By late 2007, Gannett had cut staffing to the bone, earning its reputation as the leanest outfit in the newspaper industry. Its 32,800 U.S. newspaper employees produced 85 dailies, including USA Today. It was now down to the marrow, conventional wisdom said at the time; any more payroll reductions would make it nearly impossible to get out the newspapers every day.
Yet, as the new annual report shows in stunning detail, Gannett found still more ways to whack away at staffing. Two years later, the company is publishing the same number of papers -- minus just one. (R.I.P., Tucson Citizen.) But now it's doing so with 8,100 fewer workers: U.S. newspaper employment plunged to just 24,700 by the end of last year, according to the 2009 annual 10-K report, filed yesterday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. In other words, Gannett torpedoed one of every four newspaper jobs in just two years.
How many more can it possibly cut? We know hundreds are at risk as newspaper advertising production work is consolidated at two new hubs in Des Moines and Indianapolis; that's expected to be complete by January 2011. Hundreds more positions could be cut when an untold number of presses are shuttered as printing gets outsourced; the number of shutdowns this year is expected to be at least eight.
Moreover, Gannett is well ahead of ABC News in combining television jobs -- reporter and camera operator, for example -- into so-called one-man band positions; is there any doubt there will be more to come at GCI's 23 TV stations?
The lesson of the past two years is clear: Don't underestimate the industry's lowest-cost operator to extend that reputation further.
[Image: yesterday's Des Moines Register, Newseum. The paper eliminated 42 jobs during the big July layoff]