Like many folks these days, John Yenne is feeling the pinch of hard economic times. Recently laid off with 15 others from various departments of the Gannett-owned Asheville Citizen-Times, Yenne is among the increasing numbers of people in the journalism and publishing business suddenly finding themselves faced with reduced pay or downsized out of a job.
The travails of the Mountain Xpress, the AC-T, its parent company and other newspaper chains have been well-chronicled here on the Xpress site and elsewhere. However, Xpress> took some time to interview Yenne by e-mail to examine in some small detail the human toll created by an economy — and an industry — in turmoil.
What follows is a near-verbatim transcript of the e-mail interview with Yenne conducted on Dec. 15:
MX: When and why were you let go and what has been the impact on you?
Yenne: I was let go Dec. 2. Right now, it feels like a long Christmas vacation break because I’m still being paid through a severance package. I’m deep into a job search, and there’s no denying the stress of the thought of eventually having no income and a mortgage to pay.
Briefly explain your job.
As digital media director, I was responsible for Web strategy, project management, and business and audience development. Gannett appears to be centralizing all its local Web operations at its headquarters in Virginia — there was a large hiring spree for corporate Gannett Digital last summer. Consequently, there is no longer an online department at the AC-T. In fact, there’s really no operating committee for the newspaper anymore. Most of the top executives were laid off last summer and only three remain — finance, advertising and news. There has been flattening at the top, and cutting from the bottom all across Gannett.
What have you heard about possible cuts on the editorial side? Other departments?
Chatter in Gannett Blog by Jim Hopkins, a former USA Today reporter, suggests there will be layoffs again in February. [The] AC-T newsroom has avoided major cuts so far.
What’s the general mood at the paper and what has the impact been? Are people polishing up their resumes and actively seeking other work?
Morale is very low in the building. Many people are looking for other opportunities, but this is a very tough job market for people in the newspaper industry.
Though mandated by Gannett, what comments do you have on how AC-T has handled the layoffs? Any criticism/praise of upper management?
It’s hard to be critical after working for Gannett for so many years. The income I’ve earned from Gannett newspapers has paid for my mortgages and moved me to great places like Asheville. The work has taught me new skills and linked me up with many, many good and smart people around the country. I have been a part of some very good teams.
But Barry Diller, CEO of IAC/Interactive, made an interesting observation recently when he told the Reuters summit … “The idea of a company that’s earning money, not losing money, that’s not, let’s say, ‘industrially endangered,’ to have just cutbacks so they can earn another $12 million or $20 million or $40 million in a year where no one’s counting is really a horrible act when you think about it on every level.”
There’s been a lot of debate about Diller’s comments in media circles. Allan Mutter, who blogs at newsosaur, would probably disagree with Diller on every level. He says the newspaper industry is dying quickly and probably hasn’t acted fast enough in getting lean because of threats to the industry. And Gannett has a reputation for being ahead of the curve in the newspaper industry in managing its business.
But there’s no doubt that the AC-T is a profitable company that continues to raise good revenue (although not as much as last year). The hard part for me is the knowledge that, by the end of the year, AC-T will have sent close to 100 people who live in this community to the unemployment rolls while still making a substantial profit margin. In light of Diller’s observations, that’s a tough pill to swallow. But there’s no doubt that Gannett, as owner of the AC-T, can do what it deems necessary to make the corporation thrive in the future. Just like the Mountain Xpress owner can do what he wants with his publication(s).
What are you doing now, and what are your plans?
I’m doing some consulting, taking some time to sharpen technical skills, and digging deeper into a job search.
What are your general thoughts on the state of print journalism? Is this just a glitch, or do you see this as the beginning of the end?
Based on my experience at smaller newspapers, I have to believe there’s still a lot of money to be made for them in print. I think metro papers that have traditionally had fat expenses supported by fat profits, are the ones suffering the most. Look at the trouble the New York Times is in. And the Tribune Co. [too]. [The] Washington Post is only getting by because of its educational arm. But smaller papers have always operated lean, and continue to make good money for their owners (just not maybe enough to pay off debt obligations some corporations took on in the past few years).
— Hal L. Millard, staff writer