What does it mean when 2 giant newspaper companies merge? : NPR

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Springfield, Ill., Newspaper editor Angie Muhs has resigned after another wave of job cuts. His former boss, Gannett CEO Mike Reed, says he sees hope after a mega-merger requiring more layoffs.



MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It’s no secret that the newspaper industry is struggling. Small local newspapers are closing regularly and large companies are merging with other large media companies. The most recent media marriage – a merger between newspaper giant Gannett and another major publishing house, GateHouse. Now, such mergers are often followed by drastic cost-cutting measures. NPR’s David Folkenflik explains how this could affect local news coverage.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: You can look at this from either end of the telescope. Let’s start with Angie Muhs. It’s MUHS Muhs, it rhymes with topicality. Either way, Angie Muhs knew she wanted to be a journalist from the age of 12.

ANGIE MUHS: I read this book called “Deadline” by Kathleen Begley – I still remember the name. And it was about being a journalist, and that sounded like the most wonderful thing in the world.

FOLKENFLIK: And Muhs hit all the bills – a few independent plays as a high school student for her hometown newspaper in Olney, Ill., A journalism school in Northwestern, concerts at the Miami Herald, in the State of Columbia in South Carolina and the Portland Press Herald in Maine led to a position as editor of the State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill. For nearly five years. It is a state capital with a huge public university nearby and serves as a major health care center.

MUHS: It’s a fairly educated population and fairly up to date with local news. You know, people felt really possessive about their journals.

FOLKENFLIK: Yet earlier this year Muhs told bosses she was quitting her job and quitting her dream job, journalism. So what happened during these five years? She had taken over an already exhausted newsroom and found continual demand for more cuts.

MUHS: When I got here, the newsroom was, if I remember correctly, about 38 people. And by the time I left, that number had dropped to 16.

FOLKENFLIK: Muhs couldn’t even assign someone to cover the neighboring suburbs and, like everyone else, took on additional responsibilities – too, she thought. As more cuts loomed, she gave notice.

MUHS: Knowing that I was probably going to go away, it seemed like if I did then, you know, my salary savings might keep other people from being fired.

FOLKENFLIK: Her choice may be unusual, but the conditions she describes are not uncommon in newspapers across the country. It’s just that his former corporate bosses are known to be particularly tough. The view at the other end of the telescope is owned by its former CEO, Mike Reed. He is now President and CEO of the new Gannett Corporation.

MIKE REED: When you look back over several years, we’ve been labeled as an aggressive cost cutter. And we’ve cut costs pretty quickly over the years. The thing I would like to point out is that it is easy to be negative. It’s easy to be an enemy. I don’t know if all the reviews were correct.

FOLKENFLIK: Reed has been in the business for decades.

REED: So if we don’t provide unique, relevant, comprehensive local news to our consumers, we won’t be relevant to them. And then we won’t have a business.

FOLKENFLIK: Revenues are dropping industry-wide at a steady pace, and Reed says the new Gannett needs to reform for a digital age. Yet many critics inside and outside the company tell NPR they wonder how much its owners are willing to invest in this transformation. They note that Reed’s biggest commitment is to cut annual costs even further – an additional $ 300 million per year to help pay off the huge loan the company took to acquire Gannett along with past debts. Journalists will tell you that there is no way to do it without coming back to the newsroom once again. Reed tells NPR he will focus on eliminating the duplicates.

REED: I think this combination gives us an opportunity to cut costs in areas that allow us to save jobs in the newsroom.

FOLKENFLIK: Industry analyst Ken Doctor reports that Gannett executives believe the figure could be even higher – over $ 400 million a year – and that they expect 12% of the remaining staff to be laid off. Reed rejects these figures but does not rule out further layoffs in the future; the prospect of job losses still hangs over local newsrooms.

David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.

(EXTRACT FROM WEI, FIELD TAPES AND “BORDERS” FROM PORT GEORGE)

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