At a time when local journalism is more important than ever, Gannett is asking its staff to make a “collective sacrifice,” reports The Daily Beast. In an email to staff, Gannett Media CEO Paul Bascobert announced the company will make significant unpaid furloughs and pay cuts across the entire organization, despite a recent surge in online traffic and subscriptions. Bascobert blames a deep decline in advertising revenue from the coronavirus pandemic for the cuts, which could begin as early as this week.
According to Gregory Holman of USA Today on Twitter (@GregHolmanNL), unpaid furloughs will be for one work week per month for the months of April, May and June, and will apply to journalists making more than $38,000. To help ease the sting, Bascobert said he will not draw a salary and some Gannett executives will take a 25% cut in pay until the furloughs and pay reductions have ended.
“Our plan is to minimize long-term damage to the business by implementing a combination of furloughs and pay reductions. By choosing a collective sacrifice, we can keep our staff intact, reduce our cost structure, deliver for our readers and clients and be ready to emerge strong and with opportunity to grow when this crisis passes. Following this announcement, you will hear from your leadership on the specific actions to be taken in your area, many of which will begin as soon as this week,” Bascobert said.
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“We realize these actions will put economic hardship on all of you and I don’t take these measures lightly,” Bascobert added in his memo to employees. “I would simply and humbly say ‘thank you.’ Our goal is to ensure that when we get through these difficult times, we emerge fully able to continue our important role serving our readers, clients and communities.”
The Arizona Republic Guild, a union representing Gannett-owned Arizona Republic, spoke out on the issue on Twitter yesterday as well. They mention several cost-saving measures, which are in line with what Bascobert has proposed.
In a related concern, two full-time reporters for AZCentral.com have no health insurance, no paid time off and no job protections. The Guild is asking Gannett to make this right, especially because the publisher says it values the health of its employees. To garner support for these reporters, who are environmental fellows, the Guild is asking Gannett to give them equal benefits through an online petition on The Action Network.
Gannett was acquired by private equity New Media Investment Group, parent company of GateHouse, in November. The combined companies comprise the new Gannett. For the fourth quarter of 2019, Gannett posted a $95.1 million loss. Just weeks after the merger, Gannett announced its first round of layoffs in an effort to cut costs and efficiencies. These cuts are separate from the company’s overall plan to identify operational synergies and eliminate positions.
As the coronavirus wreaks havoc on our country and the world, journalists and support staff are critical to sharing important information and resources with the public. This is not the time to cut staff or reduce their pay, but Gannett is not alone. Other media outlets are suffering right now too, and they do not have the reserves to keep things running as usual: The Stranger (Seattle), Eugene (Oregon) Weekly, Weekly Alibi (Albuquerque, New Mexico), BuzzFeed, Future PLC and others. Many of the businesses that supported these publications through advertising dollars are in dire straits themselves. We don’t know what the answer is, but we question whether the coronavirus outbreak is a convenient excuse for Gannett or if it is truly out of resources to pay its staff while asking them to literally put their lives on the line to cover the pandemic.