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Thursday, March 7, 2019 07:48 pm

Don't let the door hit you

SJ-R employees offered buyouts

 Newsroom employees at the State Journal-Register are being offered buyouts, with the prospect of layoffs on the horizon.

The buyout offer from GateHouse Media, the paper’s corporate owner, was made Wednesday, with employees told they have until Monday to volunteer to be let go. Under a newsroom collective bargaining agreement, employees who accept a buyout would be paid one week of pay for every year of service, to a maximum of 15 weeks.

The buyout offer, also extended to employees at the Peoria Journal Star and Rockford Register Star, papers also owned by GateHouse, comes just six months after the last GateHouse buyout offer made last August. Reporter John Reynolds accepted the offer and was the only newsroom employee who departed then.

There aren’t many reporters left to cut. City hall reporter Crystal Thomas is leaving the paper on Friday to cover the Missouri legislature for the Kansas City Star. Her departure will leave the SJ-R with five news reporters, including Doug Finke, Dean Olsen, Brendan Moore, Bernard Schoenberg and Steven Spearie. Fifteen writers, editors and photographers have left the paper in the last six years without being replaced.

Wednesday’s buyout offer was extended to 13 newsroom employees, including photographers, reporters, sportswriters and clerical staff. In an email to staff at the newspapers, Paul Gaier, GateHouse group publisher, said that the company has been working “to adapt to changes brought on by the challenges of our changing business model and current economic environment.”

“Although our efforts have been successful by a number of measures, additional adjustments are needed to properly align our costs with operating expenses,” Gaier wrote.

GateHouse acquired The State Journal-Register in 2007 and went bankrupt six years later after a string of acquisitions. It now owns 146 newspapers, making it one of the largest newspaper publishers in the United States. After emerging from bankruptcy in late 2013, the company acquired dozens of papers across the country and began operating under a holding company called New Media Investment Group, with stock initially trading for $14 a share in February, 2014. After peaking at more than $25 a share in 2015, the stock has been in decline and closed at $12.33 on Thursday.

Bruce Rushton is a former SJ-R reporter. He can be reached at brushton@illinoistimes.com.


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