Times Herald-Record Lays Off Four NPPA Photographers

By Donald R. Winslow

MIDDLETOWN, NY (November 1, 2013) – The trick-or-treat front page photograph this morning by staff photographer Tom Bushey may well be the last staff photo readers will see in the Times Herald-Record. Why? Because this morning the Middletown, NY, newspaper wiped out their entire photography department.

The four shooters, all NPPA members, were given almost verbatim the same human resources speech that Chicago Sun-Times photographers heard back in May: "We're going in a different direction ...", former staff photographer Chet Gordon said they were told this morning.

"I looked at my watch. It took less than 15 minutes," Gordon said. 

Photojournalists and NPPA members Gordon, Bushey, Jeffry Goulding and Dominick Fiorille were were four of the seven positions the newspaper cut this morning. Three others were newsroom managers. John DeSanto, a visual editor, was not laid off, Gordon said.

The newspaper wanted all four photographers to be at the human resources meeting this morning, but photojournalist Jeff Goulding was at an airport on his way to his son's wedding in Arizona. 

"They wanted him to change his plans and be at the meeting," Gordon said, "but Jeff said no, so they conferenced him in on the phone. That's how he found out."

Gordon said while he wasn't entirely surprised, he was surprised that it happened today.

"Our executive editor is a former Gannett head chopper. Today's the first of the month, the end of a pay cycle, it makes sense." Gordon says they were given a two-page human resources paper, the short speech, and then they had to turn in their cameras and company car.

The newspaper, on its Web site, quoted executive editor Derek Osenenko, who was formerly the head of Gannett News Service. Osenenko said the layoff decision was "the result of an ongoing three-year analysis of how the operation could best provide visuals for a growing number of print and digital products."

"I'm sitting on the porch waiting for them to come get the car right now," Gordon told News Photographer. "But I've been in the business 25 years. I'm going to land on my feet freelancing. I've already got some calls today." His career included stints at three New York and New Jersey area daily newspapers and picture editing at the New York Daily News. A Marine Corps veteran who served on posts in Japan, Gordon has also worked for NGO's in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Central America.

"The union guy is going to file a grievance, but you know the story ... yada yada, it's done. The story's written. It's all mumbo jumbo," Gordon said with a laugh. "They're giving reporters iPhones and plan on using a couple of area freelancers."

Romenesko reported that the four photographers had nearly 100 years combined experience, and one of the staffers had been at the paper for almost 35 years.

Two of the laid off photographers are in the top three in the point standings for Region 2 in NPPA's Monthly News Clip Contest for the current year. Bushey is in first place, and Goulding is tied for third with Gordon in 13th place in the Clip Contest standings.

The photographers were offered a package that includes two weeks pay per years of service and some Cobra options.

"We [the photographers] covered three counties," Gordon said. "The circulation is probably less than 80,000 now ... ".

The newspaper, part of the Dow Jones Local Media Group, was sold by News Corp. to GateHouse Media in September. Shortly thereafter GateHouse filed for bankruptcy. 

"When that happened we thought, 'Well, there goes the copy desk or something,'" Gordon said.

There were layoffs at other American newspapers today. In Cape Cod, photography editor Jim Preston and four imaging techs were among the 10 newsroom staff laid off.