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Thirty-one people in multiple departments were laid off. The newspaper’s new owner has said the goal is less redundancy and better local news coverage.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
The Roanoke Times eliminated the jobs of 31 employees Wednesday, as the newspaper's new corporate owner announced a series of job reductions and restructuring aimed at improving the paper's profitability while maintaining a local news focus.
Like most American newspapers over the past decade, The Roanoke Times has suffered repeated blows of diminished circulation, dwindling print advertising revenue, a bad economy, competition from online news sources and slow-growing digital revenues.
The terminations of 11 percent of its work force leave The Roanoke Times with a total of 253 employees. In 1986, the paper's work force was an all-time high of 633.
The nearly 127-year-old newspaper was purchased in May by BH Media Group, a subsidiary of Omaha, Neb.-based Berkshire Hathaway. BH Media Group bought The Roanoke Times from Landmark Media Enterprises of Norfolk, which had owned the paper since 1969 but had made significant staffing reductions in recent years to reduce operating expenses and keep the newspaper profitable.
The job losses cut across the newspaper, including five full-time positions eliminated from the newsroom. The paper's editorial department was also downsized, with two editorial writers offered jobs as news reporters. The restructuring will amount to a net gain of one new reporting position in the newsroom, said Joe Stinnett, the newspaper's editor. What those reporting jobs would be was not clear Wednesday.
Many of the job losses came in the newspaper's digital, technology and production areas, according to a news release issued by Publisher Terry Jamerson. That release stated that the reductions were geared toward "eliminating redundancies, and making the newspaper operation more efficient and locally focused."
"While painful, this restructure is aimed at taking advantage of efficiencies within our larger company, leveraging content positions to serve our readers with added local news, information, and advertising well into the future," Jamerson said in the news release. "We are saying goodbye to some great people today and we thank them for their service and wish them well in their future endeavors."
The job losses are the latest of a series of major changes that have occurred at the newspaper in less than four months. On May 30, the newspaper was purchased by BH Media Group, a newspaper company owned by billionaire Warren Buffett. That move prompted the early retirement of Publisher Debbie Meade, who was succeeded by Jamerson, the publisher of the BH Media Group-owned News & Advance in Lynchburg and the operating vice president of BH Media Group's Virginia Community Newspaper group.
Then, on July 29, Stinnett was brought in from The News & Advance to become editor, replacing Carole Tarrant.
Employees were told about the job reductions Wednesday morning. In a meeting with newsroom staff later that afternoon, Stinnett and Managing Editor Michael Stowe said that Wednesday had been the toughest day of their careers.
Stinnett said the newspaper will continue to make covering local news its top priority.
"Local newspapers are so important to the communities they cover," he said. "It's so hard to see with everything we've gone through today, but I firmly believe that the company believes in print and online local news. They really do believe that. They're doing things to make sure the paper survives."
The Roanoke Times has an average daily circulation of 67,000 and 85,000 on Sundays, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.
BH Media Group has bought several American newspapers in the past year and now owns 68 daily newspapers and other publications in Nebraska, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Florida.
However, jobs have been eliminated at some of those papers. The Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record cut 21 full-time and 33 part-time jobs in June and July. The Tulsa (Okla.) World eliminated 50 positions in July.
BH Media Group's newspaper buying spree included several Virginia papers, which has allowed The Roanoke Times to expand its statewide coverage by publishing stories from corporate siblings. Those newspapers include the Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, the Bristol Herald-Courier and the Danville Register & Bee. BH Media Group also owns smaller papers in the Southwest Virginia towns of Floyd, Wytheville, Bland, Marion and Abingdon.
According to The Poynter Institute, a journalism school and think tank in St. Petersburg, Fla., more than 16,000 newspaper reporting and editing jobs were lost between 2007 and 2012. Hundreds more have been lost this year, as large newspaper companies such as Gannett and Advance Publications have cut positions.
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