Media Note: Free Press Staffers Must Reapply for Jobs | Off Message

Media Note: Free Press Staffers Must Reapply for Jobs


Updated at 4:07 p.m.

Employees of the Burlington Free Press will have to reapply for their jobs in the coming weeks, executive editor Mike Townsend announced Tuesday night on the paper's website.

How many jobs will remain and whether those rehired will suffer pay cuts was not clear from Townsend's note, which ran under the headline, "Free Press resets for the future."

"With systemic changes in the media business in recent years including changes in approach, format and staff size, we are redefining journalism jobs for the future and our vibrant website,," Townsend wrote. "During the next several weeks, the staff will apply for these jobs with new expectations. We expect time for adaption to the change in structure."

The Free Press is just the latest newspaper owned by Virginia-based Gannett Company, Inc., to force its employees to reapply for new jobs with names like "engagement editor" and "content coach." As we reported last month, Gannett's so-called "Newsroom of the Future" downsizing initiative is expected to cut newsroom costs 15 percent across the company's 81 papers.

Though Townsend did not indicate in his piece whether the Free Press would reduce overall staffing numbers, the experiences of its sister papers provide some clues. Last month, the Phoenix Business Journal reported that the Gannett-owned Arizona Republic was expected to cut 10 to 12 jobs in its 240-plus-employee newsroom and leave 20 vacant positions unfilled.

On Tuesday, Cincinnati Enquirer editor Carolyn Washburn wrote that her Gannett-owned paper was embarking upon "the most significant restructure in [her] 30-year career." The changes will include revamping the Enquirer's beat system, she wrote, but also "reducing the number of people who handle production of our products." In other words: cutting jobs.

"It's a fun new world," Washburn wrote elsewhere in her note, drawing the scorn of media blogger Jim Romenesko

The Free Press doesn't have too many positions to spare. After several rounds of layoffs, its newsroom currently consists of 26 people, according to a staff list, including 12 reporters and five editors.

Just hours before Townsend's piece was published Tuesday, veteran Free Press reporter Sam Hemingway announced he was retiring from the paper after 37 years. Hemingway told Seven Days his departure was unrelated to Gannett's job reductions, saying, "I've been thinking about leaving the Free Press on my own terms for quite some time."

Less than two weeks before that, Free Press publisher Jim Fogler announced he was leaving the paper for a job at New Jersey-based Party City. 

Updated below at 4:07 p.m.

Seven Days reached out to Townsend and associate editor Adam Silverman Wednesday morning to clarify several questions left unanswered in Townsend’s note, such as:

-How many staffers must reapply for their jobs? How many jobs will be available?

-Will those rehired lose any pay or benefits?

-Does Gannett expect the Free Press to cut newsroom expenses by 15 percent, as it has required at its other papers?

-Were Hemingway’s and Fogler’s departures related to the restructuring?

Neither Townsend nor Silverman has responded to our questions, but Townsend did respond to two questions posed on Twitter Wednesday morning by reader Nate Orshan.

Asked whether all staff must reapply for their jobs, Townsend wrote, “Two editors were assigned to help with the reorganization. A third position was held open for an experienced reporter.” He did not elaborate.

When Orshan asked, “[A]re most of the positions paying less than prior versions?” Townsend wrote, “No.”

At a gubernatorial debate hosted by the Free Press Wednesday afternoon at its new Bank Street headquarters, Townsend again declined to answer Seven Days’ questions.

“I don’t talk to you guys,” he said. “I’m old-fashioned when it comes to competition.”

Email [email protected] if you have any further information about the Free Press’ restructuring. We will keep your identity completely confidential.

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