C-L To Lay Off 20 Staffers | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

C-L To Lay Off 20 Staffers

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Editor and Publisher magazine is reporting the contents of a memo circulated by the Clarion-Ledger's current publisher, Larry Whitaker, to his staff. The memo was leaked earlier in the day to Romenesko, a media "insider" blog hosted by the Poynter Institute.

The memo suggests that the reasons for the layoffs include slowdowns in both print and web advertising.

Whitaker writes: The economic downturn affecting much of the country is taking a heavy toll on the local economy. To be direct, it will lead to significant changes in the way we do business at The Clarion-Ledger. In nearly every advertising segment, our customers are reporting difficult times for their businesses. They are cutting back on print and online advertising, which has a direct impact on our business. These economic forces, which are out of our control, make it necessary for us to reduce our workforce.

The memo doesn't outright say that editorial staffers will be let go, but it does seem to imply that possibility:

Am I saying that we will have to do the same or more with less? Unfortunately, the straight answer to that question is yes. Having fewer people, however, should not be a reason to offer poor customer service or shirk our public service journalism responsibility. In fact, it is imperative that we do the opposite.

The full memo is posted at E&P.

Previous Comments

ID
132741
Comment

Having fewer people, however, should not be a reason to offer poor customer service or shirk our public service journalism responsibility. Too late. In fact, it is imperative that we do the opposite. Except they have been doing just the opposite.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2008-08-01T22:07:28-06:00
ID
132744
Comment

What: The TDN scheme didn't save them?

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-08-01T22:38:17-06:00
ID
132745
Comment

Late-night snark aside, this is tragic for the staff, both those laid off and those not. I had already heard that the recent hiring freeze, pension freeze, and internal transfers had morale at an all-time low there. It seems that NOW, Gannett has realized that its strategy to lure younger readers isn't working and that they are turning off their "boomer" readers by dumbing down the paper so much (someone should tell that younger readers don't like dumb newspapers, either). Not to say we told them so, but we told them so. For years, we've been saying that the Ledger's biggest problem is getting away from the core competency of being a good newspaper and doing everything (except most Marshall Ramsey cartoons) bad instead. Check out the critical Gannett Blog, which is talking about the Ledger layoffs. A commenter over there says Ramsey tried to leave last year and the most recent publisher lured him into staying. Can't vouch for the truth of that, of course. It's also interesting to us to note how national media allows the Ledger to rest on the laurels of its increasingly distant past civil rights reporting. In recent years, this reporting has even gone to pot, with the Ledger and even the "ace" reporter on that beat, declaring many times that Killen was the "last," and reporting that James Ford Seale was dead without factchecking it. They came alive, partly anyway, again a bit after so much criticism (much of it from us) for turning their backs on remaining cold cases and for the shoddy reporting on that front. And, we will add, that the reporting was always focused on finding a Klansman to prosecute, seldom contextual or particularly engaging writing. We applaud Mitchell for doing what he did in past years to help bring certain cases to justice, and for laying some groundwork for future investigations, but the Ledger let this ball drop. I can only assume it was because "enterprise" reporting hasn't been valued by Gannett in the last decade. The truth is that The Clarion-Ledger hasn't even been able to build on its own legacy of civil-rights reporting by passing that torch to young teams of reporters with the energy and passion to keep digging at these cases. They have FBI documents rotting in their files that someone should be doing something with. And when we learned that all you had to do was drive into Meadville, Roxie or Natchez and ask about James Ford Seale and find out exactly where he was living, they completely lost my respect on this front. The Ledger has become a hallmark of lazy reporting, doing many important interviews by telephone or, gasp, by e-mail. This is a problem of leadership there. They should not have allowed the paper to fall apart as it has, even if they had to fight corporate every step of the way. They've made their bed, even as it's sad that their better employees have to lie in it ... or get out.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-08-02T11:32:35-06:00
ID
132746
Comment

Today, the Gannett Blog has information from Gannett's second-quarter 1998 report, in which the company actually predicted many of today's challenges -- even as it responded exactly wrong to them. This is my particular favorite, from 1998: a decline in general newspaper readership patterns as a result of competitive alternative media or other factors

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-08-02T11:35:36-06:00
ID
132751
Comment

I think the CL is suffering neglect. Even in the Gannett chain, it's a third-cousin to the big papers. It's a place to send people to get experience, not a destination.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2008-08-02T18:02:08-06:00
ID
132752
Comment

