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December 03, 2008

VT Media Layoffs - Morning Roundup *UPDATED*

UPDATED below with more details on layoffs at the Burlington Free Press, as well as the announcement of a layoff at Seven Days.

This is expected to be a mournful week in the media industry — especially in the local market.

News giant Gannett is set to eliminate thousands of jobs nationally and an undetermined amount locally at the Burlington Free Press.

The Free Press' sister papers have already trimmed more than 650 workers as of this morning (not all of them forced layoffs) according to a running tally by Jim Hopkins at Gannett Blog.

As "Fair Game" reports this week, the slumping national economy is causing ad revenue to dive precipitously — especially in classified ads (employment, housing, and auto the hardest hit). Remember, the Free Press has already laid off six employees, two managers, and outsourced some of its work to Kentucky and India this year as an effort to cuts expenses.

Local television station WCAX-TV has had to lay off workers for the first time in a generation. Three workers were told the news yesterday, with two more lay offs to be announced. Additional, across-the-board measures were taken to cut expenses. Those are said to affect all employees.

Here's the statement posted on their website:

Channel 3 made some reductions in personnel this week and cut some expenses. 

Like many companies, we are seeing declining revenues in the current economic crisis. Consequently, we have had to lay off several employees — some of them familiar faces to you, and friends to us.

The company regrets these layoffs but felt they were unavoidable. Out of respect for their privacy we are not identifying those affected, but we shall miss them, and wish them all the best of luck.

Of course, everyone wants to know who they won't see anymore on the small screen.

Seven Days has learned that the three let go include morning sports reporter Shawna Lidsky, as well as morning part time producer and reporter Rachael Morrow. Also, long time photographer Steve Longchamp was let go after more than 20 years at the station.

Our condolences.

No word yet from the other TV stations about whether the slumping economy will force them to take similar measures. But, we're checking.

Also, no immediate news from Burlington Free Press Publisher Brad Robertson as to when there might be additional layoffs announced at the state's largest newspaper.

"We are not ready to announce anything that relates to layoffs," he told Seven Days this week.

Staffers we talk to are walking on pins and needles, and say little is being said inside the fortress at 191 College Street, only fueling the angst.

In the previous rounds of layoffs the newsroom hasn't taken the brunt of the losses, and hopefully for readers' sakes that will remain the case.


Seven Days is including itself in today's list of media companies announcing staffing cuts. Though, in our case it's one employee.

Seven Days has eliminated a position — News Editor Brian Wallstin's — in anticipation of smaller papers in 2009. The job didn't exist before 2007, so the paper is accustomed to functioning without it. That said, Brian will definitely be missed.

Secondly, we've learned the names of the first two laid-off Free Press staffers. They are: Myra Mathis-Flynn in Features and Rob Eley, a longtime editor and reporter. In fact, Rob was the Metro Editor at the Freeps when I worked there in the early 90s. A great guy and a big loss for the paper, as he has been leading the organization's efforts to put more searchable databases online.

In all, the Free Press will eliminate 14 positions — five vacant jobs will not be filled and nine people will be let go (with severance pay).

Ed. Note: Sorry this post disappeared for a bit! It was a technical glitch on our end. — C. Resmer

What about Seven Days? No Layoffs? Running strong? Gonna hire Ed Shammy when you get his resume?

What about Seven Days? No Layoffs? Running strong? Gonna hire Ed Shammy when you get his resume?

Uh. I don't know why this keeps posting. Feel free to delete the extra comments, including this one. Hell, Delete the first one too if you want. It was stupid. Ed Shammy 4-EVER!

Haik, Ed Shamy just bought the County Courier in Enosburg. He's not looking for a job.

Do you guys have anything you want to admit? Where is the transparency? Anyone laid off? Any jobs left open?

Seven Days has eliminated a position — News Editor Brian Wallstin's

Too many lunches on the 7D credit card? Just kidding ;) Good luck Brian.

Oh Ed Shamy! Such a Delight. Burlington's loss is Enosburg's gain!

I love how 7 days has to spin their news. They have smaller papers in 2009 so it is ok for them to layoff someone? They just created it and are used to living without it so it is ok? WCAX and the Freeps I am sure have the same issue but it is not explained that way. Stop spinning. The economy is tough. You are sad you had to do it but that was the business decision you made.

Amy, you're right. It sucks. The economy is tough. We're not saying it's "ok" to lay someone off -- we're just telling you why we've had to.

Sorry, Amy, but I don't think "spin" has anything to do with it. Our loss of Brian was a real blow to our editorial department, especially because those of us who worked with him over the last year really respect his work and feel terrible about his departure. To suggest that anyone at 7D thinks it's "OK" to lose him or that we're trying to justify his loss because our papers may be smaller in 2009 is just plain wrong.

Well said, Ken.

I hope my post didn't give readers the impression that Brian's layoff is OK.

No one's layoff is OK, nor are they easy decisions. I don't think they are in the case of WCAX, or the Free Press.

Personally, I don't enjoy writing about any of these layoffs. Many of the folks I've mentioned today losing their jobs I've either worked with directly or alongside in the trenches.

Vermont's a small state, and as a longtime Vermonter and journalist it's inevitable that from time to time I'll have to write an uncomfortable story about someone I know.

Ken and Cathy,

Isn't a byline enough? You're defending yourself on your own ground.

Get over yourselves, have some integrity.

You already have the upper in hand in the power of the press and the thousands who read it. Say it right the first time and then stand behind it silently or print a retraction.

