Managers at NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune carried off an expected round of layoffs this morning, firing some of the paper's longest-serving reporters alongside more recent hires. In a statement released after the firings, NOLA Media Group President Ricky Mathews said the firings included "28 full time and nine part time content staffers," or "21 percent of the overall content operation's full-time employees."
James Varney, whose career spanned nearly 26 years at The Times-Picayune, was among those fired, as was Paul Purpura, who began at the paper in 1999 and worked a variety of beats in his 16-year tenure. John Pope, whose career began at the old States-Item in 1972, no longer will be a staff writer, but will continue to contribute to the paper.
Andy Grimm, who was hired away from the Chicago Tribune to cover federal courts, also was let go, as were reporter Ben Myers and graphics reporter/editor Dan Swenson. Benjamin Alexander Bloch, who covered coastal parishes and the Gulf of Mexico, was fired, as was Dinah Rogers, the paper's assistant photo editor and a 24-year employee.
Music writer Alison Fensterstock, a former Gambit music columnist, was let go, as well as Cate Root, who posted about events around town and covered the city's burgeoning comedy scene. David Lee Simmons, a former Gambit staffer who covered the entertainment scene, also was fired.
Lyons Yellin of Gambit's TV partner WWL-TV reported that "almost all" the prep sports staff was let go.
Several sources said that the sackings were carried out in offices on a lower floor of One Canal Place, rather than in the newsroom.
Mathews was quoted as saying:
"It's a difficult day for us and our colleagues who are losing their jobs. We wish them the very best. Aligning our costs with the business realities faced by media organizations around the country is a tough challenge. But it's also important for our readers to know that we remain the largest and most experienced news staff, and the most widely read newspaper and website in the area."
The cuts were not unexpected. In June, Advance Publications, which owns NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, indicated that NOLA Media Group would be merging with the company's Alabama Media Group to form a "Southeast Regional Media Group" (later renamed "Advance Media Southeast"). Two days later, managers met with employees to talk about the company's future. "They're being pretty upfront about the fact there will be layoffs,"one reporter told Gambit
at the time. A report from Alabamamentioned
that the company would be finding "operational efficiencies" within the merged companies. ("Unlike the last major round of cuts," Gambit reported then, "sports, arts and feature reporters also are at risk in this round of cuts.")
Since then, reporter Adriane Quinlan left in July, moving to Atlanta, while Rebecca Catalanello - whose series on abuse and neglect at New Bethany Home for Girls received national praise - left the paper earlier this month, taking a job as Assistant Director of Publications and Communications at the University of New Orleans. Grace Wilson, the website's "Community Engagement Specialist for Entertainment," left in August. Earlier this month, longtime Times-Picayune editor Jim Amossstepped down to take a role
as editor-at-large for Advance Digital, the Internet arm of owner Advance Publications. The new editor is Mark Lorando, former state and metro editor of NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.
In 2012, the paper was thrown into tumult when The New York Times reported it soon would be going to a three-day-per-week production schedule, catching Times-Picayune employees by surprise. The company subsequently firedmore than 200 people
, 84 of whom worked in the newsroom, as it underwent what it called the "digital transition." At the time, Amoss promised, "We will continue to have by far the most complete and the most formidable news-gathering muscle in this community, and readers will just have to hold us accountable to that promise that I'm making."
This is a developing story.