ProJo Pulls Gregg from State House - What is GateHouse Thinking?

Thursday, August 04, 2016

 

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Kathy Gregg. Photo: Twitter

Veteran Providence Journal State House reporter Katherine Gregg, generally considered to be the strongest in the pool with the most institutional knowledge, is being pulled to cover other areas at the paper, after decades on the political beat. 

The move comes after long-time editorial writer M.J. Andersen was laid off at the end of July.

So just what is the ProJo’s — and owner GateHouse’s — strategy? 

“I can’t speak to a management decision, I have no idea what prompted this,” said Providence Newspaper Guild President and ProJo reporter John Hill, of Gregg’s move, which Rhode Island Public Radio was first to report on Wednesday.  “As for corporate, well, to them, stories are just a sequence of words. M.J. Anderson had been here 35 years, and it’s just a huge loss. It’s just another diminishment of the paper — editorial writers in this market are just as important as reporters. But hey, it’s their call.”

GateHouse had acquired the ProJo when it purchased it from A.H. Belo in June 2014; in April of this year, GoLocal reported that Gatehouse CEO Kirk Davis got a $1 million raise, despite massive layoffs. 

Of those let go at the ProJo, Hill said there were 22 “within four or five months after [GateHouse] took over in late 2014.”

“And a couple of buyouts, too, so that number’s probably around 30. And that’s just Guild people. They’ve cut and bought-out non-union,” said Hill. “We work for a corporation that’s sitting on millions in their war chest. They could do so so much to build and better the paper.  Just watch and see, they’ll all get bonuses again.”

Former ProJo editorial pages editor Bob Whitcomb, who now writes a weekly “Digital Diary” feature for GoLocalProv.com, echoed Hill’s sentiment.

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Another major shift for ProJo - under the thumb of parent corporation GateHouse.

“What GateHouse will do to maximize its profits is get rid of as many people as possible, as fast as it can. Mr. Davis then can pay himself millions,” said Whitcomb. “I don’t know, but this might be a strategy to force [Gregg] out. It's standard operating procedure for GateHouse to prioritize profit above all else."

Strategy in Question

Alan Mutter, a consultant specializing in corporate initiatives and new media ventures involving journalism and technology after previously having been City Editor for the Chicago Sun-Times and at the San Francisco Chronicle, up until recently penned musings for his personal website, “Reflections of a Newsosaur.”

“I don’t know anything about the individuals or the background, so I cannot comment specifically on these events. However, it is safe to say that revenue-challenged publishers looking to reduce costs frequently have tried to replace older and higher-paid reporters with younger staffers,” said Mutter. “Having said that, newspapers aiming to beef up digital content need people who can take pictures, make videos, post on Facebook, tweet and more.  In some cases, traditionally trained print journalists are unwilling and/or uncomfortable with these very real new requirements.” 

Gregg has been an increasingly prolific on Twitter, posting over 20,000 Tweets since joining in 2011, and amassing nearly 6,000 followers.  ProJo State House reporter Jennifer Bogdan has some 7,000 tweets, and 3,700 followers. 

Whether Gregg, who is out on vacation, steps into a different role — or takes another direction altogether — remains to be seen. 

“When long-serving staffers depart, they take a good deal of institutional knowledge and contacts with them,” said Mutter. “And that is not good for the paper or the community it serves.”

 

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