A handful of newsroom staffers at The Ledger staged a brief demonstration today in front of the newspaper’s downtown office, urging the public’s support in the face of recent and anticipated cuts by the paper’s corporate owner, GateHouse Media.
Standing at the corner of Harden Boulevard and Lime Street between noon and 1 p.m., they held signs that said, “Support Local Reporting,” “Tell GateHouse Media No More Layoffs” and “Honk if You (Love) the Ledger.”
The demonstrators, including reporters, an editor and a photographer, are members of the local chapter of The NewsGuild, a division of the Communication Workers of America union. The demonstration at the Ledger was one of seven in Florida and 50 in the nation at GateHouse-owned newspapers, according to the union’s website. The NewsGuild called for the action ahead of next month’s anticipated merger between GateHouse and the Gannett Corporation.
Ledger reporter Kimberly Moore, one of the organizers of Thursday’s demonstration, said GateHouse-mandated layoffs, including one in May, have had a detrimental effect on the paper’s ability to cover local events.
“We lost 20 percent of our staff in May. We lost some very vital mid-level editors. A lot of institutional knowledge walked out the door with them,” she said. “We are not covering some of the smaller towns the way we used to. We don’t have the people power.”
Moore said the demonstration was an attempt to raise awareness.
“The public is not aware (of the layoffs). They just see their subscription price going up and the number of local stories decreased,” she said. “We’d like for the general public to tell GateHouse that we need to be treated with respect. The layoffs need to stop.”
The Ledger has been without an on-site publisher since Brian Burns resigned in July. Jim Doughton, retired publisher of The Gainesville Sun and interim publisher at The Ledger, declined to comment on the demonstration and referred a query to Lori Catron, vice president of marketing strategy and communications at GateHouse Media. Catron did not return LkldNow’s calls.
GateHouse and Gannett Corporation – the second-largest and largest newspaper companies in America, respectively – are widely expected to merge by the end of the year. (An article by Ken Doctor of the Nieman Lab at Harvard University contains a thorough analysis of the proposed merger.) GateHouse leaders have said they expect to cut $300 million in corporate expenses from the combined company, and Ledger staffers are worried there will be more newsroom layoffs on top of substantial cuts over the past few years.
The Ledger has just 13 newsroom staff, including seven full-time reporters, about half the number it had when GateHouse acquired The Ledger in January 2015, according to staffers. At its peak 20 years ago, the newsroom had about 100 employees.
“The company continues to cut staff, and we don’t know where the bottom is,” said senior reporter Eric Pera, who has been with the Ledger since 1990. “The pending merger ratchets up the potential for more cuts. After 30 years, I’m not worried about my job. This is mostly about service to the community and the value of making a purchase of a daily newspaper.”
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The demonstration drew numerous supportive honks from passing motorists and a couple of heckles. One local citizen joined in the demonstration. Sue Nelson of Lakeland said she saw a tweet about it and was moved to show up.
“I thought there would be a lot more people here,” she said. “It breaks my heart. People who I assumed have a subscription (to the Ledger) don’t. I may buy them a subscription as a Christmas gift.”