According to the Memphis Newspaper Guild, this results in 12 jobs being cut in Memphis — five in the design department and seven copy editors.
Staffers can re-apply for six new jobs as "digital producers," but according to the Guild, those jobs are open to anyone, not just CA staffers.
Details are in the memo from Editor Louis Graham below.
As might be expected the Memphis Newspaper Guild reacted unfavorably, and in a letter from Guild president Daniel Connolly, warned of the negative consequences that out-sourcing copy-editor jobs could have on the paper. The letter is below:
Gannett's actions could hurt Memphis news
A large group of Black Lives Matter activists protested in front of The Commercial Appeal on Wednesday, drawing attention to a headline that they saw as racially insensitive.
The demonstration reminds us that readers expect us to carefully review the information we publish. They want us to know our community well. But our new corporate owner, Gannett, is taking steps that would make all of this much more difficult. Just one day after the protest, a Gannett attorney informed us at The Memphis Newspaper Guild that the company plans to cut the jobs of many of our designers and proofreaders - the very people who review pages and fight to keep mistakes out of the newspaper.
This job-cutting plan would weaken our final stages of review and fact-checking and outsource much of the work to people in other cities. The plan undermines the newspaper's efforts to improve oversight and avoid future problems like the one that exploded this week.
Cutting local page designers and proofreaders
We've known for a while that Gannett plans to move some jobs to a "design studio" in Nashville. On Thursday, Gannett attorney Bob Vercruysse told us that on October 4, sooner than originally planned, the company plans to eliminate five jobs in page design and send them to Nashville. Seven copy editors, or proofreaders, would lose jobs too.
These twelve employees have the option of applying for jobs in Nashville or new "digital producer" jobs in Memphis.
Applications for the digital producer jobs will soon open. These employees will have a long list of duties, including posting stories online, creating digital content and handling social media. And they'd also have some responsibility for catching errors.
Only six digital producer jobs will be available, and one of those jobs is part-time. Everyone who can't find a job here or in Nashville will be forced out.
By the way, the new digital producer jobs in Memphis aren't reserved for our existing employees. Anyone, anywhere, can apply for them.
In a related move, four employees who handle our niche publications including suburban weeklies would move from advertising to editorial. Their work might require the company to add another digital producer job. But that's not clear.
Cutting local ad designers
In advertising, Gannett plans to outsource five ad designer positions to other company locations, and only one local ad designer job would remain. The company said these people would lose their jobs on August 16. That means fewer local ad specialists who know the Memphis market.
This strikes us as unwise, because we'll lose people who create ads that appeal to Memphis customers and who can help us avoid big mistakes that could annoy or offend local readers. Remember, an offensive advertisement could cause as many problems as a controversial headline.
Denying severance pay
Gannett is trying to deny severance pay to some of the people who are let go.
Background: for many years, The Commercial Appeal has taken severance pay out of the pension fund of the workers who lost the jobs. Our pension was frozen years ago, and more recently, some of us took pension buyouts. Gannett is now taking the hardest line possible, arguing that people who took pension buyouts signed away rights and don't get any severance pay at all, even if they've worked here for decades.
Our union contract also requires the company to pay two extra weeks of severance to people who lose jobs as a result of outsourcing. Gannett argues that sending someone's job to Nashville or another city doesn't count as outsourcing, because it's the same company.
Frankly, that's just ridiculous. If someone else in another city is going to do your job, that's outsourcing.
Gannett had revenues of $2.9 billion in 2015. Not million. Billion with a "B." Profits were $146 million, so strong that the CEO, Bob Dickey, got a bonus of $1.85 million on top of his base salary and other compensation. Gannett can easily pay fair severance packages to everyone affected. But so far, its representatives have signaled they just don't want to. We'll fight for a fair deal.
We can't stop every job loss, but we will continue to work to protect the rights of our existing employees and negotiate the best deal possible for those who have to leave. We'll be meeting our attorney next week to review options.
The big picture
Our local newspaper managers aren't driving these decisions. This plan is being imposed on us by Gannett, an out-of-state company with no ties to the community other than buying us in a deal that was finalized only three months ago.
Now Gannett is damaging the business it just bought. Firing crucial fact-checking employees and denying them severance pay might save money in the short run. In the long run, it could prove a highly expensive blow to the morale of the remaining employees, the quality of the product, and the public image of the newspaper in this city - a public image that's already under fire.
More updates soon, and thank you for your support.
President, Memphis Newspaper Guild