November 2, 2016
Gannett’s failed bid for former Tribune Company overshadows recent layoffs
by Kait Howard
Not long ago, our own Simon Reichley pointed out that, as dismal as employment prospects in book publishing may appear, they’re rosy compared to the way U.S. newspapers have been hemorrhaging employees for the past couple decades.
Yesterday, the New York Times’ Leslie Picker and Sydney Ember reported that, after months of negotiation, Gannett had reached a deal to buy the former Tribune Publishing Company, now known as Tronc, only to have it fall apart after Gannett’s latest, dismal earnings report caused one of the banks financing the sale to back out. Gannett, the U.S.’s largest newspaper publisher, owns USA Today among others. Tronc’s holdings include the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. News of the deal’s falling through has been widely covered, though there’s been little speculation about what it would have meant for editors and journalists employed across the country by both entities.
The potential results of the failed deal aren’t completely clear. On the one hand, more bad news about Gannett’s earnings can’t be good for its employees, just on the heels of hundreds of layoffs at Gannett-owned papers in Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, and beyond (of course, the layoffs didn’t generate nearly as much media attention as the failed deal has). On the other, Picker and Ember note, “part of [Gannett’s] strategy has been to offset advertising declines by acquiring more papers and the revenue that comes with them,” and new buyouts have come with cost-cutting measures, including “shuttering redundant facilities” and mass layoffs. It’s not clear what a takeover of Tronc would have meant for their employees; the company’s stock plummeted when the failure of the deal was announced.
Meanwhile, last week Ember reported “more wretched news” for newspapers with the announcement that Dow Jones/News Corp’s Wall Street Journal is also facing buyouts in wake of (what else?) declining circulation and ad revenue. The Times has also apparently been going through buyouts and plans further workforce shrinkage next year. Speculation that the paper may cut its Greater New York section is terrible for local cultural organizations that rely on the coverage there. At least the Journal seems to be offering advance warning, unlike Barron’s, whose editor last week accidentally sent an email discussing upcoming layoffs to the entire Journal news staff.
Kait Howard is a publicist at Melville House.