Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Dismisses 8 Employees

by Kyle Massey  on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 2:05 pm  

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The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette terminated eight employees Monday in response to a continuing nationwide decline in revenue from print advertising, company officials said Tuesday.

Five of the positions were in the newsroom, two were in production and one was in circulation, according to Lynn Hamilton, president and general manager of the Little Rock-based daily.

The specific employees weren't identified, but business reporter Jessica Seaman posted on Twitter that her four-and-a-half-year tenure at the paper had come to an end. She covered the energy industry and was praised for her part in the coverage of the Exxon Mobil oil pipeline spill in Mayflower in 2013.

Hamilton told Arkansas Business that the downturn in advertising began in 2008 and its pace had accelerated in the last quarter of 2016. While the eight positions represented less than 2 percent of the paper's full-time workforce of 508, the losses came on top of a program that has eliminated 65 full-time positions through attrition over the past three years as employees voluntarily left the company.

"We're constantly looking for ways to operate that are in line with our revenue figures," Hamilton said. "These cuts were spread out in the newsroom and other areas and not focused" on any particular sort of job.

"Over three years, the 73 positions that we have terminated add up to about 10 percent of full-time employees," said Hamilton, who added that no further cuts are planned, but that the paper's parent company, Wehco Media, constantly assesses staffing and other expenses to keep them in line with revenue.

"We don’t really know when we will reach a point of equilibrium, and we'll continue to reassess our financial situation, but there are no plans for further terminations at present," he said.

The dismissed employees were offered severance packages, but Hamilton declined to get into the details, beyond saying that the terms were based on time of service, and that longer-term employees were offered relatively more. The employees were informed on Monday, Hamilton said, in a discussion with their individual supervisors and a representative of the human resources department. 

"All eight were met individually and received an explanation of the program," Hamilton said. "It was sad to see these employees go, especially those who had worked for the company for many years."

One of the dismissed workers was said to be a 32-year veteran of the newspaper. The employees included at least one reporter and two page designers, sources said. Hamilton also told the Arkansas Times that the cuts included the Pine Bluff bureau job, a position that he described as hard to fill.

Hamilton said that Democrat-Gazette Publisher Walter Hussman Jr. was committed to producing a good news product, and that when cuts have to be made, "we try to do it in a way that will not degrade the quality of the paper." He called the cuts a sad reality in the current state of the daily newspaper industry.

Newspaper employment in the United States has plunged from about 458,000 jobs in the early 1990s to about 180,000 positions today — fewer jobs than the industry had after World War II.

Though privately held Wehco doesn't release financial figures, Hussman said last summer that the Democrat-Gazette was still profitable, "though not nearly as profitable as it once was."

 

 

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