It's used to be that Gannett thought of The Clarion-Ledger as a cash cow for the company. They didn't have any competition to speak of, and their profit margins were very high, as we understand it, with relatively low costs being that they didn't put a lot of resources into actual in-depth reporting. Now, though that seems to be changing. It looks like The Ledger is the *first* Gannett paper targeted for layoffs. That sounds like a slap from the home office. All that said, the home office never should have let them get away with the child's games they've tried to play, like TDN and not covering important Melton stories. If the leadership at The Ledger is lacking, then it's really bad coming from the real top of the chain where it looks like they assumed the Ledger would keep sending back big bucks from Mississippi with little attention or guidance from corporate. And here we are. This was sadly predictable.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-08-02T19:48:57-06:00
ID
132755
Comment

I hate it for the people that are getting ready to be let go, but golly - it's been known amongst the savvy people of the Jackson area that the C-L is nothing but one big puff piece. They wouldn't know news if it bit them on the keister. On the rare occasion that they present a real news piece, it's not complete... or accurate. I stopped reading paper copies and went to the Net. That way, I don't pay for their stuff. Marshall Ramsey is the C-L's only saving grace, IMHO.

Author
Lady Havoc
Date
2008-08-02T20:59:16-06:00
ID
132756
Comment

Case in point, a powerful Ramsey today. It really is too bad that his cartoon is wrapped up in such a bad newspaper. You can see why he considered leaving, if the Gannett Blog had that right. And you're right, Lady. If there is one thing Mississippians can agree on, it's that the Ledger is a pitiful paper. And it's not because they are so good that they tick off all sides. It's because they do very little well. How many stories have we seen them miss, or muck up, over the years? From tort reform to Melton to James Ford Seale's mortality, and so many in between, they are too numerous to count. I was speaking to a journo professor at Medill a couple weeks ago when I was in Chicago to teach. He said that the corporate newspaper companies had so much hubris during the good times (meaning record high profit margins) that they quit carrying about readers or their own employees. It was all about the shareholders. Now that arrogant chicken is coming home to roost.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-08-03T09:31:42-06:00
ID
132757
Comment

Even as The Clarion-Ledger is laying off 20 people and freezing jobs—and one of their layoff is in his 60s, a poster on Gannett Blog says—Gannett's top brass is doing very well, still getting their "free lunches" on top of their very impressive compensation. Read more and view salaries/perks of Gannett brass here.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-08-03T10:03:58-06:00
ID
132759
Comment

From The Ledger's recent archives in July: a story about Nissan layoffs called "Nissan Woes Trickle Down": More than 200 workers at automotive supplier companies lost their jobs as Nissan North America cut production at its Canton plant. The eliminations come at a tough time; jobs are scarce, groceries cost more, gas is around $4 a gallon, homes aren't selling and credit is tight [...] Many workers who called The Clarion-Ledger in the past week said they were let go with no regard to seniority, no severance package and little if any advance notice. Meantime, don't forget about what Gannett brass makes, and the fact that the home office is still turning a very hefty profit, even as it shinks local news coverage and lays off long-term employees and tries to destroy locally owned media. What a good Jackson citizen they are. And some people wonder why we "obsess" over them. Here's your reason, folks. It's the corporate media for you: It's not about news and serving readers and employees; it's about stock price and profit margins, communities and employees be damned.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-08-03T11:16:17-06:00
ID
132796
Comment

Here's more info we're getting about the layoffs: - a graphic artist with 20-plus years at the CL - an assistant metro editor with about 15 years here, and the oldest person in the newsroom - a copy editor who started within the last six months and was one of the youngest people on the staff. To put it into perspective, Gannett Corp. enjoyed a $232.7 million profit last quarter, and is on track to make a billion dollars this year. But the company makes it clear to outlets like The Clarion-Ledger that they are expected to maintain 25 percent profit margins even in tough times. We're also hearing that this is the third Gannett paper to make layoffs without offering buyouts first. So we're probably looking at a corporate-wide trend. Good luck to the laid-off workers.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-08-04T13:11:27-06:00
ID
132798
Comment

