News Clip: Gannett Publisher: Even With Steep Cuts, We’re Not Giving Up On Local News

Daily Record, Home News and Courier News editorial staffs will drop from 99 to 53.

By Louis C. Hochman

Originally published on Morristown Patch · January 12, 2011

Note:

Even as Gannett cuts its newsroom staff in half at three New Jersey newspapers, Asbury Park Press publisher Tom Donovan said the company is “not backing off from local reporting” in the Morris, Somerset and Middlesex County areas.

The Daily Record

Donovan—also a vice president with Gannett’s East Group who oversees the Daily Record, the Courier News and the Home News Tribune—said newspaper customers shouldn’t expect a drastically different product after the staff cuts take place on Feb. 4. The current roster of 99 editorial staff members will drop to 53.

“We still have a very significant number of local reporters full-time in those markets, to continue to serve those markets. … We’re not ceding any of those markets from a local content standpoint,” Donovan said.

The three northernmost Gannett New Jersey newspapers will undergo a massive editorial restructuring in the next few weeks. Existing employees are being asked to apply for a selection of positions about half the size of the current staff; management candidates will interview for jobs first, with reporting and other news staff members interviewing shortly after.

The cuts affect editors, reporters, photographers and other newsroom staffers.

“There are 53 positions in the new structure. Out of those three locations [the Daily Record, Courier News and Home News offices], the 99 folks that are involved here are the same 99 that are going to be interviewing for these jobs,” Donovan said. “We’re not looking all over the place. We’ve got some top-notch people. But the job descriptions and the job skills have changed to be more in line with what the future will require.”

The Daily Record, based in Parsippany, primarily serves Morris County; the Courier News primarily serves Somerset County; and the Home News Tribune primarily serves Middlesex County.

The Courier News and Home News Tribune consolidated several aspects of their operation in recent years, and now share a website, facilities and several key staff members. Those two papers, the Daily Record and the Asbury Park Press have also regionalized their classified departments, circulation departments, copy desks and other aspects of their operations. Many of the shared resources are based out of the Asbury Park Press in Neptune; three of those papers are now printed at the Press as well.

Donovan declined to discuss the cost savings involved with current restructuring, which does not involve changes to non-editorial departments or any facilities.

“The bottom line here is what we’re trying to do is leverage all of our reporting capabilities, as it applies to the geography in play here, and take a look at how we deploy those resources,” Donovan said. “That’s the gist of what we’re trying to do.”

For the 53 remaining editorial staff members—and for the editorial staff of the Asbury Park Press, which isn’t eliminating positions at this time—that may mean changes to core responsibilities. Donovan said in some cases, reporters could be focused more on topics than specific local beats—but he stressed no final decisions have been made to that effect.

“One of the things we’re looking at is, ‘Are there topics of interest in the markets that would benefit from additional deeper coverage?’ But I’m not saying we’re going to do that,” Donovan said. “Specifically, we’re looking at Morristown [the Daily Record] as a starting point there.”

The staffs remaining at the three affected newspapers may do work that benefits the readership of the Asbury Park Press, and Press employees may work on projects benefiting the other papers, Donovan said.

He said news coverage is “ever-evolving,” and that means changes in strategy and approach must be considered.

“There’s management consolidation. There’s leveraging of the resources we have here,” Donovan said. “I think there’s enough examples out there of newspapers that have regional clusters that have gone to this type of approach far sooner than we are.”

Donovan said that while the newspapers will share some content—and have increased efforts to do so in recent years—readers should still expect each paper to retain its own identity.

“They’re still going to be their own newspapers,” he said. “You’re not going to see a big morphing of one edition.”

Gannett will pay its departing staff members the difference between their salaries and unemployment insurance, for up to 26 weeks (one week for each year of service), Donovan said.

The Daily Record will continue to be run under a publisher; the Home News Tribune and Courier News will continue to be run by a general manager.

The Daily Record, Courier News and Home News last saw major layoffs in the spring and summer of 2009, when several operations were consolidated with those of the Asbury Park Press. All copy editing and design work was moved at that time to the Neptune paper. Most copy editors were offered the opportunity to continue employment at that office, while management-level editors were asked to reapply for a reduced selection of open positions.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that since December of 2008, more than 300 full-time and about 20 part-time positions had been eliminated at Gannett’s six New Jersey papers (which also include the Daily Journal in Vineland and the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill). Donovan couldn’t immediately confirm those numbers Tuesday.

Note: Louis C. Hochman is a former employee of the Daily Record. He left the newspaper in May 2010.