Petty fighting in the comments is something the "uninformed peons" you speak to are supposed to do. Not worldly journalists

If Seven Days is going to get physically smaller, then maybe it should go multi-media and give out free view master slide wheels with the paper. Maybe a flimsy 45 record sometimes too. That would be cool for anyone with a view master projector or a working record player. Stickers are always cool too.

I'm not saying this about Seven Days at all, but the whole economic contraction, it occurs to me, while real, may also be used to camouflage corporate reshuffling that might have happened anyway. If you're a boss and you already wanted to get rid of folks, then 'hey- it's the economy- sorry.' I would not be surprised to learn of profit taking too.

Maybe the insert advertisers could get more creative and pay for the gimmicks themselves.

How does eliminating one position that's only been in existence since 2007 save you a significant amount of money to make the cut worth it? I had to flip to page 10 of this week's edition to find anything written by a staff member, so if you can lead with 9 pages of ads, why not a couple more pages and save this guy's job ~ who would notice, that's all you see when you look at your pages, advertisements and event submissions, classifieds, full page photos, really a bunch of crap ~ where is the news?

John at 8:28- You are simultaneously arguing they should keep their news editor and that they don't have any news. Cogent.

Why do you care so much anyway? I don't recall this level of outrage when Ed Shamy got laid off!

There were lots of people outraged when Ed Shamy got laid off! Me among them.

You're right, Haik, Enosburg is lucky to have him. Lucky!

And hey, "John", my Web Page column, and our blog excerpts, appear on page 9 -- that's a whole page before 10! And the bloggers and I are all staffers. Just sayin'.

In case it's not obvious, I want to add that we anticipate the papers getting smaller because we anticipate fewer ads from the many Vermont companies and retailers who advertise with us. The paper -- and all of our web content -- is FREE to you, paid for by the ads we sell. Fewer ads means fewer resources to pay for reporting. That's just the way it works.

If we fall behind, we don't have a big corporate parent that can suck up our losses and bail us out. It's just Pamela and Paula here who are on the hook. I work with these women, and I can tell you, they're not fat cats jetting around in private jets. They work just as hard, if not harder, than anyone here.

And letting Brian go means that both of them will only work harder. I don't mean they're going to be working 7 days a week. They already do that! They'll just be working more hours on those 7 days.

Come to our office sometime. We're not all sittin' around rakin' in the dough and slacking off. Although, truthfully, Diane, one of our designers, has just spent the past 20 minutes stringing up red holiday lights shaped like lobsters. I just heard her say she's probably going to electrocute herself.

What is it with people attacking 7 days for reporting the news? I want to know what is going on in VT- the bad with the good. They aren't "cashing in" on the headline..they are reporting what happened and how it affects them.

It is hard times right now. EVERYWHERE. Just about everyone I know is feeling the pinch and cutting back (which means less money for the economy). Layoffs are a part of life. They suck but they happen. I have been on the cut end before and know how if feels and how it makes everything more difficult. But we survive! People stop trying think negatively about these companies. Try to think of what we all can do to HELP each other through this, especially through the holiday season.

I wish everyone the best.

Is the paper just going to be thinner or will its length and width shrink?

Thinner. But we have no idea how much. The papers are typically thinner during the first few months of the year anyway, but I think we're planning for them to be thinner than usual.

We've toyed with changing our design over the years, but that has nothing to do with any of this.

Thanks, Sarah, for your comment.

Haik, are you coming to the forum tonight? I hope so.

What is funny is how the earlier comment called out 7 days which made them have to disclose they let someone go. I wonder if they would have even told the public? Then when they did announce they tried to soften it with how there would be less work to do and they could get by without the new position. Then everyone from 7 days had to jump on and talk about all of the extra work everyone had to do. To top it off cathy then explains how other companies which are owned by larger corporations will just bail them out instead of having to work harder or figure out the problem. This thread taught me a lot about how 7 days thinks about the other companies in the market and how uninformed they are about business. Let's be real. Any for profit company is in the business for profit. No one is getting bailed out of running a profitible business. But for some reason the folks at 7 days think if you work for a large company then the rules are different.

Haik, are you coming to the forum tonight? I hope so.

Sorry. Violetta has the kids all day by herself, and it just isn't right for me to take off in the evening too. This is also the reason I can't run for office right now.

I already prepared Shay for the possibility I wasn't coming when I saw him in the grocery store last week. It sounds like fun though. Hopefully Dave and Ed will arm wrestle or something.

I'm sorry your parents named you "Haik" ~ stop whining.

As for you 7D staffers, can't you communicate amongst yourselves using email? All of this public brown-nosing is undermining your real points.

Sarah, Hallmark called and you're late for work.

Ian, recognize "Gannett-envy" when you read it...

Shay - that is exactly my point. Why does anyone think just because you work for a larger company, gannett being one of them that yoou can work less or have it easier at the Freeps? Is it somehow an easier job at the freeps than 7 days? Seems like a TV station or a newspaper like the freeps has it worse than 7 days since they operate every single day of the week. You guys do it once a week. Just my simple math so maybe I am missing something.

Yeah, it's rough out there. . . Even us big-city non-profits and public interest groups are wondering when the other shoe is gonna drop.

I'll be fine. But I might have to temporarily join the Dark Side.

I'm sorry your parents named you "Haik" ~ stop whining.

My real name is Steve.

Does the elimination of the News Editor position imply less news coverage in Seven Days? I've always thought that you do a better and more in depth job at covering News than the Free Press, and that you could have easily put the Free Press out of business if you wanted to... I would hate to see your coverage disappear...

No, we're not going to have less news coverage — unless we have thinner papers, as described above. Then we have less room for coverage of any kind...

We're not reducing our writing staff. Losing an editor will hurt, but it shouldn't have much of an impact on the actual number of stories we produce.

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