Memphis needs journalists during COVID-19

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As our nation deals with the coronavirus outbreaks, local journalists have been vital to keeping communities safe.

Commercial Appeal reporters have let our neighbors know how to get tested, what businesses are open and how to support them safely. Our journalists have held public officials accountable, tracked the spread of the virus and profiled its victims, as well as the workers who are serving our community on the frontlines every day.

We want to be able to continue to serve the people of Memphis during a global pandemic as well.

But at a time when the demand for life-saving, public health information is at a record high, our parent company, Gannett, has decided to pull reporters off the frontlines, for unpaid furloughs of one week per month for at least the next three months.

We’ll still be reporting life-saving information to the community daily -- but with only 75% of our staff.

This reduction comes while millions of dollars remains concentrated at the top of our company, in the form of executive pay and quarterly dividends paid shareholders.

Gannett has two Chief Executive Officers. One of them, Paul Bascobert, has pledged not to take a salary until furloughs are finished. But we’ve heard nothing regarding the salary of the other CEO, Mike Reed -- although we do know that Gannett pays at least $20 million in management fees to Fortress, Reed’s private equity fund, every year.

And, just as we began bargaining with Gannett over the planned furloughs, outgoing Chief Financial Officer Ali Engel was scheduled to receive a payout of approximately $5 million -- an amount that would cover our furloughs for years.

We’re not willing to sacrifice 25% of our reporting in the service of our community when we know there can be an alternative to continued financial excess at the top.

In Omaha, newspaper chain Lee Enterprises backed off of its planned furloughs. At Buzzfeed, graduated pay cuts were introduced, in which the bottom tier of salaries were cut only 5% while executive pay was cut up to 25%. And in our own company, in Detroit, Gannett agreed it would not lay off any reporters during a defined, rather than indefinite, period of furloughs.

We're asking the Bluff City to stand with us and demand that Gannett reduce the number of furloughs; guarantee that there will be no layoffs during or after the furloughs; and provide Commercial Appeal reporters paid sick leave in the event they test positive for COVID-19 and hazard pay when sent on assignment while the Safer at Home order is in effect.

We’re here to serve and hope you will help us continue to do so by using the form here to email Gannett CEOs directly. Many thanks in advance for your support,

The Memphis Newspaper Guild

Many thanks to the Times-Union Guild in Jacksonville, Florida, for inspiring this letter.

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