The Asheville Citizen-Times slashed its newsroom staff today, laying off nine full-time employees, including 32-year veteran Tony Kiss, known as the Beer Guy. Kiss confirmed the layoffs in a Facebook post.
Also shown the door today: Denise Pridgen, a copy editor; Jim Buchanan, the newspaper’s editorial page editor; Bob Berghaus, the newspaper’s sports editor; reporter Dale Neal; Mike Cronin, a reporter who joined the Citizen-Times about two years ago; and employees in the newspapers advertising department, as well as in the newsroom of the Citizen-Times’ sister newspaper, the Black Mountain News.
Most of folks listed above have given decades of their lives to work for the Asheville newspaper. It’s gut-wrenching to see them lose their livelihoods. (As most readers know, I was laid off three years ago by the Asheville Citizen-Times, so I relate closely with my former colleagues.)
Gannett, the Citizen-Times’ corporate parent, announced on Monday that it would be cutting 2 percent of its workforce. The move was widely seen as preparation for reporting back to stockholders and for the potential acquisition of the former Tribune Company, now known as TRONC.
In his Facebook post, Kiss said he had prepared himself for the worst on Monday. “I had pretty much convinced myself that I would probably get cut today,” he wrote, “so its not the shock it could have been. For now, I’m still st my same phone number and if that changes, I will post it here. To all of you I’ve worked with for so long, thanks for letting me tell your stories all these years.”
Kiss moved to Asheville in the mid 1980s to cover the local entertainment scene, after having covered the crime beat for a newspaper in upstate South Carolina. (Tony was from eastern Tennessee, and I believe his mother worked for a newspaper or newspapers there.) When I first started at the Citizen-Times in 1993, Tony and I were the two lone reporters on duty. I got to know him well. I listened to his stories, watched how he worked and admired his knowledge of the community and the newspaper as an institution.
I also worked closely with Dale, Jim, Bob, and Denise during my 15-year tenure. All have families. All gave their best at work. All influenced me in one way or another. Bob was an amazing sports guy who quietly told it like it is. Jim was an affable editor and a man of the mountains. Dee loved her pups and her copy editing saved my ass many a night on deadline.
Tuesday’s layoffs were just the latest in a string of layoffs, which date back to about 2007, that have gutted the daily newspaper here and newspapers across the country. (For a little perspective: Gannett, from ’07 to ’11, has laid off 20,000 employees.) The latest round of Citizen-Times layoffs was August 2014. There was the 2013 round of Citizen-Times layoffs, of which I was a part. There was the big round of Citizen-Times layoffs in 2011. The list goes on.
Print advertising continues its downward death spiral, although that spiral appears to be picking up speed that matches the downward path at the height of the Great Recession. There are already rumors about more cutbacks at the start of 2017.
The newspaper’s news director, Katie Wadington, was quoted in the Citizen-Times‘ story about today’s layoffs as saying it was a hard day for those who lost their jobs, as well as those who remain. “On Wednesday, we will regroup, still intent on giving readers in-depth coverage of the Asheville area, telling its stories and being its watchdog. Our front page says we are the ‘Voice of the Mountains,’ and we still be that voice.”
In truth, though, anyone who still reads the daily newspaper knows that the Citizen-Times is not the “voice of the mountains” and has not been for well over a decade. The severe staff cutbacks, the closure of reporting bureaus around Western North Carolina, and the ever-shrinking circulation of the print paper make that clear.