At Gannett: Fear for the future of newspapering

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Future of Newspapering

Future of Newspapering

You could watch the newspaper industry bleed as Gannett Co. let go about 10 percent of its newspaper workforce—a list of names that could soon top 2,000. Former employees of the country’s largest newspaper chain began posting online about their sadness, anger and fear for the future of newspapering.

“I have to face that this is probably the end of my journalism career—it goes without saying that I am not ready,” posted a commenter at Gannett Blog, an independent blog run by Jim Hopkins.

It was no secret that Gannett would put journalists on the street this month. Reeling from two consecutive quarters of falling revenue, this week’s job cuts were announced by the company in October. That news came nearly on the heels of a 3 percent reduction in August, which resulted in the loss of 1,000 jobs at the company’s 85 daily newspapers.

Just hours after the new cuts were announced, Hopkins had the company’s internal memo posted on Gannett Blog.

Hopkins wrote and edited for Gannett for 20 years before taking a buyout from USA Today in January 2008 along with more than 40 of his colleagues. He has been critical of the company ever since, posting daily about everything from revenue to the kinds of cars Gannett execs drive.

When the layoffs began this week, they unfolded on Gannett Blog, first in slow motion, then at a speed only the Internet can bring.

On Monday, Hopkins started receiving e-mails from people who were laid off by their bosses via the telephone.

On Tuesday, multiple comment threads on Gannett Blog became filled with news from hundreds of “Gannettoids” and former employees. They were either seeking or offering information about layoffs at local newsrooms around the country.

On Wednesday, I couldn’t refresh the page fast enough to keep up with the comments. Some added details to the growing roll call of cuts, fleshing out what happened at Gannett’s 85 daily newspapers. Some were brave enough to name themselves and discussed their background at the company. Some were just angry. But most commenters anonymously wrote of the sadness that consumed the week.

“Is it over?” one commenter known only as ‘Shirley’ asked. “Could some editors post here telling us what is going to be expected and how they plan to operate in the future?”

USA Today, the nation’s most circulated newspaper, was originally excluded from the reduction plan. Circulation is up at the McLean, Va. based-daily. Still, more than 20 staffers lost their jobs at the paper this week.

The confusion extends west, as commenters ask Hopkins and each other why there has been no news from Gannett’s Detroit Free Press, that city’s largest newspaper. With information coming instantaneously from every other direction, Detroit just seems too quiet. Commenters are debating rumors of the Free Press moving completely online, much like the Christian Science Monitor will do in early 2009. In Detroit, no one seems to know if there are layoffs on the way.

It will take weeks for Gannett newsrooms to reorganize and recover from this wave of reductions. Those who were spared this week may be sacrificed in a future round of cuts. Amid the confusion, one can merely look around and ask: What’s next?

–Lisa Rowan

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