The Ledger Loses Decades of Experience to Buyouts

Ledger building

The Ledger, Polk County’s daily newspaper, will lose more than a century of experience and institutional knowledge on Dec. 1 when six of the newsroom’s 14 employees — including the top editor — end their employment under a voluntary buyout offer from parent company Gannett.

At least four of the six positions appear likely to be replaced. Gannett is currently recruiting to hire an executive editor and three reporters for The Ledger.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly said The Ledger’s newsroom has 12 employees, not 14. We apologize for the error.

Some of the departing journalists are well-known to local readers, including:

  • Pierre DuCharme, who started his photography career at The Ledger in 1980. In addition to driving hundreds of thousands of miles covering Polk County, he photographed nearly every Space Shuttle launch from the beginning of the program in 1981 until its end in 2011.
  • Suzie Schottelkotte, a reporter at The Ledger since April 1984. Before that, she worked in Polk County for The Tampa Tribune for nearly three years. She currently covers courts and the city of Bartow. “Investigative reporting has led to statewide changes in the Crimestoppers program and the successful prosecution of a city manager and a public works manager for theft and official misconduct,” she wrote in her LinkedIn profile.
  • Kevin Bouffard, a reporter at The Ledger since September 1998. Before that, he worked in Central Florida for The Tampa Tribune for nearly 11 years. He currently covers business, agriculture, Polk County government and Winter Haven.
  • Bill Kemp, a sports reporter who has been with The Ledger and the News Chief in Winter Haven for the last decade. He recently started covering police news.

Others, whose names are not as well known, but who played primary roles in directing the newsroom and the daily report, are:

  • Bob Heist, executive editor since April 2018. Before coming to The Ledger, he spent four-and-a-half years in the same role at two other newspapers, and nearly 30 years as sports editor at four newspapers.
  • DeWayne Wilson, who came to The Ledger in June 1999. He spent more than a decade as news editor and is currently multimedia editor.

With Heist’s departure, Assistant Managing Editor Andy Kuppers becomes the newsroom’s top editor until he or somebody else is named executive editor. A Lake Gibson High School graduate, Kuppers has been with the newspaper since 1998. He previously served as The Ledger’s sports editor and news editor.

Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, merged last year with GateHouse Media, The Ledger’s former owner. The company offered voluntary buyouts in October to all of its 21,000 employees, and around 500 were accepted.

Heist was one of three executive editors and DuCharme was one of 19 photojournalists to take buyouts, according to figures reported by the Poynter Institute, a journalism organization.

DuCharme’s departure leaves just one staff photographer, Ernst Peters, to cover all of Polk County.

Like most other Gannett newspapers, The Ledger has not written about the buyouts. One exception is the Providence Journal in Rhode Island, which covered the buyout-induced retirement of its executive editor, Alan Rosenberg, who has worked at the newspaper for 43 years.

Newspapers have suffered crippling revenue declines starting with the 2007-2009 recession and exacerbated during the last decade by the migration of advertising to digital platforms, notably Google and Facebook.

The coronavirus further depressed Gannett’s revenues, and last spring the company instituted rolling weeklong furloughs of most employees and other cuts.

The Ledger’s newsroom employment peaked at 99 in 1998.

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