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Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012 12:23 pm

Paper cuts

As many as ten newsroom employees at the State Journal-Register will lose their jobs as the newspaper’s parent company struggles to cut costs in the face of towering debt.

Publisher Walt Lafferty on Tuesday told employees that the newspaper’s copy desk, which designs pages, proofreads copy and writes headlines, will be eliminated this summer, with GateHouse Media, the corporate parent, establishing a central desk outside Springfield that will handling copy editing and headline writing for several publications.

Lafferty could not be reached for comment. Employees who attended a newsroom meeting and who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs said that as many as a dozen copy editing and page design jobs in Springfield will be eliminated. The paper will make two new hires, for a net loss of ten jobs, the sources said, but it is not clear what those two employees will do.

Consolidation of copy desks is a growing trend in the embattled newspaper industry, where falling circulation and shrinking advertising revenue has sent stocks plummeting. Newsroom employment at the nation’s daily newspapers has fallen by 7,900 workers since 2003, according to job figures from the American Society of News Editors. Meanwhile, daily newspaper circulation has dropped from nearly 62.6 million in 1993 to less than 46.9 million in 2009, according to the Newspaper Association of America.

Cox Media Group, which owns eight daily newspapers, announced in October that it will consolidate copy desks in Ohio and Florida, eliminating jobs at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Austin American-Statesman. The McClatchy Co., owner of 30 newspapers around the nation, has also announced that it is considering consolidation of copy desks. Already, copy editors at the Chicago Tribune proofread and write headlines for the Hartford Courant, a sister paper published in Connecticut. MediaNews Group, which owns 57 papers, began consolidating copy desks in 2007. Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper company, has also consolidated copy editing at some newspapers.

According to the State Journal-Register’s website, a dozen of the newspaper’s 53 newsroom employees work as copy editors or page designers. The elimination of those jobs would continue a downward trend in employment at the newspaper, which has at least ten fewer editorial employees today than five years ago, although the paper is advertising to replace former reporter Amanda Reavy, who left the paper late last year to take a state job, and executive editor Jon Broadbooks, who resigned earlier this month to take a job with the Illinois Association of Realtors.

Lafferty told employees that while the paper plans to replace Broadbooks and Reavy, no decision has been made on whether to replace former features reporter Brian Mackey, who recently resigned to take a job as a radio reporter with WUIS, according to employees who attended Tuesday’s meeting.

Outside the newsroom, employment was slashed last year when the paper shut down its press and moved printing operations to Peoria, resulting in the loss of more than 50 local jobs.

Sources said that GateHouse is consolidating copy desk functions at all of its newspapers. Copy editing for daily newspapers with circulation of more than 5,000 will be done in Downer’s Grove, the sources said. Copy editing for smaller newspapers will be done in New England, they said.

In Peoria, where GateHouse owns the Peoria Journal Star, the union representing newsroom employees on Tuesday posted a notice on a union website stating that the company did not plan to outsource copy editing functions for at least 18 months.

“Possibly GateHouse wants to implement the change in phases, and Peoria is not part of its first phase,” the union said in its posting. “Remember, any such change is subject to collective bargaining: What GateHouse wants and what it gets are two different things.”

Sources said the mood was somber at the State Journal-Register on Tuesday.

“It was terrible,” one source said. “One staffer used the word ‘dismantle’ to describe what they were doing.”

Eric Bloxdorf, interim president and CEO of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, expressed dismay.

“Any time we lose ten to twelve jobs, that is a loss to our economy,” Bloxdorf said.

Bloxdorf also noted that copy editors are the last to read stories before they are sent to the press. The level of local knowledge might be difficult to replace, he said.

“I would suspect that the folks who work at the copy desk are people who are familiar with Springfield,” Bloxdorf said. “I would have a concern about their (replacements) knowledge of our community.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com
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