New Media Investment Group "will make offers of employment to most of the current employees" at the Providence Journal, according to an email sent at 5 pm Thursday, and the ProJo's longtime publisher, Howard Sutton, is on his way out at Fountain Street.
New Media, the parent company of GateHouse Media, bought the Journal for $46 million in July. It became the successful bidder after Texas-based A.H. Belo announced last year it was putting Rhode Island's statewide newspaper up for sale.
An email sent by New Media to ProJo staffers Thursday reads in part, "As the closing date of the sale approaches, New Media representatives will make offers of employment to most of the current employees. Those receiving offers should carefully review the terms and conditions and be prepared to accept or decline the offer."
While job cuts do not appear imminent, Journal staffers privately express frustration about the limbo in which they find themselves.
Providence Newspaper Guild president John Hill, a ProJo reporter, confirmed the sending of the email and said it signals how the closing of New Media's acquisition of the newspaper is almost complete. Hill said he doesn't know when the deal will be completed.
Hill said the Guild's position is that it will continue to represent reporters and other workers associated with the union, and that "GateHouse doesn't get to decide," the future of the Guild, which represents about 160 workers. "Our position is that we will representing the people at the Journal."
New Media suggested plans to cut up to 40 jobs in a US Securities and Exchange filing last month. The ProJo's newsroom has previously been the subject of repeated rounds of buy-outs and layoffs that have thinned the depth and breadth of the newspaper.
Sutton, who has been the publisher of the Journal for about 15 years, will retire in September and act as a consultant for New Media until the end of the year, according to an account published by the ProJo.
According to the story, "Bernie Szachara, senior vice president for publishing and group publisher at Local Media Group, a division of Fairport, N.Y.-based GateHouse Media, will succeed Sutton as interim publisher. A national search for a permanent publisher will take place in 2015."
Sutton, 64, who began at the Journal Company as a circulation statistician in 1973, told the Journal's G. Wayne Miller, “I’m very proud to have been here for 40-plus years. I’m extremely proud of spending the last 15 years as publisher. It was something I never thought was a possibility when I started working here.” (As a rule, Sutton, like most in management on Fountain Street, has declined to speak with reporters outside the Journal.)
Sutton's tenure as publisher coincided with a series of growing challenges after Belo bought the Journal Company and its nine television stations for $1.5 billion in 1997.
A four-year labor dispute between ProJo management and the Providence Newspaper Guild sparked claims that Belo-backed managers were trying to break the union. Although that conflict ended in 2003, the growth of the Internet increasingly sapped the advertising and circulation revenue of the ProJo, like that of other traditional newspapers, reducing the paper's literal size and staffing. Two of the members of the Journal's former four-member investigative team, Mike Stanton and Tracy Breton, are no longer with the paper.