The Gannett Blog today is discussing a New York Times story about Gannett's woe's that says that things have gotten so bad with the company that the list of potential buyers for its properties, like The Clarion-Ledger, is dwindling fast. And a reader posts underneath: Gannett paid much more than anyone else would pay for newspapers I was at a few years ago and has since trashed them so badly that even if new owners took over, they'd be hard-pressed to undo the damage that's been done - a Gannett strength I've learned. Given that, and what Gannett and others have done to their other properties to "make their numbers", it's really no surprise that buyers are remaining on the sidelines, at least for now.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-08-04T13:16:13-06:00
ID
132853
Comment

Donna I don't know if you know this, but I used to be a journalist before my current career (I miss reporting, truth be told, but I digress). Once, when I was younger, I was interning for the summer at a top-20 circulation newspaper on the East Coast when an editor grabbed me aside and mentioned he had worked in the Delta as a reporter during the 1960's for a very brief stint, covering Civil Rights issues. He had heard that I had grown up in Mississippi and he asked me, point blank, "Why hasn't Jerry Mitchell - or anyone there at the Clarion Ledger - won a Pulitzer yet? There's so much to write about down there, especially now. They would have some hell of a story." (This was a few years ago, when documents were forcibly being released, et cetera). It was a great question - and one to which I really didn't have an answer (or at least not one I felt like I could tell this top editor, who I didn't know really). No reporter (or newspaper, in terms of the Public Service category) is "owed" a Pulitzer, but I got the gist of his question: why weren't they doing more? I'm slightly embarrassed to admit this, for fear it will make me look arrogant or that I enjoy what some may call pre-existing stereotypes about Mississippi, but I still send my many reporter friends (who are still in the biz) links to C-L articles. Articles that are absolutely awful. I once had a friend, a reporter for another large-circulation newspaper, send me a reply: "They actually PRINTED this? Seriously? No way." It seems to me that the Ledge's reporting AND writing have deathly fallen by the wayside. It's one thing for a newspaper to slack in the reporting category - you can't write great stories if the reporting is not there, for sure - but even the basic writing is pretty horrendous. I'm not trying to be harsh or unnecessarily critical, but there are some pretty basic errors that just scream out - sentences that make absolutely no sense, articles which leave out key facts (when did this event occur? where, specifically, was this crime? who is this person you are quoting), not to mention the grammatical and factual errors (they'd certainly give Anne, one of my favorite copyeditors of all time at another newspaper, a miniature heart attack). The real losers in all of this, of course, are Jacksonians and Mississippians. Citizens, and societies, rely, whether explicitly or intentionally, on the critical functions that journalism serves - disseminating information, questioning (dare I say challenging? perhaps) the power-holders, asking critical questions of government from the very basic fundamental level of city councils on up. I truly believe that all media outlets, whether they ascribe to an explicitly "Public Watchdog" mission or not, are charged - and recognize - their power as the Fourth Estate. Certainly this is a sad, sad day for the reporters, editors, copyeditors, photographers, designers, (et cetera) involved. Yet I think it's perhaps an even more tragic day for our State.

