Clarion-Ledger Parent Co. Gannett Slashing News Staffs | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Clarion-Ledger Parent Co. Gannett Slashing News Staffs

Jim Romenesko is reporting on his blog about a Gannett plan that would involve staff cuts and require current newsroom employees to reapply for new jobs.

Gannett owns the Clarion-Ledger, USA Today and a number of other titles across the country, and is "beta testing" the strategy in five of its markets: Ashville, N.C.; Greenville, S.C., Asbury Park, N.J.; Pensacola, Fla. and Nashville.

These news organizations are characterizing the shakeup, which will mean fewer newsroom managers and production staff (read: copyeditors, whose functions will be consolidated) as a redeployment of resources, all with the goal of strengthening local journalism.

The Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times called it a "sweeping reconfiguration of the way our news team is set up," resulting from concerned editors' dissatisfaction with the way newsrooms are meeting the challenges of fragmented media markets.

Editor John Awtry writes: "Full disclosure: realigning will come with some pain. In keeping with the realities of a fragmented media landscape, the trade-off is that there will be fewer management positions, fewer production-related roles, and that will make us a little smaller overall. But this is about more than contracting — we're not facing these challenges without a plan. The reinvestment in reporting resources and new tools will position us to continue the digital growth you've helped us achieve, and increased watchdog staffing will give you deeper local stories in the printed paper you can't get anywhere else."

News of the initiative emerges on the heels of the McLean, Va.-based Gannett's announcement that it would split its businesses into two divisions, for broadcasting and publishing. Wall Street—a constant thorn in the side of the news industry because investors value quarter over quarter growth more the quality of a company's product, such as high-impact journalism—rewarded the announcement by giving Gannett's per-share stock price a $.40 boost, to $34.27.

In Asbury Park, which covers central and southern New Jersey, executive editor Hollis Towns said the plan would allow the paper to "flatten" the management structure and hire more reporters who will be free to spend time in the community to provide faster coverage.

"More than ever, our reporters are being asked to connect with you by being out in the community, listening, tweeting and holding conversations with you in local coffee shops and delis," Towns wrote in a message to readers on the newspaper's website.

Nashville Public Radio reported that the reshuffle at The Tennessean would involve slashing 15 percent of newsroom staffers, reducing the number of positions to 76 from 89.

Like many Gannett properties, The Clarion-Ledger has suffered a steady decline in readership in circulation over recent years, bringing its Sunday circulation (the biggest day for dailies) to around 60,000 in 2013. Earlier this year, Gannett attempted to fatten The Clarion-Ledger and other newspapers, which had already shrunk in dimension, by inserting USA Today into the papers, in what it called the Butterfly Initiative.

The Clarion-Ledger is also facing another publisher change, with its 6th publisher since 2004 taking over the business reins soon.

Gannett also announced that it signed a definitive agreement to acquire full ownership of Cars.com. Under the agreement, Gannett will acquire the 73 percent interest it does not already own in Cars.com's parent company, Classified Ventures LLC, for $1.8 billion in cash.

In late July, the C-L announced that Jason Taylor, formerly of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press, would oversee operations at the Jackson daily as well as the Hattiesburg (Miss.) American and Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser. He succeeds Leslie Hurst, who retired July 31.

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