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More Courier-Journal furloughs coming: ‘This is the way (Gannett) does business now’

by Terry Boyd

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This comment popped up on an Insider Louisville post Tuesday just as furloughs were announced internally at Courier-Journal parent company, Gannett Co. Inc.

Here’s an update for you: Gannett just announced mandatory furloughs for the first quarter of 2012, again due to an unfortunate economic climate. Unbelievable. I guess my child will have to eat from the McDonald’s dollar menu a few extra days this January so that the execs can get their 20 million dollar bonuses for cutting jobs.

Sure enough, Gannett Blog had confirmation a few hours later of the fifth round of one-week quarterly furloughs since 2008 at the McLean, Va.-based TV and newspaper chain.

The author of the comment does not work at the Courier-Journal. But Insider Louisville was able to interview briefly a few people in Louisville about how they and colleagues are dealing with furloughs and staff cuts in response to Gannett’s shrinking revenue and profits.

The dominant sentiment at the CJ seems to be resignation as staffers grow used to decreasing resources and increasing workloads.

(Gannett Blog’s Jim Hopkins, a former Courier-Journal business reporter, stated on his blog that furloughs have saved Gannett a total of $67 million. Gannett Blog also has juicy posts about how the new Louisville News Design Studio hub allowed two errors – a prominent misspelling and an obscenity – into the Greenville News in South Carolina, which is designed here.)

A source who is not a staffer but who has direct knowledge of CJ operations, said the sports department is the only department at the Courier-Journal to go unscathed through budget cuts and staff cuts: “I think – and this is just my personal opinion – but I sense that it’s becoming a ‘sports and everyone else’ mindset.”

One source described employees as “underwhelmed” by the announcement of another round of unpaid furloughs.

“This is just the way this company does business now,” the source said. No one interviewed in Louisville brought up the issue of retiring CEO Craig Dubrow and his $37.5 million retirement/disability package after five years running Gannett, which has been a national story.

No sources were directly critical of Louisville management, and none said Gannett’s furloughs affect their standard of living.

“People just say, ‘I have an additional week off,’ ” a source said.

Instead, most told Insider Louisville the main concern is attrition and the daily challenge of trying to commit quality journalism with a shoestring operation.

Courier-Journal sources describe a scaled down editorial operation, a harried advertising department and agitated union printers after Gannett cut 50 people in Louisville last June. Chain-wide, the company cut 700 employees, or 2 percent of the total workforce.

Reporters scramble to do story triage based on a company-wide “passion topics” initiative, sources say. Other sources say a reorganization of the news operation is in the works.

Also on the minds of Louisville staffers are rumors of another round of layoffs coming in January, though most said they doubted the Louisville operation could be any leaner without the newspaper cutting the print edition to five days.

A number of Courier-Journal personnel have left of their own volition, most recently Tom Nord, longtime Velocity editor, who left to take a job in city government. A number of marketing and advertising staffers, including graphic artists, have found new positions at area advertising agencies such as Creative Alliance, according to sources.

“Everyone here is sending out resumes. And it’s starting to sink in that there isn’t much of a future (with Gannett.),” said a veteran.

“I understand … that (Gannett) is trying to get more efficient. But honestly, I don’t see how this trend (of layoffs and furloughs) continues, and we keep the talent we need to keep. After seeing so many people go, you get numb.”

Some of the best known names at the Courier-Journal have departed since 2008, including former editor David Hawpe, columnist Betty Winston-Baye and critic Judith Egerton.

Though total advertising revenue has been decreasing since 2007, Gannett reported smaller losses for the most recent quarter.

Gannett reported 3Q 2011 net income of $99.8 million, down less than 2 percent from $101.4 million from the previous quarter.

But 2010 was a particulary tough year.

The numbers from Bloomberg for the first quarter of this year:

Gannett’s revenue declined for four years in a row to $5.44 billion in 2010, from $7.44 billion in 2007. In the first quarter, revenue dropped 3.7 percent to $1.25 billion and net income fell 23 percent to $90.5 million. The stock price has declined 6.2 percent this year (as of early April). (Editor’s note: Gannett, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “GCI,” closed today at $11.26 per share, up about 40 cents, or about 3.7 percent.)

More about the cuts at Gannett:

“Gannett Laying off 700 More Workers Amid Ad Slump” (ABC News)

“Revenue Still Down, Gannett Lays off 700 Employees” (New York Times Media Decoder blog)

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