Providence Journal employees, guild members, protest cuts

PROVIDENCE – Providence Newspaper Guild members and supporters took their concerns about impending layoffs at The Providence Journal to the streets Thursday.
Guild President John Hill said approximately 100 people attended, including Journal employees and representatives from other unions. The picket was held outside the Journal’s offices on Fountain Street to send a message to new owner, Gatehouse Media, which is planning more layoffs early next year.
“When we say our members are seriously concerned about this, we aren’t just pulling it out of the air,” Hill said.
Gatehouse acquired the Journal earlier this month from A.H. Belo Corp.; 22 union members were laid off in the transition, as well as an unidentified number of non-union workers.
Hill said an additional 40 employees will be laid off early next year, half from page design and half from the copy desk. Copy desk functions will be transferred to a “design center” in Austin, Texas.
“Our problem with that is we’ve got 40 of our friends here who are going to lose jobs, decent jobs … jobs that you can save money to put a kid through college with,” Hill said.
Hill added that the paper will be edited by people who likely “have never set foot in Rhode Island” and do not know the difference between “Pawtucket, Pawtuxet and Pawcatuck.”
“We’re very concerned it’s going to diminish the quality of what’s in the paper,” Hill said.
Hill said the loss of longtime columnist Bob Kerr continues to baffle employees. Kerr was among the group laid off earlier this month.
“We just don’t understand how this paper is better” without Kerr, Hill said. “He was a mentor to every reporter in this room. … It’s an election year and to not have his voice in here is just a huge loss.”
Hill said Gatehouse is hiring four reporters, but he said, “Forty minus four is not progress.”
He said the union hopes to meet at the bargaining table with management next month. The Journal has approximately 140 guild members.
“The membership needed to speak and this was a way to do that,” he said about the picket.
Gatehouse bought the Journal from Belo for $46 million. Gatehouse Media is a subsidiary of New York-based New Media Investment Group Inc.
Journal Interim Publisher Bernie Szachara did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

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