Memphis newspaper trims 17
The Commercial Appeal dismissed 17 employees Thursday, including nine men and women represented by the Memphis Newspaper Guild.
Editor Louis Graham and Publisher George Cogswell portrayed the cuts as an internally-driven restructuring designed to shore up the newspaper’s content and rev up sales of digital advertising.
They indicated the CA will spend at least some of the savings to bring in new employees including digital ad sales representatives and investigative reporters. Cogswell said after the new hires, it will be a net loss of nine jobs.
Losses of guild-covered employees include two officers in the guild local, vice president Emily Keplinger, a community editor, and secretary-treasurer Matt Wood, a reporter; plus two of their fellow members of the My Life community news section
Graham said it was a strategic decision to pull the plug on My Life and reallocate those resources to content that will compel people to buy print and digital subscriptions.
My Life is by and large comprised of reader-submitted content that was championed by Graham’s successor, Chris Peck, as a way of providing content that the newspaper didn’t have to pay for. Peck turned to reader-submitted content to take up some of the slack created by almost annual reductions in newsroom staffing during his tenure.
Human resources director Eunice Johnson informed the four My Life staffers that they were free to apply for one new position that would be created in the Advertising department. This person will essentially carry on the community news function within the CA’s suburban weeklies. It’s unclear why the newspaper just didn’t transfer one of these employees into the new position.
The other five guild-covered losses were two people in accounting, a clerk and a cashier, and three people in operations, a clerk, a forklift operator and a rack repairman.
Management or exempt cuts were two in advertising, five in operations and one in information technology.
Cogswell and Graham said the cuts were not dictated by the CA’s parent company in Cincinnati for economic reasons, like so many others in the past, but were rather a local initiative to improve the product and revenue.
The cuts come at the end of a year of considerable churn at the CA, particularly in the newsroom, since Chris Peck stepped down as editor and Graham was selected as his successor. Several veteran reporters and photographers have left voluntarily, creating vacancies for Graham and managing editor Mark Russell to fill. Three new photographers are on board, a new reporter started recently, and another reporter is said to be on the way. There also has been talk of the newspaper hiring three investigative reporters.
Graham said no consideration was given to moving the four My Life staffers into other duties that would support the mission of providing readers with content they’ll pay for. He said the newspaper needs different skills than what the dismissed employees would bring.
It seems strange for veteran employees to be drummed out of the company’s service while new people are just beginning to learn the ropes. The My Life employees were assigned to that duty by management and did the work faithfully. They and the other victims of these reductions would have cheerfully taken on any other task that the company assigned.
Time will tell if management’s new strategy succeeds in preserving and strengthening quality journalism in Memphis and maintaining the CA as a viable newspaper. For the moment, people are hurting, in our opinion needlessly, because management didn’t have the creativity, vision and boldness to find a way to effectively harness their talents.
By Wayne Risher
Memphis Newspaper Guild