New publisher, same problem at SJ-R

springfield3The churn continues at the State Journal-Register. Salespersons come and go. So do reporters, frustrated by the eternal wage freeze invoked by GateHouse Media.

Notable departures include Jamie Munks, Maggie Menderski, Dan Petrella, Tobias Wall and Molly Beck.

And this company even blows through publishers. Once upon a time those positions were among the most stable in the media industry. As the Illinois Times notes, the SJ-R employed just two publishers between 1968 and 2005.

But those days are long gone. Rosanne Cheeseman became the sixth SJ-R publisher under GateHouse Media ownership, replacing Clarissa Williams.

Back in 2013 since-departed GateHouse executive Brad Dennison hired Williams to replace interim publisher Michael Petrak, who filled in after Richard Johnson retired after less than a year on the job.

Johnston signed on in 2012 to replace Walt Lafferty, who came aboard in 2010 to replace Scott Bowers. Whew!

Springfield civic leaders need a scorecard to keep up with all the changes atop the SJ-R, an important institution that has eroded due to excessive cutting under GateHouse ownership.

Cheeseman takes over as the United Media Guild moves closer to triggering advertiser and reader boycotts of the SJ-R. GateHouse Media’s last contract proposal to the UMG amounted to a pay cut for many of our members in Springfield.

Veteran journalists at the paper have gone nearly nine years without a raise. This prompted them to organize, vote in the Guild 26-4, and embark on an aggressive public campaign.

Our members have engaged the public in a variety of ways, including informational picketing, leafleting major events, speaking to civic groups, soliciting support from organized labor, manning an informational booth at the Illinois State Fair, gathering support cards and running a radio advertising campaign.

More recently UMG business representative Shannon Duffy met with several of the major SJ-R advertisers face to face, some of them on multiple occasions. AFSCME, which has 35,000 members in the region, has been assisting our efforts.

The UMG isn’t eager to inflict economic damage on the SJ-R — some of which could be permanent — but if GateHouse insists on maintaining its wage freeze, we will have no choice to prove that labor peace has major economic value.

Boycotts could cost GateHouse Media hundreds of thousands in the near term and perhaps millions in the long haul. Regaining lost readers and advertisers can be expensive and, in some cases, impossible.

And odds are we’ll see more churn, more salespersons, reporters and, yes, even publishers heading out the door.