Ledger Reduces Local Reporting Staff

The LedgerThe Ledger is eliminating two local reporting positions, resulting in a reduction in coverage of local college sports and the layoff of a journalist who covered East Polk communities, several sources said.

In addition, Rick Rousos, a Ledger reporter since 1989, announced he will retire soon as he approaches his 65th birthday, leaving it unclear whether he will be replaced as a political reporter.

Ray Beasock, who was assigned to cover college sports at a time when The Ledger switched its focus from statewide athletics to local colleges and launched a collegiate website, will become a copy editor.

Mark Cavitt, who covers Auburndale, Lake Alfred, Polk City and other East Polk towns, is being laid off. He joined the staff almost a year ago after graduating from Central Michigan University.

Presumably the towns he covered will be reassigned to other reporters. Likewise, it’s expected that other sports reporters will pick up coverage of Florida Southern College and Southeastern University. It’s unclear whether Polk State College, Warner University and Webber International University athletics will still be covered.

Rousos has covered police, courts, municipal governments and was part of The Ledger’s now-dissolved investigative team. He started covering politics after 30-year political reporter Bill Rufty retired a year ago. Rousos has said he plans to write a murder mystery novel set in Lakeland.

Ledger editor Lenore Devore declined to comment for this article, saying company policy dictates that news comments come from corporate officials. A request for comment from GateHouse Media, The Ledger’s parent company, has gone unanswered.

To her credit, Devore has maintained a fairly constant number of reporters in recent years as editing and page design ranks dwindled, even if it meant replacing higher-paid, experienced employees with early-career staffers.

A review of the current online staff list shows a newsroom of 39  employees, 27 of whom are reporters or photographers, the first-line content producers. [Note: The previous sentence was updated on April 21 after the staff list was modified.] A version of the same page from February 2011 retrieved from The Wayback Machine shows a staff of 45 with 26 reporters and photographers.

For comparison, a 2008 version of the page showed a newsroom staff of 73 with 33 reporters and photographers. The news staff peaked at 99 in the early 2000s.

(Caveat: the online staff list isn’t a foolproof way to track staff changes since it’s not always updated quickly. For example, on Friday the page still listed an advertising director who left the company several months ago; her name was removed after this article was published.)

Last year, 11 news staffers, including three photographers, were laid off in March. Then, five positions were eliminated in September as much of the newspaper’s page design and copy editing was outsourced to a GateHouse production center in Austin, Texas.

As Ledger managers looked for creative ways to cope with declining revenues, the company subleased the third floor of its downtown Lakeland headquarters to the Publix IT Department this year.

The third floor was recently placed off limits to newspaper employees as work crews began the noisy job of reconfiguring the space for Publix employees.

Staffers recently learned that Publix will also take over some space on the building’s first floor, including the photo studio.

Around the same time news emerged about the Ledger newsroom reductions, business publications reported that Kirk Davis, CEO of GateHouse’s parent company, earned $2.1 million in 2015, based on the company’s financial performance.