Journal Star newsroom contracts while digital marketing and advertising grow

The Peoria Journal Star’s new, young, part-time publisher –– with a background in marketing and advertising –– zooms through the parking lot at the once-venerable daily newspaper on his motorcycle, helmetless and heedless of speed limits. Staffers observe and shake their heads.

Peoria’s only daily newspaper, owned by GateHouse Media, a Wall Street hedge fund, has no long-term goals beyond 30-day profits, a newspaper Guild representative told a skeletal staff of newsroom veterans. That comment followed the layoffs of four more newsroom staffers and one more who was terminated.

The paper’s circulation once topped 128,000 on Sunday and was pushing toward 100,000 on weekdays. Circulation is now below 30,000. Newspaper Guild membership at the paper used to be more than 110 employees and is now down to 29, but that was before the recent layoffs in September.

The job losses came despite the Media Guild labor union’s proposals for “reasonable alternatives and compromises,” according to Guild president and columnist Phil Luciano, “including the transitioning of employees to other, necessary work now going undone.

“GateHouse has decided that the best way to serve the Journal Star readership and Greater Peoria community is by enacting layoffs,” he said. “There was no need for these terminations except to increase the bottom line of a corporation already solidly in the black. GateHouse and the Journal Star remain profitable enterprises.”

Laid off were Thomas Bruch, Shannon Countryman, Aaron Ferguson and Chris Kaergard. Wes Huett was scheduled to be terminated Sept. 21 but was reassigned to become sports editor following the buyout of sports editor Kirk Wessler. Two others who took buyout offers were education reporter Pam Adams and state editor Brad Erickson. Terminated was editorial page editor Mike Bailey who was notified and escorted out of the building the same day after more than 30 years at the paper.

Adams and Erickson were represented by the Guild; Wessler and Bailey were management.

Luciano said, “This is a dark day not just for the Journal Star and our Guild, but for anyone who cares about communities, public discourse and justice.”

Newsroom morale, at rock bottom for several years, is now heavy with tension as people wonder week to week if the skeletal newsroom staff will survive the next 30-day planning cycle at GateHouse corporate offices in New York.

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