The needler in the haystack.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Gannett fires Courier News newsroom staff in sweeping move


Front page of today's Courier, the local Gannett newspaper.
Plainfield beat report Mark Spivey was among the entire newsroom staffs of the Courier News and two other northern New Jersey Gannett newspapers (the Home News Tribune of East Brunswick and the Daily Record of Morristown) summarily let go Monday afternoon, a total of 99 employees.

The news was broken on Jim Hopkins' Gannett Blog (see here), which is devoted to news about the company and its employees.
No warning, and no severance according to comments posted to the blog.

Non-managerial employees have until January 21 to apply for the 53 new positions, according to a memo from Tom Donovan, publisher of the Asbury Park Press, Gannett's lead New Jersey paper (see text here).

The news reached Plainfield bloggers around 5:00 PM, and Maria Pellum responded quickly with a supportive email to Mark. Olddoc, Bernice and I were able to commiserate with him in person at last night's Council meeting.

Though Gannett's bottom line is not mentioned in the memos that have been leaked, it is no secret that many of the company's daily newspapers across the country are struggling to deal with the blows to advertising revenue dealt by the Web. (Craigslist alone has decimated the once juicily-profitable classified advertising category.)

A review of the print circulation statistics is enlightening.

When the decision was made to pull the plug on the Plainfield Courier News in 1972, the paper's weekday audited circulation was approximately 44,000.

Gannett's corporate strategy du jour at that time was to relocate to the burgeoning western suburbs and become the dominant media force in Somerset and Hunterdon counties.

When I was making media buys for the city of Plainfield in the mid-2000s, the total weekday print circulation of the Courier News was approximately 44,000. So much for the grand relocation strategy.

Current circulation figures cited by Hopkins show the Courier News straggling in with a little over 18,000 weekdays.

It must be particularly galling to Gannett staffers, who are simply shuffled like a deck of cards, to learn that top executives' annual bonuses are predicated in part on the success of the mandatory furloughs previously forced on employees -- amounting, in the most recent year, to $3.5 million (see here).

Clearly, this  is not a 'shared sacrifice' company.

I want to believe that the reorganization would not dare not to include Spivey into the reorganized newsroom -- he is a consummate professional, and one of their most-recognized award-winning reporters.

Those who follow the media biz, tho, cannot but wonder how thinly the 'new' staff will be spread, covering more towns more thinly to make up for the staffers who will be lost.

Perhaps Gannett is intent on creating a new form of reportage.

I suggest calling it 'nanojournalism', one atom thick and covering half the state.

And I join Maria and the rest of Plainfield's bloggers in wishing the best for Mark amid these tumultuous changes.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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12 comments:

Bob said...

I think we all wish Mark Spivey and the rest of the staff our best. Mark was wonderful for Plainfiled and brought the Connolly debacle to light forcing the mayor and others to stop ignoring citizens' complaints.

Good luck and God bless, Mark.

Bob Bolmer

Rob said...

Bob...I think we all take offense at your comment regarding the Mayor and the Connolly issue...she was as active preventing the problems in those apartments as she was at all the meetings she never attended regarding the hospital...oh, point made Bob.
- Mark is a good reporter...

Laura said...

If Mark goes, so does my subscription to the CN.

Anonymous said...

Mark Spivey really brought back coverage of Plainfield after the lull following Bernice's departure. He and Riley's opinion piece keep me coming back.

The circulation figures were shocking, however. Only 18,000! How sad that people, especially youth, do not want to follow events in their community when it comes down to a choice between that and time and money spent on other media. And once the youth are lost, will they pick up the newspaper reading "habit" later in life?

It is, also, too bad the Courier dropped other content as fast as their classified lines disappeared. I miss the 3 or 4 op-eds that used to appear opposite the editorial page every day (how many years ago was that?). At least they keep the comic page.

Alan Goldstein said...

This is probably the reason behind the Community Blogs they recently started up. Have the reporters entice the public to provide content along with their regular reporting, then fire the reporters and hope the public will provide the content on the cheap.

Technology killed the cat. But things happen and good journalism will never die as long as they do.

Good luck Mark. Get yourself another horse and ride back into town.

Anonymous said...

I think it answers a question, my mother just called bc she couldn't get anyone to answer the phone in HR for the past 3 days. My father worked there for 40 odd years and she had a question about her health insurance...must be a big shuffle..bye bye miss american pie a/la courier. I dropped it bc the only news that I needed was the obits, no fault of Mark's and as someone said in another post young people don't read papers, sadly. jb

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that I am beyond touched and honored by the outpouring of support I've received from readers during the last 24 hours. It has come in a deluge of phone calls, e-mails and texts; one person even offered to launch a campaign to send letters of support to the paper on my behalf (I politely declined) and another told me that a public servant here, when informed of the news, expressed concern about possibly losing the "voice of Plainfield." Between all of that and the nice comments here, it has made an extremely difficult situation so much more palatable, creating a silver lining to a dark day. My hope is to continue serving the Plainfield area with all the news that's fit to print. I thank everyone again for your support. -Mark

Joan Van Pelt said...

The only reason to subscribe to the Courier was it excellent coverage that Mark provided on Plainfield activities. This means the absolute end to a local newspaper for those of use who subscribe to newspapers for our morning reading. I agree with Laura, cancel the subscription.

Anonymous said...

Mark is awesome. The courier doesn't know what they are losing. He will find a job easily. He is an Arnold Diaz type reporter - but better. Best wishes Mark

YEP I SAID IT!!! said...

Mark -

It is great knowing a fair and personable journalist. Whenever I would see you I would say, "Hey Mark!" and you would pleasantly say, "Hey there!"

You always made me feel like you knew me.

Courier News was your vehicle to longer avenues and bumpier roads. Your journey continues. I look forward to reading more from you.

All the very best of the very best!

YEP I SAID IT!!!

Dottie Gutenkauf said...

In the meantime, according to the Star-Ledger today, Gannett's profits are up. I wonder what the executives' salaries are--perhaps they're just so high that the company can't afford reporters any more? (snark)

Mark Spivey's reporting has been wonderful, to say the least--concise, thorough, and impartial. He's the best thing about the paper. We all need him--and if he goes as a result of this, that's the end of the Courier for me too.

Prof. Williams said...

I hope the Courier does the right thing and rehires Mark. I thought that his Connolly series was worthy of a Pulitzer--which will be coming his way some day! His reporting, along with his promoting of the Courier's Plainfield microsite, has brought many Plainfielders back to the Courier-News, albeit via the Internet.

Rebecca