Oct 28, 2022 - News

Local newsrooms facing corporate cuts

Detroit Newspaper Guild rally for support

Detroit Newspaper Guild rally for support. Photo: Courtesy of the guild

Cost-cutting measures by the country's largest newspaper chain are trickling down to local reporters who were told initially they might be spared.

Driving the news: The union representing Free Press journalists last week learned that parent company Gannett wants staff to take unpaid, five-day furloughs. Permanent layoffs are possible if the union rejects the furloughs.

  • Meanwhile, some Detroit News reporters will be offered voluntary severance packages.
  • Reporters at the papers haven't had a raise in more than four years.

Why it matters: Pay and staffing cuts at two of the city's largest news outlets could compromise the quality of local journalism needed to hold the powerful accountable, especially critical in a city dealing with corruption.

Catch up quick: Gannett announced widespread newsroom cuts earlier this month to cope with the "deteriorating macroeconomic environment," The New York Times reported.

  • Such cuts would be subject to collective bargaining locally because the Detroit Newspaper Guild represents local print reporters.
  • Gannett doesn't own the News, but has a partnership with the paper's owner, MediaNews Group.

What they're saying: The newsroom cuts are part of a vicious cycle at Gannett — fewer and lower-paid reporters could weaken the product, making it difficult to increase revenue, thus leading to future layoffs.

  • Union officials criticized executive pay at Gannett and a recent $100 million stock buyback plan.
  • "That's mismanagement," Detroit Newspaper Guild administrative officer Stevie Blanchard told Axios. "It's great you're pleasing your stockholders to a degree, but what about the product?"

The other side: "Our digital subscription growth has significantly overperformed our expectations, so our 2023 budget hasn't been reduced and I hope it won't be," Gary Miles, editor and publisher of the News, wrote in an email to Axios. "But we're watching the economic situation closely and the severance offer increases our flexibility should we eventually need to trim costs."

Zoom out: More Gannett newsrooms are joining the Freep and News as union shops, which provide a layer of protection when cuts are implemented through collective bargaining.

  • But the protection can be fleeting: "All that does is kick the can to bargaining," Mike Davis, reporter at Asbury Park Press and vice chair of the APP-MCJ Guild, told Digiday.

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