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VOL. 132 | NO. 188 | Thursday, September 21, 2017

New Gannett Cuts Eliminate Two More Commercial Appeal Employees

By Andy Meek

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The effects of another companywide restructuring at newspaper publisher Gannett Co. Inc. – which owns USA Today as well as The Commercial Appeal – have touched the newsroom in Memphis, following an even deeper round of local cuts earlier this year.

Gannett delivered notice to the CA’s employee union on Monday, Sept. 18, that a reduction in force would happen this week, cuts that were implemented Tuesday morning. Union president Daniel Connolly said two people at the paper lost their jobs as part of Gannett’s announcement earlier this month that it would be trimming its headcount by a little less than 1 percent.

Among those cut in Memphis was longtime reporter Kevin McKenzie.

“While this job cut is smaller than those we saw earlier this year, it’s a life-changing event for the people involved and we take it very seriously,” Connolly said in a statement distributed after the terminations Tuesday, Sept. 19. Gannett had about 17,100 U.S. employees at the end of 2016.

After laying off 31 percent of The Commercial Appeal’s newsroom workforce six months ago, new cuts by Gannett Co. have eliminated two more positions. (Daily News File)

Gannett, the dominant newspaper owner in Tennessee with half a dozen properties across each of the state’s major media markets, implemented the reductions statewide in recent days, with reports citing a pair of job cuts at The Tennessean in Nashville and at the Knoxville News Sentinel. It’s been Gannett’s usual practice to cut in the fourth quarter – the recent terminations follow the chain slashing about 2 percent of its workforce in October 2016.

As part of a round of cost-cutting across Tennessee in March, Gannett axed 20 positions out of 64 in the CA newsroom, shrinking it by 31 percent in one day.

As context for the new terminations, USA Today cited a comment from the company’s president and CEO, Robert Dickey, which attributed a continued financial slump to “difficult headwinds” related to print advertising.

The current round of cuts started earlier this month, and Gannett said it could mean the loss of about 210 jobs.

Before the impact was felt in Memphis, Gannett a few days ago implemented what an insider told The New York Post was a “mini bloodbath” at the Gannett-owned North Jersey Media Group chain.

Speculation about the media chain’s ambitions for its presence in Tennessee going forward has included the possibility Gannett might reduce the publication frequency in some markets. Following the 30 percent newsroom reduction at the CA earlier this year, the company held what it called “information sessions” about a new Tennessee-wide network strategy. One CA reporter told The Daily News that strategy was basically about more linking of both news and sales among Gannett newspaper properties across Tennessee.

The company has also been moving to brand its individual properties as part of the larger Gannett identity, which is why the top left corner of the CA’s home page states The Commercial Appeal is “Part of the USA Today Network.”

The effects of these moves can also be seen in more centralization of story coverage. Earlier this month, for example, the CA ran a story about the troubled Memphis VA Hospital bylined by Gannett reporters out of Washington, D.C., and Nashville.

Meanwhile, other changes felt locally this year as part of Gannett belt-tightening include moving the CA’s printing operation to Jackson, Tennessee. The CA also put its building at 495 Union Ave. up for sale.

Unrelated changes include the arrival a few months ago of a new CA publisher, Mike Jung, a newspaper executive from Florida. CA editor Louis Graham announced his departure in May for a job as executive director of enterprise content at ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The paper’s opinion and engagement editor, Mark Russell, took Graham’s place at the CA.

PROPERTY SALES 56 437 16,061
MORTGAGES 76 508 18,556
BUILDING PERMITS 241 876 33,390
BANKRUPTCIES 64 301 10,314