Sacked! Asheville Citizen-Times lays off 9, including Tony Kiss, the Beer Guy

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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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.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. Heather Rayburn October 30, 2016

    This is so sad and what a huge loss for Asheville. Gannett was a disaster from the moment they purchased the Citizen-Times. My heart goes out to all those who lost their jobs.

  2. Ellen Lyle October 28, 2016

    As far as I am concerned, the Citizen-Times just died. Jim Buchanan was such a talented editorial page editor. He made the paper worth reading.

  3. Susan Pryce October 27, 2016

    This is a sad day in the history of the Citizen-Times. It is heart wrenching for any of us that worked with this amazing people.

  4. Christopher Pratt October 27, 2016

    I support the value of print newspapers and I’m very sorry to see these layoffs, and that it’s not the first time this has happened. The Asheville Citizen-Times price has increased while the quality is going down hill. Some say they are using a magazine format now. Well don’t like it. Give us the news. The whole paper has shrunk in terms of content, writers, page numbers and page size. There are more column inches of ads than stories. The USA pieces are too limited. The sports section cannot even report local weekend HS scores til Monday or Tuesday, national pro sports scores are always two days late. Fortunately, I also read the The Boston Globe, New York TImes and the Washington Post online, but I prefer the print edition.

  5. Barry Summers October 26, 2016

    Such a sad day – especially the loss of Jim Buchanan, who has run the AC-T’s opinion pages so professionally all these years.

    Notice how the announcement was made by “news director” Katie Wadington. The AC-T doesn’t even have an editor anymore. It is being run by the Greenville paper, which as far as I can find, escaped any layoffs.

    All so Gannett can purchase and then ruin the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, etc.

  6. Tim Peck October 26, 2016

    Laying off the big salaries to save money.

  7. Media Junkie October 26, 2016

    Would Asheville have become Beer City without Tony Kiss’s advocacy and coverage of the fledgling and then thriving beer scene? The brewers and the drinkers owe him a huge debt of gratitude. Will they show it now?

  8. FreelanceMike October 26, 2016

    I can relate to and sympathize with your feelings, and to/with those who fell prey to the latest round of layoffs (the axe hit me in Round 4 of layoffs at a Florida newspaper back in 2009; I’d been its managing editor). Wondering about the fate of the BM News; I’m guessing it’ll continue (to retain the legal ad revenue). But guessing that both publications will only elicit more groans ‘n’ moans as I see typo after typo; a greater lack of current news; and more “cookie-cutter” reporting (or “journalistic stenography”). Only hope the online version is able to survive…

  9. indie October 25, 2016

    Sadly, this industry has become like the buggy whip business. Technological change has just gutted the business. The availability of news and other components of journalism is highly fractured, rendering the ACT less valuable to subscribers, and therefore, advertisers.

    I continue to subscribe, but it is probably just inertia. As the beer guy and local sports are eliminated/downplayed the ACT has little reason to be.


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