USA Today parent Gannett has been laying off journalists across many of its 241 newspapers in recent days as photographers complain that they’re not being protected from the coronavirus.
It’s the second round of cuts since the nation’s largest newspaper chain announced on March 30 it would be slashing executive pay and instituting one week of furloughs a month through June for staffers making more than $38,000 a year.
Locally, at least seven editorial staffers were laid off at The Record in northern NJ, according to sources. Among them, according to an insider, was a woman who is nine months pregnant and a staffer who’s been out on disability
“They fired her anyway and now she doesn’t have a job when her disability ends,” said the insider.
Meanwhile, photographers at The Record, which serves the densely populated Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Passaic counties, have complained about not receiving the personal protection equipment promised by Gannett’s headquarters in McLean, Va., according to a recording of a recent conference call between Dan Sforza, executive editor of The Record and Northjersey.com.
“Just to let you know, the photographers have got absolutely nothing,” said one photographer on the Monday call, a recording of which was obtained by Media Ink.
“I have a friend who is an ER doctor who has sent me from her own supply. That’s how I am getting by. I know the other photographers are winging it. We’re out on the street every day,” the photographer complained.
Sforza, who earlier in the call said that masks and gloves were being shipped to photographers’ homes, responded: “I am glad you let me know that. It was supposed to be shipped directly to you.”
In explaining why they haven’t yet received masks and gloves, Sforza said the first shipments went to the printing plants — leaving little for the newsrooms.
“They were like, ‘if there is anything left over at the printing plant, you can grab it,’ but there was nothing left over at the printing plant,” Sforza said on the call.
A lack of face masks and other protective gear has been an ongoing problem for photojournalists required to hit the streets during the coronavirus to pay their bills.
“Being a photojournalist right now, covering coronavirus is incredibly challenging,” Akili Ramsess, executive director of the National Press Photographers Association, recently told Poynter.org. “Right now, that’s our main topic of conversation and concern. How are we keeping safe? How can they do their jobs and stay safe?”
Gannett, after several days of stonewalling, finally released a statement on Tuesday, saying the cuts were the result of the $1.2 billion takeover of Gannett by Gatehouse House and not the advertising collapse tied to the coronavirus pandemic.
But the company did not reveal the number or percent of the workforce that was whacked. The company also did not respond to complaints that photographers were being sent into the field without the promised PPE.
The layoffs started Friday and continued on Monday, sources said. “No warning. We had no idea they were doing this,” said an insider on Friday. “There isn’t even an e-mail sent to the newsroom yet.”
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