Bloodletting Redux: 'San Antonio Express-News' Quietly Sends Staffers Packing

San Antonio Express-News headquarters - COURTESY
San Antonio Express-News headquarters

Update: Thursday, February 12, 2014, 3:08 p.m. 

The Current erroneously reported that Steve Warns was laid off. Jamie Stockwell, Express-News Managing Editor, confirmed today that Warns' position was not eliminated and he remains on staff. We apologize to him and the newspaper for our error.

Stockwell also clarified that Jay Nanda and Joel Bird, who were laid off, were not in the Sports department. She said they were part of the paper's "universal desk."

Stockwell also clarified that Richard Erickson and Bill Pack lost their positions because they headed community publications (former Prime Time newspapers) that no longer exist. In Erickson's case, it was Helotes Weekly; for Pack, it was Stone Oak Weekly.

Stockwell had also mentioned the layoffs were part of an overall newsroom reorganization that will include expanding reporting and digital ranks. At this time, she does not have further details on those future hires. This story has been modified to reflect current reporting. 

Update: Wednesday, February 11, 2014, 3:08 p.m.

Express-News Managing Editor Jaime Stockwell has issued a statement to the Current.

"We had a small number of position eliminations this week as part of a broader reorganization. We intend to add to our reporting ranks and digital staff in coming weeks."

This is painful.

So, so painful.

Let's just say it really hits home for me to have to share some bad news.

Though no announcement was made, my former professional home for nearly six years here in the Alamo City, the San Antonio Express-News, reportedly sent packing 8-10 staffers yesterday.

As has become the mantra with many of these newspaper layoffs kept on the down-low, the only way folks find out is when those affected or those close to them take to social media.

That's how I found out.

There's no definitive list, and the paper's editor, Mike Leary, did not respond for requests for comment. Other managers, former colleagues of mine, let me know the paper, in fact, won't be commenting on the matter.

What I've been told by current and former staffers is that most of those impacted are on the paper's "universal desk," which is generally composed of a combination of wire editors, news editors, copy editors and designers.

I was informed that management made the internal announcement at a staff meeting yesterday afternoon. But again, apparently nothing was put in writing and, as far as I can tell, the paper itself has not reported on it.

Here were the names I was given of the staffers no longer on the job: Jay Nanda, Joel Bird, Stan Roberts, Bruno Garcia and David Holguin from the universal desk; Burt Henry from the features department; Richard Erickson of the Helotes Weekly, Bill Pack of Stone Oak Weekly; and Dino Chiecchi from the news department.

Arguably, the most recognized names from that list are Henry, most recently assistant features editor but previously a known fixture in sports, and Chiecchi, who had previously worked at the Express-News in the 1990s.

He left to work at the Associated Press before returning to San Antonio to first take over supervision of the paper's bilingual publication, Conexión, and most recently led recruiting efforts with the title of Administrative Editor.

The Express-News, like most newspapers across the country, particularly metropolitan dailies, have been taking an incessant blow to the bottom line with the loss of advertising revenue. It's clearly reflected in circulation figures.
For example, at the Express-News, daily circulation a decade ago stood at around 230,000 copies, diving down to 133,000 at the end of 2013, the most current audited count available from the Alliance for Audited Media.

The numbers paint a sad enough story by themselves, but the much more tragic tale is that of the people who have been hurt by the downfall. In order to satisfy honchos at headquarters and Wall Street bean counters, newspapers have usually first cut staff as a cost-saving measure.

And that's why I mentioned at the outset how hard it is for me to see more bloodletting at the Express-News.

My nearly six years there were what I deem as my heyday as a reporter, when I served as a senior writer covering immigration and border issues. It all came to an abrupt end in March 2009 when I was but one casualty among dozens of others laid off in what I believe was the paper's largest-ever staff cut. If I recall correctly, a total of 135 people were sent packing, 75 of those in the newsroom.

That's why I said at the outset how much it hurts me to have to report this news. Even though I no longer work there, I am back in San Antonio, and I still believe in our craft. I want the Express-News to thrive. I need it. We, as a community, need it.

I still have many friends working there. But it seems that these days at the paper it's nearly as bad actually hanging on to your job as it is losing it.

"Survivor's guilt is a real bastard," one such survivor told me yesterday. "Seeing friends be hurt is awful."

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