Everett Herald staff gather and talk in the newsroom after layoff announcements on Wednesday, June 19, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Everett Herald staff gather and talk in the newsroom after layoff announcements on Wednesday, June 19, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

‘This breaks my heart’: Roughly half of Everett Herald news staff laid off

A dozen journalists learned their jobs were eliminated Wednesday, in a move new owners Carpenter Media Group said was meant to ensure long-term success of the newspaper.

EVERETT — Daily Herald management announced Wednesday the elimination of 12 positions, including two editors.

Ownership at Carpenter Media Group, of Mississippi, explained the restructuring was part of a larger plan to improve the economics of the newspaper and better serve the community.

Positions eliminated included 10 reporters, photographers and designers.

The close-knit staff shed tears and shared hugs as they learned of the decision.

Company executives cited Carpenter’s “operating principles” to justify the layoffs, but have otherwise offered little detail, according to the Everett NewsGuild, which represents 10 of the employees.

The following newsroom staff were given layoff notices:

• Phillip O’Connor, executive editor;

• Caleb Hutton, local news editor;

• Annie Barker, photographer;

• Jenelle Baumbach, politics reporter;

• Ryan Berry, photographer;

• Aaron Coe, sports reporter;

• Aina de Lapparent Alvarez, general assignment reporter;

• Kate Erickson, digital news producer;

• Sophia Gates, City Hall reporter;

• Nicholas Johnson, page designer;

• Maya Tizon, breaking news reporter;

• Evan Wiederspohn, sports reporter.

The newsroom continues to be staffed with one photographer, one breaking news reporter, five other news reporters, two sports staffers, two news editors. Digital and news page design staff members are part-time.

Herald staff members pose for a photo. Seven of the 16 pictured have been laid off. (Photo provided)

Herald staff members pose for a photo. Seven of the 16 pictured have been laid off. (Photo provided)

Carpenter recently acquired The Herald, along with 42 other Sound Publishing newspapers in Washington and Alaska, when it purchased parent company Black Press in late March. The ownership group includes Carpenter and Canadian investors Canso Investment Counsel and Deans Knight Capital Management.

Wednesday’s layoffs came as part of a larger plan to eliminate 62 positions at Sound Publishing, a major source of local news in the Puget Sound region. Sound’s largest publication, The Daily Herald, covers nearly 1 million people in Snohomish and Island counties. The newspaper was founded in 1901.

Ten of the Everett NewsGuild’s 18 members were dismissed. The newsroom voted to form a union in fall 2022 and has worked with the company since March 2023 to negotiate its first contract.

The company has said it intends for union layoffs to take effect in early July.

However, “Carpenter Media cannot enact layoffs without first bargaining with the unionized workers of the Everett NewsGuild,” said Kaitlin Gillespie, executive officer of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, which represents the Herald union. “The reporters, photographers and designers of the paper organized two years ago to protect workers and preserve local journalism. We intend to do just that at the bargaining table in the weeks to come.”

Negotiations have been disrupted by the sale and now layoffs, Gillespie said.

Talks have stalled over wages.

“The owners have no interest in investing in the newspaper,” Gillespie said. “Their starting wage proposal, $19.50 an hour, was insulting. Who’s living in Snohomish County with that?”

Despite the job losses, ownership at Carpenter reaffirmed its commitment to the long-term success of journalism in Snohomish County.

“We are committed to Everett, The Herald and all who have a stake in its success,” Chairman Todd Carpenter said. “We have deep sympathy for those affected by these changes and will work hard with each of them to see they are well-compensated through a transition period that helps them move forward in a positive way.

“Our responsibility to the community and our readers requires us to make difficult business decisions, and then invest in and organize our team to move forward to produce a product that continues to improve and serve. Our track record in this process is good. We seek to work with the best and brightest and to pay them well. We must have a strong business with highly productive people to meet our standards, and with the help of our team and community we expect to meet them here in the days to come.”

In a conference room at The Herald’s office, Publisher Rudi Alcott notified employees, one-by-one, that their jobs had been eliminated due to organizational restructuring.

The executive editor, O’Connor, and local news editor, Hutton, were not eligible for union membership. O’Connor, a journalist for 39 years with roots in St. Louis and Oklahoma City, took the helm in 2019. Hutton, an investigative reporter who joined the staff in 2017, took over as local news editor in 2021.

“Caleb is the pillar of the newsroom, it’s just shocking that he got laid off,” de Lapparent Alvarez said.

“I moved to this country to do journalism,” de Lapparent Alvarez said. “I love this community, my colleagues, the paper. This breaks my heart.”

Alcott, the publisher, said cuts were office-wide but declined to give an exact number Wednesday.

“Pretty much every division has been affected,” he said.

Still, Alcott maintained: “Moving forward, operations are not going to change much. The readers won’t notice.”

He fielded questions from subscribers on Wednesday.

“It was a sad day for journalism,” said Coe, a sports reporter, who returned to The Herald in April after a 20-year hiatus. After his position was eliminated, he questioned the wisdom of such deep cuts.

“There’s still a need to tell people’s stories,” Coe said. “How is this going to help the community?”

Barker, a photographer, asked the same question after her layoff notice. Two of The Herald’s three photography positions were eliminated.

“There’s at least a half-dozen football games just on Friday, and there’ll be one person,” Barker said. “One person can’t be in six places at once. Historic moments in children’s and parents’ lives will be lost.”

The publisher forwarded a statement meant for subscribers, reading in part:

“Due to recent industry challenges and our responsive restructuring efforts, we have had to make the difficult decision to reduce our staff across all departments, including news. This decision was not taken lightly, and it deeply affects our dedicated team, who have worked tirelessly to deliver quality journalism and service to you, our loyal subscribers.”

Last week, Herald staff received seven Society of Professional Journalist honors for their work.

“We don’t half-ass our jobs, none of us do,” said Tizon, one-half of The Herald’s breaking news team. “I bicker with the editors all the time, and I’m so grateful for them and grateful they have our backs on this.”

Taras McCurdie, a sports reporter, was initially named as a laid off employee, but later withdrawn when a coworker, Wiederspohn, volunteered to leave. McCurdie said he had always dreamed of working for “my childhood newspaper.”

“This is a skilled, creative environment,” McCurdie said. “It’s like cutting your starting quarterback and trying to win the Super Bowl.”

Carpenter Media Group announced earlier this month it had acquired another group of newspapers, Pamplin Media Group, in Oregon. The company now owns and manages 180 newspapers in the United States and Canada.

This story has been updated since it was originally published. Also, an earlier version misstated where Carpenter Media Group is based.

Janice Podsada: 425-339-3097; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @JanicePods.

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @reporterbrown.

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