Amid New Buyout Offer, ProJo Publisher Warns Of Possible Layoffs

Apr 13, 2017

Providence Newspaper Guild supporters leading a protest against earlier cuts, in 2014.
Credit Ian Donnis/File Photo / RIPR

With a looming change in the executive editor's post at The Providence Journal, the paper's publisher warned Thursday that layoffs may result if a new buyout offer doesn't attract enough participation.

Reporter John Hill, president of the Providence Newspaper Guild, said ProJo Publisher Janet Hasson shared the news during a staff meeting in which executive editor Dave Butler's departure was announced.

Hill said some well-known reporters could be among those taking the latest buyout. "I've been hearing a lot of interest from the [Guild] membership," he said.

Hasson did not identify the target being sought by management in reducing the ProJo's workforce, but said layoffs will result if too few people take the offer, Hill said.

He said there does not appear to be a connection between the news of Butler's exit -- first reported by the ProJo -- and the latest buyouts. The newspaper said Butler, 66, will retire in June and be succeeded by Alan Rosenberg, a 39-year staffer on Fountain Street. The ProJo's story doesn't mention the new buyout offer, the latest in a string of cuts at Rhode Island's statewide daily that have become more frequent since the paper was acquired by GateHouse Media in 2014.

GateHouse parent New Media Investment Group is managed by Fortress Investment Group, a global investment management firm.

Terms of the buyout are the same as those as one offered earlier this week to non-union employees outside of the production department. According to a memo obtained by RIPR, these are the terms: "Employees who receive and accept this program and who sign the separation and release agreement will receive three (3) days of severance pay at their base rate, for each year of service completed, with a minimum severance amount of three (3) days and a maximum severance amount of 12 weeks of base pay.  Employees with forty (40) years or more of service will receive 26 weeks of base pay.  Service shall be determined based on the number of FULL years completed with the company, with the exception being that if the termination date falls 60 days or less before a service anniversary, then this last year of service shall be counted as a full year."

The terms are less generous than those offered in some earlier buyouts.

The memo set an April 20 deadline for non-union employees to sign up for the buyout.

The memo reads in part, "The Providence Journal continues to transform its business and realign resources accordingly. We have worked hard to adapt to changes brought on by the challenges of our changing business model and current economic environment and at the same time serve our customers and community. Although our efforts have been successful by a number of measures, additional adjustments are needed to properly align our costs with operating revenues." 

Four recent departures have not been replaced -- reporters Alisha Pina, Peter Ellsworth, Richard Salit and columnist Edward Fitzpatrick.

Hasson did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Hill expressed concern that reducing the news staff will hurt the Journal's mission and reduce its coverage.