Decades of know-how and institutional community knowledge have walked out the doors of the Bucks County Courier Times, The Intelligencer and Burlington County Times over the past 20 days.
Now-former and current employees of the Gatehouse Media-owned newspapers said more than 20 people left the newsrooms late last month as part of a buyout offer.
Last Friday, a number of staffers who stayed on after the buyouts were laid off, including popular Phillies beat writer Kevin Cooney, whose name was still being used as of Sunday to market newspaper subscriptions. Aside from several cuts in the sports department, some editors in other departments were cut from the staff.
The wave of departures comes less than two months after Gatehouse Media first offered buyouts to newspaper staff members following the sale of the news organizations from family-owned Calkins Media. The family-owned company was purchased by Gatehouse Media in a deal that went through on June 30.
The employees who left in the buyouts last month and the layoffs last week do not include a number of staff from the design and copy desks, who will be laid off over the next two months, several newspaper staffers said. Former and current newspaper staffers added that more cuts are rumored to be down the line.
“As GateHouse continues to evaluate its business, revenues and employees, it has been determined that a realignment of resources to better fit the current business demands is required,” a late July memo from Publisher Mike Jameson stated.
Those who left the Bucks County Courier Times, Intelligencer and Burlington County Times signed buyout offers extended in July by Gatehouse Media as the company looks to shed expenditures. The offers for most employees included three days of pay for every full year completed and an agreement they wouldn’t interfere with future Gatehouse Media operations in addition to a two-year-long “confidentiality” agreement.
Several former Gatehouse Media newsroom employees said there will be less local coverage due to the cuts and the newspaper will likely look much different once design functions are moved from the local hub at the Bucks County Courier Times building on Route 13 in Tullytown to a Gatehouse Media facility in Texas.
The former employees noted that the cuts will be painful for the newspapers, but the remaining staff are dedicated to reporting local news.
Gatehouse Media has also made cuts to the video offerings from the former Calkins Media newspapers. Some of the most notable video cuts was the daily “Newsbreak” program hosted by Philadelphia TV icon Carol Erickson and “Eat This,” which has racked up over 100 episodes.
While there have been heavy cuts in the editorial and design operations, the sales staff has not seen major cuts, but employees said that is expected down the line.
The cuts come as Gatehouse Media, which has its headquarters in New York and is owned by a holding company that is managed by Japan’s Softbank, has raised subscription prices and newsstand costs. In Bucks County, Monday through Friday single copy costs have jumped $.50 to $2 per day and $3 for Sundays.
For home subscribers, customers are now paying a one-time $5.95 activation fee that is only for new subscribers and an additional $3.50 to 4 for each of the new “premium editions.” September will feature a “Gamebook,” October a 14-month calendar, a November Thanksgiving Day edition that is packed with circulars from paying advertisers and a Christmas Day edition, according to the newspaper website.
In addition to the buyouts and cuts that will lead to less meaningful local news coverage, the Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer are expected to combine their newsroom and business functions into one central office, likely in the Newtown area, former and current Gatehouse Media employees said.
The aging Bucks County Courier Times building and nine-acre property in Tullytown and Falls Township printing facility was included in the newspapers’ $17.5 million sale to Gatehouse Media, however, the Intelligencer building on a prime lot on Broad Street in Doylestown remains under the ownership related to the Calkins family and is being leased through the end of the year to Gatehouse Media. In New Jersey, the Burlington County Times was already planning to move to a more modern and smaller facility.
Since the takeover by Gatehouse Media, the three regional newspapers have begun testing different online subscriptions as a way to determine what method to use. For the Bucks County Courier Times, articles remained free without a subscription for up to 24 hours after publication until recently, while The Intelligencer allowed a certain number of reads before locking nonsubscribers out and the Burlington County Times was testing a variation of the Bucks County Courier Times paywall.
Several former and current journalists at the publications have noted the papers have made no mention of the cuts in their print editions. A search of the Newsbank database shows the paper has not published any articles on the sale aside from a short press release in late June and a column from J.D. Mullane that focused on the Calkins family.
The cuts at the newspapers come after the publication has won various journalism awards, including for its work on a series that brought attention to poisoned water impacting several Central Bucks County communities.
Gatehouse Media has used prime advertising space to sell their new small business marketing firm Thrive Hive, which is based in New England. Former and current employees said they believe the push for the marketing business is to add more revenue streams for the newspapers.
Gatehouse Media purchased the majority of the Calkins Media’s newspapers for $17.5 million earlier in summer and also made a large purchase of Morris Newspapers in the south. While the company has been on a buying spree in recent years, financial data from the company shows little money is being put toward repaying debt. Gatehouse Media rose from the ashes after a bankruptcy several years ago.
During the first half of 2017, Gatehouse Media reported $630 million in revenues, but a net loss of $25.4 million, the Jacksonville Daily Record reported.
Seeking Alpha, a financial analyst and news site, noted purchasing stock for the group that manages Gatehouse Media “seems to make zero sense.” The analyst noted that cost cuts will only take the newspaper company so far before the floor falls out.
“While the cuts maximized cash flow to pay stock dividends and fund further acquisitions, it also undermined the whole enterprise. Circulation is down, print advertising is way down and the gains in digital advertising and the [Thrive Hive] initiative haven’t offset that decline,” the union that represents staffs at several of Gatehouse Media’s 125 daily newspaper said in a statement in May.
Despite the newspaper’s shrinking size and level of staff, one thing sources close to the operations have consistently said is that the new owners have no intention to stop printing a physical copy.
As of publication, Gatehouse Media representatives have not returned a request for comment.