Cuts swept across Gannett papers today as the newspaper company looked to shore up its bottom line following disappointing 2018 financial results.
The Tennessean cut three positions: high school sports reporter Michael Murphy, video producer Michael Schwab and regional editor Nancy Broden, the latter of whom was working mostly on the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro.
In an eight-minute meeting, vice president for USA Today Network-Tennessee Michael Anastasi told staff that layoffs had been completed around the company and in Nashville, but that he was not at liberty to confirm names. Between the cuts, buyouts and a number of open positions — The Tennessean’s headcount was 75 but will now be in the mid-60s — the staff will require some restructuring.
“We’ll need to have a lot of individual conversations with people in this room and elsewhere in Tennessee whose jobs will be changing,” Anastasi said. “Some of the [vacant] positions are eliminated, some remain open. We anticipate filling some over the course of the year.”
The Gannett layoffs are separate from a scheduled set of 60 layoffs in March, when The Tennessean moves its printing operations to Knoxville.
Two high-profile openings in the newsroom are sure to be closely watched. Investigative reporter Dave Boucher left for the Dallas Morning News in the fall, and music reporter Juli Thanki decamped for the Country Music Hall of Fame at the end of the year.
How soon those slots can be filled depends on the size of the so-called “dark budget” — a corporate-mandated set of savings local papers have to achieve from their existing payrolls — Gannett forces The Tennessean to run. Anastasi confirmed that the paper will have to keep positions unfilled throughout the year, but didn’t specify how many or for how long. In past years, Gannett has used dark budgets as a tool to help maintain higher profit margins.
“Investigative reporting remains a high priority in Tennessee and throughout the company,” Anastasi said in the meeting.
Several Tennessean staffers expressed frustration to the Post at both the cuts and the way they were handled, with employees notified and gone before the meeting while three staffers who took buyouts were given a party and well wishes.
“I’m beyond disgusted,” said one reporter, who asked to go unidentified.
Nashville wasn’t the only newsroom in the state to experience cuts. At the Knoxville News-Sentinel, a small staff got even smaller. According to the Knoxville Newspaper Guild, 30-year sports reporter Dan Fleser, who covers the Lady Vols, and recently hired Amy McDaniel, a features editor, were laid off. Compass Knoxville says that editorial cartoonist Charlie Daniel, who had been at the paper for six decades, was pushed out after refusing to take a buyout.
Longtime KNS Executive Editor Jack McElroy announced in December that he would retire on Feb. 1. He has held the top position at the newspaper for 17 years. With the cuts, the News-Sentinel newsroom will number less than 40.
The Commercial Appeal in Memphis was largely spared, having just hired a number of replacement reporters and editors after losing staff to the launch of The Daily Memphian. The Commercial Appeal now lists a staff of fewer than 35.