Downsizing and cuts have continued in the year since Bucks County’s two daily newspapers were purchased by an out-of-state company.
A number of sources with knowledge of the cuts have said there have been two rounds of layoffs at the Bucks County Courier Times and Intelligencer within the past four months. A round of buyouts that several employees accepted were also recently offered and a reporter who left the paper was not replaced. More than a dozen staffers have left the newspapers this summer, including the publisher who retired after a 40-year career.
The much-beloved Reality section, which features teen writers from area high schools, might be among the latest casualties. The editor who oversaw the section and entertainment reporting was among those laid off earlier this summer, according to sources with knowledge of the newspapers’ operations and local educators whose students have taken part in the section. As of last week, the Reality tab on the newspapers’ websites continued to publish new content from students.
Gatehouse Media’s corporate office and the Bucks County Courier Times and Intelligencer’s executive editor did not reply to requests for comment.
The latest downsizing at the newspapers follows deep cuts after Gatehouse Media, which is under the control of Japan-based Softbank, purchased the majority of Tullytown-based, family-owned Calkins Media for $17.5 million, including the Bucks County Courier Times, Doylestown Intelligencer, and Burlington (New Jersey) County Times last summer.
“The majority of the people that worked at the papers when Calkins (Media) owned them are no longer with Gatehouse (Media),” said a former employee who declined to have their name published due to a nondisclosure agreement signed with the company.
The employee further added that nearly all of jobs lost over the past year have belonged to residents of the Philadelphia region, many living in Lower Bucks County. Last year, some jobs that were lost were outsourced to a Gatehouse Media hub in Texas.
Gatehouse Media has garnered a reputation for cutting employees in markets where they own and operate publications.
Just last week, Gatehouse Media’s latest rounds of buyouts, including offers to the entire staff at the Austin Statesman, have made headlines. They also abruptly closed down a number of small market newspapers that had been important in their rural communities.
Poynter, a not-for-profit journalism school, reported Monday that the buyout offers hit newspapers across the country.
“The action supports ongoing efforts across our organization to reduce costs. While we continue to make progress toward our goal of being revenue positive by 2018 and year-to-date our revenue performance has improved and outperformed our industry peers, we continue to see revenue declines and must align our expenses accordingly,” Gatehouse Media CEO Kirk Davis wrote in a memo obtained by Poynter.
The noticeably smaller and more expensive print newspaper has seen declines in circulation in Lower Bucks County over recent years. In years past, the Bucks County Courier Times saw circulation hit 50,000 copies, but public data from Gatehouse Media shows the Bucks County Courier Times’ circulation below 20,000.
The Intelligencer closed their Doylestown Borough office earlier this year and no longer has an permanent office space in their circulation area of central and upper Bucks County for the first time in more than 100 years. Employees have either been working from the road, home, and the Bucks County Courier Times’ office in Tullytown.
Along Route 13, the Bucks County Courier Times’ longtime – but “rapidly aging,” as one former employee noted – building is for sale by Gatehouse Media as the two county newspapers prepare to move to a consolidated leased office near the Oxford Valley Mall in Middletown.
The move was slated to be completed in the coming weeks.
A former longtime Calkins Media reporter bemoaned the cuts and reduction of offices by stating Gatehouse Media has greatly reduced a “very powerful community institution.”
“Gatehouse as an owner is potentially worse than some other big chains because it is owned by hedge fund investors with no background in or long-term commitment to the newspaper business or local journalism. Their goals can be short-term, and if they can make a good return on their money by milking the profits of a declining business over the next few years, they don’t necessarily care what happens to the newspaper after that,” Matt DeRienzo, the executive director for Local Independent Online News Publishers and a former publisher at the Digital First Media newspaper chain, said last year.
Gatehouse Media is the owner of 145 daily newspapers and 340 non-daily publications across the country. Additionally, the company profits from small business services it offers.
The management firm that oversees Gatehouse Media reported second quarter financial results that showed just under $12 million in profit. It also reported a company-wide drop in newspaper circulation and print revenues.
Company officials said on a recent earnings call that added attention has been on their small business services, holding more events, and increasing commercial printing contracts to boost revenues. They added the newspapers remained the “foundation of the businesses.”
Newsprint tariffs, as high as 30 percent, were cited by company leaders as something that would impact the bottom line. Last week, the tariffs were ended by the U.S. International Trade Commission. Although lifted, the impact has been felt as they had been blamed for job loss across the shrinking newspaper industry.
While the cuts have reduced the Bucks County Courier Times and Intelligencer, the newspapers’ reporters have continued shine light on important issues over the past year and taken home a number of awards in state competitions. Reporting on contaminated water in Central Bucks County and Montgomery County, babies born to mothers addicted to drugs, late Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Darren Daulton, and the murder of a young Montgomery County girl have all brought home prizes.
As former employees noted, there does not appear to be a long-term plan for the newspapers by Gatehouse Media.
“As the product declines and revenue shrinks accordingly, they cut even more newsroom staff. At some point they cash out and leave town,” DeRienzo speculated last year.