Statesman cuts 12% of newsroom team

The Austin American-Statesman is cutting more than a tenth of its newsroom, laying off reporters, editors, and top executives, resulting in a weaker capacity to produce original news content for its 83,000 print and 17,000 digital subscribers.

Staff cuts at the newspaper are not due to a cash crunch but relate to a recent takeover by GateHouse Media, a company that owns dozens of U.S. papers and has earned a reputation for trimming the size of even profitable newsrooms in order to improve margins for shareholders.

Sports coverage, politics, transportation, features, news photography, and local news all look to be affected owing to the departures of 13 staff working in these areas. This represents a 12% cut out of the 105 editorial employees that the Statesman reported having as of April 2018.

The staff cuts are ‘voluntary’ after GateHouse offered retirement packages to all employees. Chief editor Debbie Hiott is among those who accepted the buyout and will leave September 30. No replacement has been named.

Meantime, the newspaper’s top executive, publisher Susie Biehle, also accepted the buyout offer but has been asked to stay on in a lame duck role until late November. This essentially leaves a leadership vacuum at the paper that GateHouse attempted to fill earlier this week by announcing that Biehle will share authority until her departure with a Florida-based executive with ongoing responsibility for more than a dozen other newspapers.

Patrick Dorsey, a GateHouse regional vice president whom GateHouse announced as publisher in a statement on its website, will join the Statesman team in Austin at a later date, though his authority over the paper is effective immediately. Farewells for the outgoing employees were held today at the paper’s offices on South Congress Avenue in the heart of Austin. With the exceptions of Biehle, Hiott, and assistant features writer Emily Quigley, who is staying on another few weeks, their resignations all took effect today.

“Those of us staying are crushed by the loss of so many talented people,” wrote investigative reporter Andrea Ball in a social media post. “The Statesman has always been a different kind of newspaper. We’re like family here. Every departure hits personally.”

Biehle did not to respond to an inquiry on the buyouts. Managing Editor John Bridges wrote on social media, “So hard to say goodbye to these great Statesman journalists today. Our newsroom is getting by on hugs, cakes and doughnuts.”

According to Omar Gallaga, a departing technology reporter, he hopes to move into freelancing, spend more time with his children, and see what other opportunities arise. Ben Wear, a transportation reporter, wrote in one of his final articles that he tried his hand at driving for ride-sharing company Lyft as an option for how he might spend some of his time after leaving the paper. Sports writer Kevin Lyttle said he would take some time to “decompress” and then perhaps try to get into freelancing in some form in 2019.

Gardner Selby, who ran the newspaper’s PolitiFact feature, thanked readers and sources who had helped him over the years at the Statesman. He added, “The public service that any newspaper or news organization provides depends on the public giving a damn.”

“News (still) isn’t free.”

Photo Credit: Statesman reporter Tony Plohetski / Twitter