Author
emsy
Date
2008-08-05T11:23:20-06:00
ID
132854
Comment

Great post, emsy. And I agree with you all around. One thing that makes me a bit crazy is the bigotry of low expectations that the media elite (including my own graduate school, Columbia) apply to Mississippi. Because The Clarion-Ledger has done some decent reporting (not usually coupled with good writing) on old Klan cases, they become the standard-bearer. That would be fine if they hadn't turned around and dropped the ball in that arena so dramatically, or if one reporter didn't seem to try to own the whole thing, meaning that he isn't in the mood to do it, it doesn't get done. It was a very annoying moment when, within minutes after we got the word on the Seale indictment (meaning we could post our front-page package about it, and yes we were first ), Mother Jones posted an article about Jerry Mitchell *right then*, giving him credit for bringing Seale to that point. OK, here's the thing: Only a handful of journalists who had been involved with Dee-Moore investigations in the past (the JFP, CBC, the Ledger, ABC, as I understand it) knew that the indictment was coming that day, and that we could publish/post when it happened. We weren't supposed to tell anyone. I know Mother Jones wasn't alerted by the authorities; clearly, someone close to the Ledger pitched the Mitchell story to them to coincide with the indictment being posted. I can only assume that Mother Jones was ignorant to the fact that although Mitchell had done good work in the past on the case, he had dropped it, said in interviews there would never be justice in it, and even reported bad information that Seale was dead (that apparently came about because an AP reporter called down there and got a relative who lied about it, and didnt't check it out further). In other words, if it were up to the Ledger, Seale would not be in jail now. The case was closed as far as they were concerned. The Killen case was supposed to be the "last," bringing "closure." Meantime, though, the Ledger is seen by naive national media as the standard-bearer on this kind of reporting in the South, even as they barely do anything of note any longer, and reportedly had a hard time getting a reporter down to the Coast to find a story after Katrina. Mitchell himself royally mucked up tort-reform coverage by drinking U.S. Chamber Koolaid and ignoring vital information about insurance reform in California. They gave Melton a pass all those years probably because he had friends who were higher-ups there, and then there was the Ledger cover-up during his campaign about (a) being involved in a lawsuit with him in which (b) he was lying under oath about leaking then a false memo and (c) then endorsing him without telling readers any of that. They refused to cover the Ridgeway Street demolition until two days after we broke it. They regurgitated all of Melton et al's propaganda about Harvey Johnson, Robert Moore and Faye Peterson without factchecking -- or looking closely at what Ed Peters did. In so doing, they fueled crime hysteria that helped put Frank Melton right where he is. I haven't seen any articles where they took a close look at Ed Peters over the years -- even as he and his staff became heroes over the Medgar Evers case (which was intriguing timing, I realize now.) They let politicians lie to the paper without factchecking what they say, and print it like it's gospel. They've been so enamored with the death penalty (or advertisers who support the death penalty, more likely) that they have not looked into reports about Steven Hayne over the years or the many cases of possible innocent people in prison. They hadn't noticed that governors have been pardoning killers, and more recently, woman-killers.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-08-05T11:58:15-06:00
ID
132855
Comment

They reported bad information about Haley Barbour's trust and affiliation with his lobbying firm early in his tenure as governor without question. Then there is their terrible coverage of the Minor-Diaz-et al trials in which they fanned the DOJ flames, and so much more. I could go on, but enough. The Clarion-Ledger does not deserve a Pulitzer for reporting; it deserves a huge kick in the ass for doing such bad reporting over the years, with some exceptions. Unfortunately, it's those exceptions that get the attention and all the disservice to the community and the state goes unnoticed.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-08-05T11:58:36-06:00
ID
132857
Comment

OK, here is a case in point on the Ledger's brand of reporting. On his blog, Radley Balko of Reason (who did the investigation that is probably completely responsible for bringing down Steven Hayne as medical examiner) talks about how Mitchell goes and finds the one guy, he says, willing to defend Hayne and makes it look like his support is split. This is the trap of sound-bite-v.-sound-bite so-called "objective" reporting, and the Ledger and Mitchell specialize in it. (I remember a story back a while when the Ledger "balanced" an NAACP quote with a old-Klansman quote, and my skin crawled at the immorality of such a thing.)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-08-05T12:34:27-06:00
ID
132865
Comment

Adding my two cents: Donna, while we all appreciate your dedicated hatred for the Clarion-Ledger, you may be going a bit overboard. Part of the problem at the Ledger is that they have ignored their majority young staff. Ronnie, Don and Grace kill the spirit and creativity of the reporters. Still curious though why Larry Whitaker got new floors, a bonus and extra "perks" but there were 20 people laid off?

Author
willwork4food
Date
2008-08-05T20:25:58-06:00
ID
132869
Comment

Oh no, willwork, it's not a "dedicated hatred" of The Clarion-Ledger; it's a "dedicated hatred" of bad reporting (or the lack of) that has such a devastating effect on a community. And it's a "dedicated hatred" of all the resources that company squanders when we work so hard on a shoestring to get needed information out there. Real information. I really don't think one can go "overboard" in expressing those concerns. Otherwise, I pretty much agree with you and have said it many times, and have heard Ledger staffers say it many times: the problem is from the top. It always is. Good leaders solve problems from the other end, or move them along. In the Ledger's case, it's got a double whammy of a leadership problem—at the local outlet and in Gannett HQ. That's hard to overcome. I know there are, and have been, talented young people over there. Editors can see talent that just needs some tender, loving care (or perhaps a good kick in the butt TO GET THE HELL OUT OF THE OFFICE AND REPORT! TO LOSE THE PASSIVES! TO GET THE CONTEXT! TO RE-WRITE IT INTO SOMETHING TO BE PROUD OF!) Good reporters have good editors, period. It's a partnership. Of course, that doesn't even get into the idiotic decisions over there on the business side that have really lowered the community's estimation of The Ledger. Start with TDN and go from there. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Yep, and Whittaker putting in hardwood floors while not giving the staff their $50 gift certificates or even a staff party was pretty shitty, no doubt.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-08-05T20:42:32-06:00
ID
132871
Comment

