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March 30, 2020

Telegram parent company requiring employees to take three-week furloughs

Photo | Grant Welker The Telegram & Gazette offices on Front Street in Worcester

At a time when local news outlets have about as big of an ongoing news story as they can get, many are going to have to cover it with less help.

Gannett, the media company that owns the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, MetroWest Daily News and dozens of other publications across Massachusetts, is requiring employees to take three weeks of unpaid time off through June to save costs.

Maribel Wadsworth, the president of news for Virginia-based Gannett, said in a staff memo Monday cost savings are necessary as a response to the economic hit from the coronavirus pandemic, even as she acknowledged the professional and personal burdens the outbreak was having on workers.

Employees earning $38,000 annually or more will have to take five unpaid business days off each month in April, May and June, Wadsworth said in a staff memo obtained by the Worcester Business Journal. Senior leaders whose absence would put key business operations at risk will instead take a pay cut equal to the furloughs others are taking, she said. Part-time workers aren't affected.

[Related: Greater Worcester may be spared from worst of coronavirus recession]

"We do not take this action lightly," Wadsworth said in the memo. "We know furloughs cause hardship. All of Gannett's divisions are approaching this challenge differently, but after careful consideration of other options, we felt this was the best approach for our team."

A frequently-asked-questions guide from the company said Gannett hopes to avoid furloughs in the third quarter.

Gannett, most known as the publisher of USA Today, and GateHouse have been known for aggressive cost-cutting in the journalism industry as the sector has struggled with declining advertising revenue. In the past, that cost-cutting has almost always included layoffs.

This time, though, there's an incentive for Gannett not to go that route: employers are being reimbursed for personnel costs in the federal government's $2 trillion relief program only if they maintain their payrolls as long as they remain open.

Gannett was bought by GateHouse Media for $1.4 billion last year, with the combined company taking Gannett's name as the country's largest newspaper company. GateHouse papers now under Gannett include the Telegram & Gazette, MetroWest Daily News, Worcester Magazine and Milford Daily News, along with daily papers in Brockton, Quincy, Fall River, New Bedford and Providence, among others.

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