Cutbacks Threaten Three Prominent Oregon Newspapers

UPDATE (Aug. 12, 2022): In a late move on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, executed layoffs at outlets across the country. While no official tally was available, journalists at the Salem Statesman Journal (Oregon), Athens (Georgia) Banner-Herald, (South Texas) Caller-Times, Columbia (Missouri) Daily Tribune, Ventura County Star, St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times, Monroe (Louisiana) News-Star, Billerica (Massachusetts) Minuteman, (Milwaukee) Journal Sentinel, Panama City (Florida) News-Herald, Gainesville Sun (Florida), The Athens Banner-Herald (Georgia) The Des Moines Register (Iowa), Burlington Free Press(Vermont), Beaver County Times (Iowa), MetroWest Daily News (Mass) and the (Kentucky) Courier Journal all reported layoffs at their publications. Friday’s layoffs also affected non-journalists. A reporter at the Pueblo (Colorado) Chieftain tweeted that the paper’s only customer service representative, who had been making less than a dollar above minimum wage, had been let go after working there for 16 years.

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The decline of Oregon’s local newspapers is set to continue with cutbacks by Gannett Co.

Gannett, the owner of the Statesman Journal in Oregon’s capital, Salem, The Register-Guard in Eugene and the Daily Journal of Commerce in Portland, is planning a “significant cost reduction program” amid a “challenging economic backdrop marred by soaring inflation rates, labor shortages and price-sensitive consumers.”

A message to all of its employees on Thursday from Gannett’s president of news warned of “painful reductions to staffing, eliminating some open positions and roles that will impact valued colleagues.”

The Statesman Journal, the second-oldest newspaper in Oregon, was sold to Gannett in 1973. Currently listing 16 reporters on its website, it has been steadily shrinking in staff and as a reliable news source.

The Register-Guard, formed in a 1930 merger of two Eugene papers, the Eugene Daily Guard and the Morning Register, was acquired by GateHouse Media in 2018. At the time, the paper had 240 full-and part-time employees. The newspaper has been owned by Gannett since Gannett’s 2019 merger with Gatehouse. The paper’s current website lists just 8 reporters. 

Founded in 1872, the Daily Journal of Commerce (DJC) provides comprehensive resources and reporting on the Portland, Oregon building and construction market. Owned by Gannett through its BridgeTower Media division, the paper has a circulation of 1,966.

Gannet, which owns over 100 daily newspapers and nearly 1,000 weekly newspapers in 43 U.S. states and six countries, reported on Thursday a net loss of $53.7 million in the second quarter, compared with a net income of $15.1 million the same period a year earlier. Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) totaled $50.9 million, down 56% from the prior-year quarter, with declines driven by a decline in print revenue and inflationary pressures. 

“We are not satisfied with our overall performance in the second quarter,” Gannett CEO and Chairman Michael Reed said in a release, noting the results reflect “industry-wide headwinds” in digital advertising and tightening across the economy.  

Anticipated cutbacks at Gannett’s Oregon papers would track declines in locally focused daily newspapers across the United States.

The total combined print and digital circulation for locally focused U.S. daily newspapers in 2020 was 8.3 million for weekday (Monday-Friday) and 15.4 million for Sunday, among the lowest ever reported, according to the Pew Research Center. Total weekday circulation is down more than 40% and total Sunday circulation has fallen 45% in the past seven years. Local newspaper advertising and circulation revenue has also been dropping precipitously.