27 layoffs announced at Democrat-Gazette, 86 in all at WEHCO newspapers | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

27 layoffs announced at Democrat-Gazette, 86 in all at WEHCO newspapers

Posted By on Tue, Oct 24, 2017 at 2:48 PM

click to enlarge LAYOFFS ANNOUNCED
I'm tracking details  of further downsizing at WEHCO Media and its flagship property, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Tough times are being experienced by all in the publishing business thanks to advertising ravaged by the Internet.

Some impact is reported to be felt across the board at the media company controlled by Walter Hussman. It includes staff reductions in the statewide daily newspaper's news staff. The Jonesboro bureau is closing, for one.

Lynn Hamilton, president and general manager of the Little Rock edition of the Democrat-Gazette (the Northwest edition is a separate operation), said the company was "responding to economic realities all newspapers are facing" with a reduction in force. Twenty-nine people were to lose jobs, but the layoffs actually will number 27. Two positions became vacant shortly before the announcements as those employees moved to other jobs. Hamilton said the company had tried to manage declining advertising revenue by leaving jobs vacant as much as possible. "But we reached a point if we were going to remain modestly profitable we had to cut some."

He said the 27 jobs would be in all departments, including seven in the newsroom. He said the paper had sustained some small circulation declines, but the main cause of the reductions was the drop in print advertising. As a private company, the D-G doesn't release sales figures. He said the company had consistently remained profitable since taking over the Arkansas Gazette in 1991 and merging what had been two daily newspapers into one. But it has also reduced considerably in size. For example, a newsroom that once numbered near 250 employees is now around 100.

I'm also seeking Nat Lea, who heads WEHCO Media, which includes newspapers in Arkansas, Tennesse and Missouri and a cable TV operation. Those newspapers, too, are reportedly making adjustments on account of the industry-wide decline in print advertising.

UPDATE: Lea, president and CEO of WEHCO, tells me that 86 employees are being laid off at WEHCO newspapers, or 5.6 percent of the total workforce. Eight of those are at the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He said cuts weren't uniform newspaper by newspaper, but depended on performance (clarification: he was referring here to the financial performance of each individual newspaper, not employee performance). Some cuts had already been made earlier. The cuts included papers in Missouri, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record and the El Dorado News-Times.

He said the company operated from the position that each unit had to be profitable and cuts were made with that goal. He said he did believe each newspaper was "sustainable" in the future, though adjustments might be necessary. He said WEHCO, as other companies, was looking to build revenue with on-line ad sales and an agency that produced digital products for other businesses. He said the company had endeavored to limit impact to readers in the cuts.

WEHCO Media's cable TV/internet division isn't affected by the cuts.

CLARIFICATION: I clarified above, in response to a question, that a comment about "performance" was a reference to financial performance, not employee performance. All I talked to today said how difficult the personnel decisions were. Previous cuts had taken the newspapers down to essential people, the executives said.

CORRECTION: My original headline indicated the 86 WEHCO layoffs were in addition to the Democrat-Gazette layoffs. The 86 included the 27 at the Democrat-Gazette.

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