Gannett lays off journalists, closes papers and keeps the numbers to itself

Frank Gannett (1876-1957) founded the newspaper chain that bears his name. Photo (cc) 2009 by History Rewound.

By Dan Kennedy

What more can be said about the latest round of Gannett layoffs? This one was telegraphed well in advance, and I wrote about what was coming three times (here, here and here) before the hammer finally came down on Friday.

We don’t know the extent of the damage; The Associated Press reported that the “company declined to provide details about the number of people losing their jobs.” The number 400 has been bandied about, but is that 400 journalists or 400 total employees? In any case, that number has not been verified. We do know that the cuts were broad and deep, from Worcester County, where, according to Grafton Common, the chain’s weekly papers were decimated, to its national flagship, USA Today.

Los Angeles Times reporter Jeong Park has provided one way of looking at what happened. Gannett owns about 250 newspapers and other properties, and, before Friday, it employed about 4,000 reporters, editors and photographers. Our three national papers together also employ about 4,000 journalists — The New York Times (1,700), The Washington Post (1,000) and The Wall Street Journal (1,300). And, unlike Gannett, they’re all growing.

Gannett’s losses in the most recent quarter were so vast that it seems likely management will come back for another bite at the apple in a few months. After all, they’ve been on a rampage in Eastern Massachusetts, closing a number of weeklies in 2021 and 19 earlier this year (the company also merged nine papers into four). They’ve pretty much given up on local coverage, too.

Meanwhile, the company’s top executives pay themselves millions of dollars, and even the part-time board members are getting north of $200,000. And it’s been reported that CEO Michael Reed bought another 500,000 shares of Gannett stock last Tuesday, paying $1.22 million.

This feels like the end game, but it probably isn’t. There are always more papers to close, more people to lay off and more websites to strip of any real journalistic content. My heart goes out to the folks who lost their jobs on Friday. I hope they all land on their feet — and I also hope that many of them will look into the possibility of starting independent news projects in the communities they used to cover. The need and the opportunity are there.

Author: Dan Kennedy

I am a professor of journalism at Northeastern University and a contributor to GBH News in Boston. My blog, Media Nation, is online at dankennedy.net.

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