Come on! What a News Flash -The CL reduces staff by 20 people...and most of those laid off got weeks/months of severance pay ...how many employees does the JFP have this year compared to last - betcha you are down more than 5%...and what's the problem if an employer does not give $50 gift certificates - I have worked for 14 years at Walmart and we don't get a Christmas bonus...the CL cutting back by 5% is a non story....except to donna...there have been 18 comments and Ladd has made 14 of them...get a life and quit trying to be a real newspaper wannabe.

Author
jackisback
Date
2008-08-05T21:36:35-06:00
ID
132872
Comment

Oooo, Jack, you told me off on my own site, didn't you? Nice going. Actually, since you asked so nicely, our, er, "wannabe" staff has increased over the last year by probably 25 percent, and our office space doubled in January. We're a small business that works very hard to do high-quality journalism and to make our people among the best and most sought-after, but our staff members got $100 gift certificates for Christmas to local businesses because they are very important to us, even in tough times. (The staffers and the local businesses.) I don't mean to say it's an easy business by any means. But we don't have shareholders that insist on a 25-percent profit margin, which in turn limits the news a paper can cover in the community, or the quality of the coverage and the writing. Also, maybe you didn't get the memo at Wal-Mart, but this was national news that we picked up—from Editor & Publisher magazine, the top trade magazine for the newspaper industry. It's all over the place nationally because, er, it's a big deal when a monopoly newspaper starts laying people off, especially people over 60 who have been there for 15 years. (BTW, I think they got a week's severence for every year they've been there if I heard right.) With due respect, just because it doesn't matter to you doesn't mean it doesn't matter to the community or to the news industry. So you might as well de-puff your chest because no one here cares. And you know, I don't think I've told anybody to "get a life" since I was 14. Cute and quaint, I must say. I am interested to hear you say that Wal-Mart doesn't give employees a Christmas gift. Wow.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-08-05T23:04:14-06:00
ID
132873
Comment

get a life and quit trying to be a real newspaper wannabe. She does have a life. It's called being the editor-in-chief of the best paper in the state. That "real" newspaper waited six days to report the Melton trial delay. They were also behind (like most other media here) in reporting the Ridgeway St. incident. That "real" newspaper didn't bother to find out that James Ford Seale was actually alive instead of saying that he was dead. Is the JFP the New York Times? No...at least not yet. But it's definitely not the Clarion-Ledger.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2008-08-05T23:08:55-06:00
ID
132874
Comment

Thanks, golden. And it's quite the busy life that I don't have. ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-08-05T23:14:47-06:00
ID
132879
Comment

Inspiring venom is often a sign of success!

Author
FreeClif
Date
2008-08-06T09:23:24-06:00
ID
132934
Comment

FYI...GannettBlog is taking the C-L to task for reporting layoffs of 25 employees at Ameristar in Vicksburg but for not mentioning their own woes.

Author
Todd Stauffer
Date
2008-08-08T13:07:03-06:00
ID
133172
Comment

They finally reported it, two weeks after the fact, in a national story out of New York. Quotes from the local boyz: "In nearly every advertising segment, our customers are reporting difficult times for their businesses," said Larry K. Whitaker, president and publisher of The Clarion-Ledger. "These economic forces, which are out of our control, make it necessary for us to reduce our work force." and "While these may be tough economic times for the newspaper industry, we can assure our readers that we will continue to be a leader in the delivery of news online and in print," said Ronnie Agnew, The Clarion-Ledger's executive editor. "Readers have come to expect strong public journalism from this newspaper. That won't change." Emphasis of B.S. statement added. I'll say it again: During the mayoral campaign, they should have told Jackson that Melton was lying under oath in the lawsuit they were wound up with him in. To name just one of the reasons why Jackson isn't in love with the Ledger. It has shown nothing but contempt for our city. It's rather remarkable to now hear them whining about how the "Jackson market" hasn't supported them enough. Pshaw.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-08-18T14:10:46-06:00

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