of the company, worth $1.22 million.
Gannett has also invested in union-busting lawyers to counter labor campaigns and delay contract negotiations, according to the NewsGuild. The company currently faces 14 open charges of unfair labor practices, according to a National Labor Relations Board database.
To protest the planned cuts, union members from about two dozen newspapers — including The Arizona Republic, the IndyStar and the Austin-American Statesman — staged an hour-long lunchtime walkout on Thursday. It was the first major, nationally coordinated effort within the Gannett caucus of the NewsGuild.
Over “lunch”, union members discussed ways to help those affected by the cuts.
“When you lose a job, a lot more things in your life are thrown into uncertainty,” said Palm Beach News Guild member Katherine Kokal. “It’s not just, ‘OK, I’m not going to log in to work on Monday.’ It’s, ‘I have to pay my rent’ or ‘I may not be able to afford food’ or ‘How am I going to be able to keep health insurance for my family?’
When reports of layoffs started coming in, Kokal created a Google Form for affected employees that lets them fill in the kinds of community help they need. For example, a laid-off worker might ask for financial support or help with professional networking.
Kokal has also created a Google form for people who want to help those affected. So far, she has received 28 responses from people willing to provide financial support. Along with a committee of three or four other reporters, Kokal plans to sift through the responses and connect the laid-off workers with people who have volunteered to help. Both forms are open to non-Guild members.
Newsrooms have shrunk dramatically over the past decade. A study by the Pew Research Center found that newsroom employment in the United States fell by 26% between 2008 and 2020. A separate study found that 360 newspapers have closed since 2019; 6,377 newspapers remain, including 1,230 dailies.
In 2020, shortly after the pandemic began, Gannett fired a number of journalists and implemented furloughs and pay cuts. Later that year, the company offered buyouts to about 500 employees. As of November 2020, Gannett had approximately 21,000 employees, including 5,000 journalists. Those numbers have since dropped to 13,000 and 4,000, respectively.
Fear of layoffs has partly led to a sharp increase in union campaigns in recent years. More than 20 Gannett newsrooms have unionized since 2020, and many are currently negotiating for a first contract. Among other protections, these contracts would specify the process by which the company can implement layoffs.
In the days leading up to the layoffs, NewsGuild executives and staff said they did not expect to see layoffs at newly unionized newsrooms without contracts, as those workplaces are currently protected by the “status quo”, which means that the company cannot make changes to the work of employees. terms without negotiation.
Kokal said Gannett also declined to tell NewsGuild how many people were laid off. That’s why the union tries to keep track of them.
“We are all reporters and journalists,” Kokal said. “It’s scary to think that we might not know everyone affected by this unless we don’t count.”