40 lose jobs as GateHouse shuttering pressroom, call center

GateHouse Media, the company that owns the New Bern Sun Journal, is closing the pressroom where the Sun Journal is printed and shifting printing to Fayetteville.

According to Mike McHugh, a Jacksonville Daily News reporter who resigned on Tuesday in protest of the cuts, closing the pressroom as well as a call center based in Jacksonville will cost 40 people their jobs.

There was no response to an email requesting more information and comment from Mike Distelhorst, the GateHouse regional publisher in charge of newspapers in Jacksonville, New Bern, Kinston, and Wilmington.

The newspaper industry has been struggling for years due to increased competition online for readers and advertisers, and decreasing demand for its paper products. Most recently, tariffs imposed on Canadian newsprint companies have cut deeply into newspaper profits. Newsprint typically is the second biggest cost for newspapers, second only to personnel.

McHugh, a 14-year employee of the Jacksonville Daily News who joined the newsroom as a reporter in 2017, had this to say about the cuts:

Say a prayer and think of area businesses who might need good, honest people to join their company. Because there’s a bunch who will be seeking jobs.

This week, more than 40 of my former, dear colleagues will be told by Gatehouse management that their jobs are being eliminated and their functions moved out of town. It surely isn’t their fault readership has fallen off a cliff with only 6,600 homes and businesses taking the paper each day. When I joined the paper in 2004, our daily circulation was 24,000, and more than 125 people worked under the same roof with me.

By my count, when the dust settles after this massive layoff, there will be only 26 or so full-time employees working out of the Bell Fork Road office.

The economic impact of 40 lost jobs equates annually to more than $1 million of lost spending in Onslow County. Its effects will be felt by retail stores, automotive centers and restaurants. The indirect hit, though difficult to measure, will be from less freight carriers driving into Jacksonville with its drivers spending money on fuel and food and overnight visitors occupying hotel rooms.

Step back and consider what’s happening to your community paper.

Folks, when they drive the last stake into your hometown paper, it will be gone and then who will cover high school sports, local government and area happenings? Bloggers???? Think again.

And let me leave you with fact. Despite the doom and gloom about struggling media companies and newsprint tariffs increasing the cost of production, the newspaper business is very lucrative to the vulture capitalist that call the shots. Just last Thursday, New Media Investment Group (ticker symbol NEWM) , the parent company of Gatehouse Media, the owners of The Daily News and another 145 or so daily papers, announced a 2nd quarter dividend of 37 cents per share on each share of their common stock. In SEC filings, the company reported more than 53 million outstanding shares making this recent dividend worth more than $19.6 million. New Media hasn’t failed to deliver a dividend to its shareholders since it emerged from bankruptcy in 2013. Dividends are disbursed every three months.

McHugh said 26 positions will be lost in the pressroom and production, plus 15 at a circulation call center. No newsroom positions will be affected by this change.

That’s one bullet the newsrooms have dodged, but just one. Newsrooms in New Bern, Jacksonville, and Kinston are one-third the size they were around 2008, when newspapers coast to coast started a free fall in circulation that has not abated.

Within the past weeks, the Free Press of Kinston lost one of its two reporters due to a resignation. It is unknown whether the position will ever again be filled. Kinston now has one reporter, one photographer, a clerk shared with another department, and one regional city editor based in the Kinston newsroom.

New Bern has three reporters, one photographer, a news clerk, one sports reporter, an executive editor who oversees Kinston and New Bern, and a managing editor who focuses on New Bern and Havelock.

Jacksonville has three reporters, two sports reporters (one with the title sports editor), a managing editor, and a city editor, according to its website.

Although no jobs have been affected at the New Bern Sun Journal, the impact of a consolidated printing plant in Fayetteville on the Sun Journal is two-fold:

  • The drive time from the printing press to the loading dock is going from 46 minutes to 2 hours, 11 minutes — in good weather. For those who continue to get a printed paper, either their papers will be frequently late due to road and weather conditions, or much earlier but with older news due to early deadlines.
  • The press in Fayetteville already prints several newspapers, including the StarNews of Wilmington and the Fayetteville Observer. Adding three more daily newspapers and four more weekly newspapers will mean early deadlines and news that is even more stale. Depending on where New Bern is located in the rotation, one paper with a missed deadline could snowball and affect timely printing of all the newspapers that follow it.

Still, relative to 40 lost jobs in Jacksonville, New Bern has gotten off easy. Whether that’s good enough for readers and advertisers in New Bern remains to be seen.

Note: Randy Foster, author of this article, was executive editor of the New Bern Sun Journal and Kinston Free Press until October 2017, when he resigned.

August 7th, 2018 by
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