Through ups and downs across the newspaper industry, with other daily newspapers facing the grim reality of budget and job cuts, The Gazette newsroom had avoided significant staff layoffs.
That changed on March 2 when 23 Gazette employees including some of the paper's most recognizable and productive writers were dismissed. Counting the equivalent of 10 other full-time vacancies that won't be filled, The Gazette reduced its overall staff by 33. That includes about 10 in the newsroom, leaving about 95 full-time news positions.
The only name included in the announcement was editorial cartoonist Chuck Asay, who retired saying he intended to leave later this year. Asay, who worked for the Colorado Springs Sun before joining The Gazette in 1986, will continue to produce cartoons for Creators Syndicate, of which The Gazette is a subscriber.
No other names were released, but the Independent has learned of others whose jobs were eliminated:
Deb Acord, a 20-year Gazette veteran, who most notably started and wrote for the weekly "Out There" recreation-oriented section;
Jim Bainbridge, longtime writer and Internet specialist, who was on the business staff after working in sports and as a columnist;
J. Adrian Stanley, music writer for the weekly Go! magazine;
Sarah Colwell, a business reporter who made an impression on readers with her first-person stories about her husband being deployed in Iraq.
Also, Bill Hethcock, beat reporter for El Paso County government, had resigned. He will not be replaced.
Other openings, including a local columnist, will not be filled. A news designer, two sports copy editors and a photographer also were let go.
Acord, in a post on The Gazette's blog, said, "To all of my friends who are Out There ... After 20 years at The Gazette, in which I created the Out There section, the Front Range map and Happy Trails book series, I'm out there, literally. I hope to see some of you on the trails."
Gazette editor Jeff Thomas, in a March 3 column explaining the moves, said:
We said goodbye to good people this week. They are fellow journalists, neighbors and friends. Its not news that the news business is under tectonic pressure. The Internet and a blossoming array of portable digital devices are scattering information and audiences in a thousand directions, all of them away from newsprint. Advertisers, whose money pays the journalists who cover the news, are following.
Even before the rise of cable news and the advent of the Web, newspaper circulation nationwide had begun its long drift downward. In a way, newspapers are victims of their own success. Always handsomely profitable, theyve attracted premium prices and thus, investors who logically expect premium returns. The pressures on those returns at this moment are unprecedented. And so, we had to adjust.
This week, we experienced some of the pain that a business in transition can create.
Gazette circulation numbers have sagged despite local growth. The paper claims an average daily circulation of 98,069. But what many advertisers define as valued circulation paid subscriptions delivered to homes and businesses, plus mail and single-copy (convenience store and vendor) sales has slid from 102,531 in 1990 to 72,428 according to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations report from Sept. 30, 2006.
That report also includes low or unpaid subscribers, including an average of 11,523 for electronic editions, 4,219 for school classrooms and more than 9,600 distributed via third-party sales (typically hotels and motels). In 1990, when it still was the Gazette Telegraph, only 109 went to schools and 150 to third-party sales.
During the same time as that 29 percent decline, the number of households in El Paso County has increased 45 percent, to 213,661.