Media Note: Layoffs at the Burlington Free Press [UPDATED] | Off Message

Media Note: Layoffs at the Burlington Free Press [UPDATED]




The Burlington Free Press laid off 13 employees Thursday, including at least five newsroom staffers. 

Among them is longtime staff writer Matt Sutkoski, a general assignment reporter who wrote the popular Weather Rapport blog. Sutkoski joined the paper full-time in 1992.

"It's the way the business is. It kind of feels like it was inevitable," Sutkoski said. "Things happen. I'll just redirect myself and I'll be fine."

The layoffs also included reporter Elizabeth Murray, editor Emilie Stigliani, copy editor Jordan Kilty and photographer Maddie McGarvey, according to several sources familiar with the situation.

Murray and Stigliani were hired just last month. Kilty was hired in January 2012 and McGarvey in September 2012, according to their LinkedIn profiles.

Murray wrote the Freeps' cover story Thursday (pictured) — the very day she lost her job (pictured).

The move appears to be part of a company-wide round of layoffs at Gannett Company, Inc., the Virginia-based newspaper chain that owns the Free Press, USA Today and 80 other papers.

According to Jim Roberts, a former USA Today reporter who runs the independent watchdog site Gannett Blog, at least 165 employees around the country have lost their jobs so far this week.

Free Press publisher Jim Fogler did not respond to multiple requests for comment Thursday, but the Freeps confirmed the layoffs in a story on its website later that day.

“We regret the steps we had to take today,” Fogler told his paper. “We greatly appreciate the contributions these employees have made to the Free Press.”

The story, penned by “Free Press Staff,” noted that, “For the better part of the past decade, the media industry has been in a state of continuous transformation as technology and consumer behaviors have altered reader and advertiser patterns.”

Fogler was also quoted saying that as the paper has “retool[ed]” its business, it has “responded with innovation and investment to serve an ever-increasing number of digital consumers.”

While the Free Press may have more “digital consumers,” its overall circulation figures — which include digital subscribers — have dropped significantly since its June 2012 overhaul. At that time, it redesigned the paper, began charging for access to its web site and upped its subscription rates.

In March 2012, the paper’s Sunday circulation was 37,399 and its weekday circulation was 29,890, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. A year later, weekend circulation had dropped to 31,177, while the weekday figure dropped to 25,995.

When it announced its second-quarter earnings last month, Gannett said its newspaper advertising sales had dropped five percent, with revenue in the print division declining by two percent.

As its print properties falter, Gannett appears to be moving away from newspapers and toward the more profitable broadcasting business. In June, the company announced it would double its television station holdings by buying Belo Corp. for $1.5 billion.

Closer to home, St. Michael's College journalism professor David Mindich bemoaned the layoffs at the Free Press, saying, “It’s just really sad.”

Mindich, who got to know Murray and Kilty when they studied at St. Mike's, called them “star students” in the school’s journalism department and “two of the best students to graduate from the college in years.”

“It’s important that we continue to have a robust press, and the only way to do that is to have a lot of good people out there,” he said. “Cutting reporters, by definition, cuts the quality of a news operation.”

If you have any more information about the situation, call us at (802) 865-1020, ext. 30. We'll update this post when we know more.