Layoffs planned at Detroit Free Press ahead of sale to hedge fund-backed group

November 13, 2019, 9:14 AM by  Violet Ikonomova

(Photo: Jim Schaefer, Facebook)

The Detroit Free Press has announced it will lay off four employees this year, ahead of a sale that will leave the daily in the hands of a hedge fund-backed media conglomerate.

Three reporters and one photographer will be let go, according to an email sent by the union to its members Wednesday and obtained by Deadline Detroit. Free Press Editor and Vice President Peter Bhatia, the notice says, is looking for staff to voluntarily leave. Those who do would receive a week of severance for every six months they've been with the paper, up to 40 weeks.

This is the latest in a series of layoffs at the Free Press over the past decade, as the print media industry grapples with shrinking ad revenue and print circulation. The news comes after Free Press parent Gannett reported last week that 3rd quarter revenues were down 8 percent. Free Press employees last year managed to escape layoffs when some senior staff took buyouts.

It's unclear whether layoffs are planned at Gannett's other properties. The company, which owns USA Today, is also in a partnership with the business side of the Detroit News. That paper's editor and publisher, Gary Miles, said in a memo to staff Tuesday that it would "entertain a voluntary layoff for those who are interested," but that preliminary budget projections were "better than in many years."

Gannett earlier this year announced its pending sale to hedge fund-backed media group GateHouse, in a deal expected to bring even more layoffs — though mostly in back-offfice administrative operations, rather than newsrooms. Shareholders are due to vote on the sale Thursday.

The merger will put at least 16 Michigan daily papers under the new media conglomerate, in which GateHouse will have a majority stake.

In addition to the Free Press, Gannett owns the Battle Creek Enquirer, Lansing State Journal, the Observer and Eccentric Newspapers, and The Times Herald in Port Huron.

GateHouse, meanwhile, has at least 11 daily and other papers in smaller Michigan cities.

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