Food for thought
Journalists at the country’s largest chain of newspapers, including some at the Austin American-Statesman, are making news of their own by pushing back against yet more layoffs at the company.
On August 12, Gannett carried out layoffs across its more than 200 daily newspapers, including the American-Statesman and USA Today, and its more than 1,000 weekly newspapers. It’s the latest in a string of job cuts aimed at saving money amid disappointing revenue for Gannett’s digital platforms and continually slipping revenue for its print products.
Gannett hasn’t disclosed the number of layoffs in the recent round. But one media report indicates more than 80 Gannett employees lost their jobs. It’s unclear whether any Statesman employees were affected. Statesman reporter Katie Hall, who chairs the local chapter of the NewsGuild labor union, says no workers in her newsroom had been laid off as of August 16.
The layoffs came a day after Gannett journalists staged a “lunch out” via Zoom to protest ongoing job cuts. Sixty percent of newsroom employees at the Statesman supported the “lunch out,” according to Hall.
The NewsGuild represents over 1,500 journalists at more than 50 Gannett-owned newsrooms across the country, including the Statesman newsroom. More than half of those newsrooms participated in the “lunch out.”
“The purpose of the lunch out action was to show Gannett that we are fed up with the company’s decision to shrink its newsrooms year after year,” Hall, who covers local courts, tells CultureMap. “It’s time for Gannett to see pushback — not just from their newsrooms, but also from the communities we cover — when they lay people off.”
“Our journalists provide a crucial service when we keep our readers informed,” she adds. “Everyone knows that readers suffer when Gannett cuts journalists, and it’s time for Gannett to hear it.”
As for whether the NewsGuild will hold more “lunch outs,” Hall says that depends on the actions of Gannett executives.
“If the company invests in journalists, then they have nothing to fear,” she declares.
In 2019, the owner of the Statesman, GateHouse Media, combined with Gannett in a $1.4 billion deal. A year earlier, GateHouse had purchased the Statesman for $47.5 million from Cox Enterprises.
In an interesting twist, Cox recently agreed to buy online news platform Axios for $525 million. Axios operates a number of local editions, including one in Austin.
Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild, complains that Gannett continues to prioritize investors and executives over journalists.
“In contrast, local journalists are organizing all across the country because of their deep commitment to their work, their communities and their newsrooms. Well-staffed and fully functional newsrooms are a critical component of democracy, especially in an election year,” Schleuss says. “Gannett — or any company — cannot do layoffs at newly unionized newsrooms without proving economic exigency, which can’t exist when executives and shareholders are pocketing millions.”
A Gannett spokesperson calls the staffing reductions “incredibly difficult.”
“We’ve been transparent about the need to evolve our operations and cost structure in line with our growth strategy while also needing to take swift action given the challenging economic environment,” the spokesperson says.