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The number of professional journalists producing news in Lakeland continues declining; The Ledger recently laid off four newsroom employees, including a veteran photographer and an award-winning reporter.
The four are: photographer Michael Wilson, who has been at The Ledger 28 years; reporter Clifford Parody, two years; Visuals Editor John Pitts, 18 years, and copy editor Ray Beasock, five years.
Their positions are among 17 on an internal Ledger document listing the latest round of layoffs.
In addition, two young journalists announced recently they are leaving — education reporter Sara Drumm and reporter Kaitlyn Pearson — and rank-and-file colleagues are under the impression their positions will not be replaced. Madison Fantozzi, who previously covered Winter Haven, has taken over the education beat previously covered by Drumm, and the Winter Haven beat has been assumed by a reporter who previously covered other East Polk communities.
Ledger officials have not responded to requests for confirmation and comment. When two reporters were laid off in April, Editor Lenore Devore referred questions to parent company Gatehouse Media, who did not respond to requests for comment.
It appears the newsroom is down to 29 employees from a high of 99 a decade and a half ago. The 29 figure is based on a review of names on the online staff list, subtracting the ones who were laid off and ones who have left previously but are still listed.
A Ledger sister paper, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, today laid off 39-year reporter Lloyd Dunkelberger, who has provided Tallahassee coverage for a third of a century and whose politics column appeared in The Ledger weekly. Dunkelberger worked at The Ledger in the early 1980s as a Lakeland city government reporter and assistant city editor.
Insiders say The Ledger maintains a healthy profit but it’s affected by poor financial performance at other newspapers owned by Gatehouse.
Gatehouse parent New Media Investment Group reported revenue gains in the first quarter of 2016, but the U.S. newspaper industry continues facing steep challenges with a recent Pew study finding an overall drop of 7 percent in circulation and 8 percent in ad revenue.
At The Ledger, Parody was recognized by the Newspaper Association of America in April as one of the “Top 30 Under 30,” a designation recognizing professional excellence and commitment to the industry.
According to a Ledger article announcing the award:
Ledger Editor Lenore Devore said she nominated Parody based on a series of stories on untested rape kits in Polk County evidence rooms that led to change in the Legislature; having good instincts when he got a tip about a local murder that helped lead to an arrest; and his involvement in the arts community in Lakeland, including “Live from The Ledger Lobby” concert series.
“I am so proud of Cliff for being recognized as one of the top 30 young people in our industry,” said Devore. “He brings so much to the newspaper, from an appetite for telling a great story, an appreciation of all people, a willingness to try new things and a curiosity that has no end.”
Parody and Pitts are among three Ledger journalists who are finalists for Society for Professional Journalists Sunshine State Awards that will be announced Saturday in Miami. Wilson won a Sunshine State Award last year for his “For Shore Fishing” blog.
(Sunday update: Parody and Pitts both won awards, Parody second place for non-deadline news reporting and Pitts second place for front-page design.)
Both Pitts and Wilson have received numerous awards during their Ledger careers, including Wilson winning the national Joseph Costa Award for Courtroom Photography and Pitts capturing first-place honors for front-page design from the Florida Press Club last year.
As for Beasock, copy editors toil in anonymity and are rarely nominated for awards. Often, even the reporters whose prose they handle don’t know when the copy editor working late at night has saved them from a fact error or mangled grammar.
Postscript: Word from several sources is that a disillusioned Ledger department head resigned last week. His name is still on the “masthead” on the editorial page that lists top executives. Then again, the person who would typically update the masthead is the laid-off John Pitts.
Post Postscript: (added July 8) The name of Bob Amos, former finance director, was removed from the masthead the day after this article was published.
Beasock also posted a message to Facebook, but privacy settings precludes it from being displayed here.
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Today’s ledger was produced by surviving newsroom stalwarts lenore devore and lynne maddox with help from a roomful of people in a faraway state who don’t know a thing about Polk county but might like to if they had time.
SAD TO SEE! WONT BE LONG UNTIL LOCAL NEWSPAPERS WILL NOT BE ABLE TO COVER IMPORTANT STORIES IN THEIR COMMUNITIES. THAT HAS HAPPENED IN MY NATIVE MISSISSIPPI WHERE THE LOCAL PAPER, THE HATTIESBURG AMERICAN, WAS TAKEN OVER BY THE (JACKSON) CLARION-LEDGER A FEW YEARS AGO…EVEN THEIR PRINTING PRESS…THE PRINTERS WERE ALL LAID OFF!
Such sad news. I knew about Wilson and Pitts, and Clifford Parody was a good reporter. Ray Beasock helped me so much when I started at the Ledger. As for Dunkelberger, he will really be missed, but that’s the way it goes with GateHouse. It’s sad to see the Florida papers, where everyone was proud to be a tiny and peripheral part of the Times Regional group, turned into layoff machines.
Will the last one at the Ledger building turn off the lights?
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