At least a dozen employees of the New Haven Register received notice last week that they will lose their jobs before the end of this year due to the uncertain future of Digital First Media,- the paper’s national owners.
At least nine employees from the sports department and several other desks were relieved from their posts last week, said a person familiar with the situation who wished to remain anonymous due to instructions not to speak to the press. The person added that management targeted specific departments and cut members with the least seniority at the newspaper. The layoffs are the latest in DFM’s efforts to cut employees, which have been going on since early this summer after a failed $400 million sale to private equity firm Apollo Global Management in May 2015. This is the second round of layoffs to hit the Register since February 2014.
“They were talented, mid-career people with real dedication to the craft,” said Jerry Dunklee, a professor of journalism at Southern Connecticut State University whose former students have been laid off in the Register’s latest round of cuts. “It’s sad. These people have families to support and none of this was connected to their skills.”
Apollo — a company specializing in buying and restructuring financially insolvent companies — would have bought all of DFM’s 75 papers, including the Register. Since the summer, DFM has been making cuts as it awaits for opportunities to sell its papers, said Rick Edmonds, media industry analyst for The Poynter Institute, a information source about media.
Industry analyst Ken Doctor reported in a NiemenLab article that DFM had eliminated at least 150 jobs across many of the 75 papers as of July 2015. Five months later, it started making cuts from the Register.
Representatives from DFM did not respond to requests for comment.
When a newspaper falls under non-family ownership, Edmonds said, its parent company typically aims to invest in the paper for a few years before selling it. Since DFM’s failed sale to Apollo, the company has sold 11 of its Texas papers to media group Gannett Company. Profitable outcomes from the sold papers could persuade Gannett or other firms to make similar investments, Edmonds said.
DFM emerged several years ago when the Journal Register chain of newspapers — which includes the Register — combined with MediaNews, another media company. In the years following the merger, DFM aimed to create a stronger online and mobile presence for the papers it oversaw, Edmonds said. In 2012, DFM management began Project Thunderdome, which aimed to integrate and redesign the digital look of all the company’s papers. But the project collapsed in early 2014.
“DFM was attempting to get all of the newspapers to be stronger in terms of digital news and it was sort of implied that they would be less inclined to invest in print,” Edmonds said. “That is what they hope to do. But to my observation as well as some others, they tried that strategy for two or three years and it did not work.”
Edmonds added that the cuts at the Register fit into a larger, yearslong industry trend of layoffs that had yet to hit the newspaper hard until this month. Papers across the country have been downsizing due to the falling prices of advertisements, Edmonds said.
Though DFM is still turning a yearly profit of $125 million — a much higher profit than most media companies earn — management continues to push that number, Doctor reported. Corporate media companies today are prioritizing profit margins over all else, Dunklee said.
“The recent cuts at the Register point out, once again, the lack of interest in local journalism on the part of big corporate owners,” Dunklee said. “They live elsewhere and seem to care only about what it costs, not its value to the community. Most of them know little about the importance of journalism. They see it as simply platform to sell ads.”
The number of reporters at the Register has dwindled from over 150 to less than 50 over the last 20 years, he added. Only two staff members were let go in the Register’s last layoffs in February 2014. Both had worked with the Register for over two decades.
The New Haven Register was founded in 1812.