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More Journal Sentinel Layoffs Afoot?
Plus: the Shepherd Express vs. Pick-N-Save.

When the Journal Sentinel sought buyouts at the beginning of last month, the widespread understanding among newsroom employees was that they wouldn’t be targeted.

Perhaps not. Even so, the paper got fewer newsroom applicants for the deal than management wanted, and more layoffs could be coming.

A week ago Monday, Editor Marty Kaiser called a newsroom-wide meeting and announced the paper needed volunteers to take the buyout for the paper to avoid layoffs. Additionally, the buyout’s Aug. 19 deadline was extended, sources tell Pressroom Buzz.

There were conflicting accounts on the number of buyouts sought; one source reported four or five, another six to eight. That’s fewer than the 10 buyouts sources predicted in newsroom cuts when the buyout was first announced – but it also indicates that the original plan got few takers. The buyout terms call for two weeks pay for each year of employment at the paper, plus six months of continuing health insurance.

“It’s pretty clear this one came from the top and caught even the editors by surprise,” an insider says of the looming cuts. “I’m not sure they’re going to get four or five people to take buyouts, so layoffs are likely.” The announcement, several sources said, left a pall over the newsroom.

Asked to comment on the development, Tom Silverstein, president of Local 51 of The Newspaper Guild, the union representing newsroom employees, tells Pressroom Buzz: “We’re very disappointed that the company has decided to lay the burden of cuts on our shoulders once again. We’ve given them wage cuts and layoffs to the point that all of us are working the equivalent of one-and-a-half to two jobs. The latest round of cuts is really demoralizing and feels like a punch in the gut to all of us.”

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The speculation was that the Shepherd Express was too liberal for that GOP stronghold, Brookfield.

The reality may be a bit more pedestrian.

Last spring, the Roundy’s-owned Pick-N-Save stores on Calhoun Road stopped carrying the salty free alt-weekly. A reader who emailed the paper to ask why (and later communicated with Pressroom Buzz) was told by a Shepherd circulation staffer that the paper was ordered to remove its racks and papers from five Brookfield Pick-N-Save and Metro Market locations. The order came down the first week of April, just as the state Supreme Court election was being held. The Shepherd staffer said the newspaper hoped to see the paper returned to the store eventually. (Pressroom Buzz has repeatedly contacted Shepherd publisher Louis Fortis for comment and has heard nothing.)

Pressroom Buzz contacted Roundy’s spokeswoman Vivian King and asked about speculation that something about the lefty paper’s content had led to its removal. King responded in an email: “We have made the decision to remove all free publication racks from our stores so that we may better focus on serving our customers’ grocery needs. This is a decision for all stores and all free publications. Not quite sure from where the rumors came that fueled your questions, but this decision has nothing to do with content of any publication.”

So what about other Roundy’s sites where the paper can still be found? Don’t expect them to be there long, King says: “ALL publications are coming out of ALL stores. They are in so many stores that they will not be removed all in the same day. It will take time. That process is underway.”

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Pressroom goofed in the August print edition of Milwaukee magazine in calling the Waukesha Freeman’s sister publication, the Oconomowoc Enterprise, defunct.

What is true is that the paper’s separate offices were closed a while back and the staff moved into the Freeman building in downtown Waukesha. Now from an insider comes word of more cutbacks that raise further questions about the operation’s future.

Last week, Enterprise editor and publisher Kevin Passon was let go and the paper was put under the direction of Freeman News Editor Katherine Michalets, the source indicated. With another firing, the Enterprise news staff was reduced to two reporters.

In short, the source notes, the Enterprise is “a paper without its own building, without an editor and with only two reporters who mainly fill the Freeman (which also only has two reporters).”

I’ve asked a representative for the Freeman’s owner, Jim Conley, for comment. If I hear anything, I’ll post an update.

Update, 5:45 p.m., September 6: David Olson, General Counsel for the Conley Publishing Group, emailed to inform us that the Oconomowoc Enterprise has three reporters and the Waukesha Freeman has “several staff members” who report news, “some of whom multi-task.”

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