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Westchester lays off 79, plans to hire 12

Gannettoid.com | news@gannettoid.com | Posted: Aug. 28, 2009 • Updated: Aug. 31

The restructuring plan announced Aug. 12 at The Journal News in Westchester, N.Y., has been completed.

The Gannett newspaper laid off 79 employees, but after a higher-than-expected number of employees who chose not to be considered for jobs, Journal News publisher Michael Fisch said the paper is now looking to hire 12 people for its advertising department.

Fisch confirmed in a phone interview Friday morning with Gannettoid.com that the planned layoffs in the news and advertising departments are finished. The Gannett newspaper told all 288 of its news and advertising department employees their jobs were being eliminated and they had two days to reapply for 217 new positions with the company.

Fisch said 41 employees opted out of the process, including 22 in the advertising department and 19 in editorial. An additional eight in advertising and 30 in news were also laid off, making the total number of layoffs 79, nine more than the projected number from when the paper first announced the restructuring.

The paper also laid off six in its commercial printing department in July, 57 employees in early-August and 60 in the final quarter of 2008.

Fisch said although the number of employees who opted out of consideration for jobs was higher than anticipated, that had a positive benefit.

"That actually lowered the number of positions we had to eliminate," Fisch said.

Fisch confirmed the paper was consolidating its business coverage to only the local business staff, laying off three business reporters, as reported by the Talking Biz News blog run by Chris Roush of the University of North Carolina. The business editor and data desk editor were also laid off.

Fisch also confirmed one employee who is staying is Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Matt Davies. The Daily Cartoonist first reported the news and Cagle.com had the initial news that Davies would be laid off.

Davies told The Daily Cartoonist, "I am not going anywhere. ... The paper’s readers owe a big thanks to my editor Henry Freeman who quietly worked to ensure that my position was revived and ultimately kept alive during a particularly bruising round of downsizing in our newsroom."

Davies added: "While I am of course personally relieved, my thoughts are with my talented and venerated colleagues who didn’t survive the cuts this week."

A person told Gannettoid.com that six positions from the photography department, including three full-time photographers, one part-time photographer and two photo desk/graphics position, were among the cuts.

The same source also said most of the Rockland advertising department opted out, including the department's director, as did the director of online advertising and multiple sales executives.

Fisch confirmed the news about the Rockland sales staff, saying, "we did maintain some of them" and "the office will be fully staffed next week."

Fisch said with the higher number of opt outs than expected, some positions remain left to be filled.

Newsday's Neil Best had previously reported both of the paper's NFL beat writers, Ernie Palladino and Jane McManus, and the sports section's assignment editor had opted out.

Fisch, who came to Westchester after serving in the same position at The Honolulu Advertiser, said it is not the most difficult time he has been through at a newspaper, but said the restructuring process has been difficult.

"It is certainly a difficult process and a difficult period, no question about it," he said. "Any time jobs are in jeopardy, it's a difficult time."

Fisch said a major difference from past layoffs is employees had a chance to compete for jobs.

Most of the employees leaving are already gone, Fisch said, but the rest would complete their employment today.

"Now we're through to the process of rebuilding morale and moving forward," Fisch said. "We have a lot of things to do so people will quickly focus on work we need to do."

Fisch said no senior management members were laid off or had their pay cut, but said many senior management positions were eliminated in layoffs a year ago.

Gannett began shedding jobs with cuts one year ago this month, including major rounds in December and this summer.

According to comments in the Gannettoid.com forum, Laurel Babcock, the paper's community life editor, did not wait to try and re-fill holiday shifts vacated by people leaving the paper. Babcock sent a memo Thursday morning telling employees, "In reviewing the upcoming holiday shifts, we now have two open slots on Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, but perhaps we can do without them. ... Volunteers are now being accepted."

The note did not mention layoffs or the restructuring.

These cuts follow a round of six layoffs in July and 57 earlier this month.

Westchester is one of Gannett's worst-performing newspapers in the circulation trends category. According to internal corporate documents obtained by Gannettoid.com, Westchester's circulation declined 16 percent from June 2008 to June 2009. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, Westchester had an average weekday circulation of 95,389 for the six-month period that ended in March. The 16-percent decline ranks as the 66th worst drop on a list of 80 properties listed in the Gannett document.

The paper is in the middle of the pack for Sunday declines with a 9.1-percent drop over that time period.

Previous: Aug. 12 news | Aug. 13 memo | Aug. 14 memo | Aug. 19 memo


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