Commercial Appeal Layoffs Show Lack of Creative Vision, Newspaper Guild President Says; May Represent a Shift in Editorial Focus

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The Commercial Appeal sent 17 employees home this week including community editor Emily Keplinger, reporter Matt Woo, and two additional contributors to the My Life community news section. Although reports suggest that My Life will continue in a truncated form, these cuts represent a shift away from former editor Chris Peck's brand of community journalism, and may reflect a new direction under the leadership of current editor Louis Graham.

CA editor Louis Graham
  • CA editor Louis Graham

Additional cuts include a clerk and a cashier in accounting, a clerk in operations, a forklift operator and a rack repairman. Advertising lost two employees. There were five additional cuts in operations and one in information technology.

In an article posted at the website for the Newspaper Guild of Memphis, guild president Wayne Risher describes the cuts to editorial staff as a failure of creative vision.

"Time will tell if management’s new strategy succeeds in preserving and strengthening quality journalism in Memphis and maintaining the CA as a viable newspaper," he writes. "For the moment, people are hurting, in our opinion needlessly, because management didn’t have the creativity, vision and boldness to find a way to effectively harness their talents."

An excerpt of Risher's post is excerpted below the fold. You can check out the whole thing here.

Thursday, including nine men and women represented by the Memphis Newspaper Guild.
Editor Louis Graham and Publisher George Cogswell portrayed the cuts as an internally-driven restructuring designed to shore up the newspaper’s content and rev up sales of digital advertising.
They indicated the CA will spend at least some of the savings to bring in new employees including digital ad sales representatives and investigative reporters. Cogswell said after the new hires, it will be a net loss of nine jobs.

Losses of guild-covered employees include two officers in the guild local, vice president Emily Keplinger, a community editor, and secretary-treasurer Matt Wood, a reporter; plus two of their fellow members of the My Life community news section

Graham said it was a strategic decision to pull the plug on My Life and reallocate those resources to content that will compel people to buy print and digital subscriptions.

My Life is by and large comprised of reader-submitted content that was championed by Graham’s successor, Chris Peck, as a way of providing content that the newspaper didn’t have to pay for. Peck turned to reader-submitted content to take up some of the slack created by almost annual reductions in newsroom staffing during his tenure.

Human resources director Eunice Johnson informed the four My Life staffers that they were free to apply for one new position that would be created in the Advertising department. This person will essentially carry on the community news function within the CA’s suburban weeklies. It’s unclear why the newspaper just didn’t transfer one of these employees into the new position.

The other five guild-covered losses were two people in accounting, a clerk and a cashier, and three people in operations, a clerk, a forklift operator and a rack repairman.

Management or exempt cuts were two in advertising, five in operations and one in information technology.

Cogswell and Graham said the cuts were not dictated by the CA’s parent company in Cincinnati for economic reasons, like so many others in the past, but were rather a local initiative to improve the product and revenue.

The cuts come at the end of a year of considerable churn at the CA, particularly in the newsroom, since Chris Peck stepped down as editor and Graham was selected as his successor. Several veteran reporters and photographers have left voluntarily, creating vacancies for Graham and managing editor Mark Russell to fill. Three new photographers are on board, a new reporter started recently, and another reporter is said to be on the way. There also has been talk of the newspaper hiring three investigative reporters. CONTINUE READING

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