Local News
1:41 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

Media Critic: No Courier-Journal Reporters Were Laid Off, But They Did Suffer a Loss

The Courier-Journal office at Sixth Street and Broadway.
Credit Eleanor Hasken/LPM

The Courier-Journal laid off seven newsroom employees on Tuesday, including three major editors: Jean Porter, Mike Trautmann and John Mura.

Unlike previous rounds of layoffs and buyouts at The C-J, this one originated locally—no other Gannett publication was reported as experiencing similar cuts.

The changes are part of a newsroom reorganization emphasizing the digital product. Executive Editor Neil Budde emailed me this statement:

“The Courier-Journal newsroom restructuring was undertaken to align it better to serve our rapidly growing digital audience while preserving the quality of the print newspaper.  Our focus remains on ensuring we deliver unique and compelling stories that engage all our readers.”

This new organizational chart, provided to WFPL by a C-J staffer, was distributed during the Tuesday afternoon meeting in which Budde explained the layoff decisions: 

 

Apparently Mura’s tasks will be handled by the director of digital projects, and the news director will take on Trautmann and Porter’s duties. It’s unclear which roles might replace graphic artist (Steve Reed) and data desk manager (Mark Taflinger).

The C-J’s marketing director, Nancy Jo Trafton, told Business First and Insider Louisville that no reporters were affected.

She presumably meant that no reporters were actually fired, but several C-J reporters told me that the loss of people such as Trautmann, Porter and Reed would definitely affect their reporting.

“These people may not have had their names in the paper, but they played very important roles,” education reporter Toni Konz said. “Every story I wrote was made better by people like Mike Trautmann.”

In the C-J’s story about the layoffs, Andrew Wolfson reported that Budde told staff the layoffs were necessary not only because of the ongoing emphasis on digital content, but also “because of smaller than forecast revenue.”

Salaries and benefits for veteran employees (with 75 years of experience between them, according to The C-J’s Sheldon Shafer) cost corporations like Gannett far more money than the equivalent number of fresh hires.

In the past, The C-J has offered new positions to laid-off employees—back in 2011, reporters such as Thomas Nord came back to work a few weeks after The C-J gutted Velocity and dismissed its staff—but Budde told me that deal is not in the cards for the seven employees laid off this week without warning.

Regardless of the reasoning behind the layoffs, Tuesday was still a very sad day for The Courier-Journal, for local journalism, and for the city of Louisville, as numerous people noted on Twitter shortly after Mike Trautmann tweeted his farewell. Morale at Sixth Street and Broadway is at an all-time low, staffers said.

“If they can get rid of Jean and Mike, they can get rid of anybody,” said one longtime reporter who did not want to be named for this story.

As I said in a previous column about dramatic changes at The C-J, it will be more and more difficult for Louisville’s only daily newspaper to fulfill its core function as a consistent source for community news, advocacy and watchdog journalism with fewer resources, including fewer editors. The existing staff is already stretched thin; asking them to take on the tasks of competent, veteran editors may be asking too much.

Disclosures: James Miller previously worked at The Courier-Journal, as did Joseph Lord, the editor of this piece. Mura is also the father of one of Miller's students.

Miller is WFPL's media critic and a journalism teacher at duPont Manual High School. You can find his past work here and find him on Twitter at @jaymills.