What to know about Gatehouse and the potential Gannett/Gatehouse merger
Who owns GateHouse?
There is an umbrella company called New Media Group that is on top of GateHouse. But then, also on top of that, there’s a Japanese company called SoftBank. So it’s not really a clear and easy answer given all of these corporate structures.
How will the new company be set up?
GateHouse’s newspapers would be combined with Gannett’s newspapers to form one of the largest media companies in the United States. The Washington Post reported that the combined company would own more than 250 daily newspapers and hundreds of weekly and community papers in 47 states.
Now get ready for the headscratcher. There will be two Gannetts and zero GateHouses once the deal is done. An umbrella company called Gannett will be headed by current GateHouse CEO Mike Reed. A subsidiary company called Gannett will be headed by new Gannett CEO Paul Bascobert. Got that?
They kept talking about Fortress at Monday's corporate Q&A. What is that?
Fortress is where the money comes from. It manages the firm that runs GateHouse. In the employee town hall, executives said that in two years Fortress would go away and that Gannett would be its own company. As mentioned above, that would be a company named Gannett that has one subsidiary: a media company called Gannett.
Will the GateHouse merger mean layoffs in our newsroom?
The New York Times recently reported: "GateHouse follows a typical strategy once it buys a newspaper. Usually, the company collapses the local newspaper's copy editing and page designing roles to a regional hub and lays off journalists, leaving the newsrooms about half their original size in a matter of months. At the Columbia Daily Tribune, which Gatehouse bought in 2016, several rounds of buyouts wiped out more than half the staff, leaving fewer than 10 people to cover a city of 120,000. Circulation fell by more than 20% by 2018."
What have other papers acquired by GateHouse experienced?
Last year, GateHouse's CEO visited the Jacksonville Florida Times-Union and praised its work, according to reporters at the paper. Three weeks later, GateHouse laid off 20% of the newsroom. The Springfield State Journal-Register shrunk from 20 reporters to 4 after its GateHouse purchase.
Given GateHouse's habit of deep cuts, what can a union possibly accomplish?
Once we go public and hold an election, we automatically win a legal protection called “status quo.” This means the company must negotiate with us over any change they make to our working conditions, including layoffs, cuts to benefits and new metrics goals. If we form a union before the GateHouse sale, we will have more power to protect our newsroom.
After other papers organized, their unions were able to stall layoffs, prevent firings and negotiate the first raises in 11 years, among other victories. They even started attending shareholder meetings and taking advantage of a delightful little tool called an “information request,” which is basically a union FOIA to the company for any information that affects your work life. Imagine the possibilities!
Any form of protection we can get with a union is better than the nothing we have now. Journalists need to be at the table to address the changes affecting our industry and to ensure the future quality of news.
Are GateHouse papers represented by unions?
Yes! Close to 20 GateHouse newspapers are unionized, including several that united in response to being purchased and slashed, such as the Florida Times-Union (organized in 2018), the Lakeland Ledger and Sarasota Herald-Tribune (organized in 2016), and the Springfield State Journal-Register (organized in 2012).
Can we still be recognized as a union if this merger goes through?
Yes. The details of the deal are still coming to light, but under the most likely circumstances, if we won our election before the end of the year when the deal is expected to close, we would retain our union status. The new owners would still have to bargain with us in good faith.
What does the merger mean for “status quo?”
The new company is not obligated to maintain the previous company’s status quo — meaning they are allowed a short period of time to make changes. There’s not a specific time frame for changes to be made, but we’re talking more like days or weeks, rather than months. Any changes to our work lives after that (including layoff severance, salaries, health insurance, etc.) would have to be negotiated with the union.
But during that time we can apply pressure on management to choose policies that are more friendly to journalism and employees (i.e. not big cuts).