GateHouse Media, owner of the Sun Journal of New Bern as well as newspapers in Kinston, Havelock, Marine Air Station Cherry Point, Camp Lejeune, Trenton, and Jacksonville, is offering buyouts in an attempt to further trim its payroll.
GateHouse is seeking volunteers to accept a buyout package that offers six days pay for each year of employment. The cut takes effect on Sept. 7. Employees must decide by today, Aug. 27.
Between Kinston and New Bern, staff has gone from a total of more than 30 a decade ago, to 11 now, with perhaps more cuts in the offing. The Post is aware of more than a half dozen GateHouse employees who plan to take the buyouts, scattered across New Bern, Kinston, and Jacksonville locations.
If buyout goals are not met, GateHouse will resort to layoffs.
Buyouts leave GateHouse with the flexibility to fill vacated positions with lower-paid workers, however the company has not shown any desire to fill vacant positions. Layoffs force the company to leave affected positions vacant, or reorganize in order to disguise any old positions that must be filled.
Employees who accept the buyouts or, in cases of layoffs, severance packages, are forced to sign agreements barring them from working for competing companies and from saying anything disparaging about GateHouse for at least a year following termination.
That results not only in smaller newspaper newsrooms, but the departure of experienced local journalists who are knowledgeable about the area.
New Bern is already losing its managing editor, Ken Buday, who is being transferred to be in charge of the Globe, the Camp Lejeune base newspaper GateHouse runs under contract with the Department of Defense.
Meanwhile, the Kinston Free Press, which shares resources with the Sun Journal and is under the management of the same editor, Chris Segal, is down to one reporter following the departure of one reporter within recent weeks. That puts additional strain on New Bern’s staff to fill any gaps in Kinston.
GateHouse already announced plans to shutter its regional pressroom, mail room, and call center in Jacksonville, and move some of those operations to its Fayetteville location. That will affect another 40 jobs.
It leaves one to wonder what GateHouse’s long-term strategy is with its local properties. At current rates, newsrooms will reach zero staffing within five years, outpacing declines in print circulation, which could reach zero within a decade.
Growth in online readers (for both the website and an “e-edition” of the print products) has historically not kept pace with declines in print readers.
GateHouse is not alone in its effort to reduce payroll expenses. McClatchy, which owns the News & Observer in Raleigh, the Charlotte Observer, and the Durham Herald-Sun, is laying off nearly 4 percent of its staff.