Bee-leaguered: Staff cuts hit Sacramento Bee's arts coverage hard

Arts coverage is about to get a lot less vibrant around the capital region.

The Sacramento Bee cut ties with six editorial staffers on Monday, rocking a newsroom already weary of staff reductions and sending ripples through the local media landscape.

According to Ed Fletcher, a Bee reporter and labor representative, as many as 12 employees may be displaced following the May 22 shakeup, including managers and other personnel not covered by the Pacific Media Workers Guild, a labor union representing more than 1,000 industry professionals.

Among those who exited the newspaper on Monday were features writer Blair Anthony Robertson, sports editor Vic Contreras, theater critic Marcus Crowder, critic-at-large Chris Macias, and travel and lifestyle reporter Allen Pierleoni, SN&R has learned. According to his LinkedIn profile, Crowder has been with the newspaper since 2000; Macias joined the newsroom in 1999.

While declining to name the affected employees, Fletcher, who leads the unit representing newsroom and advertising employees, confirmed that the Bee’s feature coverage would be the hardest hit by the reductions. In an email to SN&R, Fletcher said five employees were laid off, while one person was subject to a buyout.

“It’s not just a loss for the newsroom but for the whole community,” Fletcher’s email stated. “These are talented, experienced journalists who add greatly to our understanding of the city we live in.”

As the Poynter Institute reported on Monday, the Bee’s parent company “has laid off staffers from several of its newsrooms in recent weeks,” including eight newsroom employees at the Fresno Bee on May 2. Two days later, a gloomy financial forecast showed the McClatchy Co. lost $95.6 million during the first quarter of 2017.

The demoralizing news at the Midtown-based newspaper comes less than three weeks after ABC10 declined to renew the contracts of two of its veteran anchors, Cristina Mendonsa and Dale Schornack.

Ironically, Pierleoni reported on the ABC10 decisions for the Sacramento Bee.

Prior to Monday, Fletcher said the newsroom last experienced modest cuts to its universal copy desk in March. But layoffs and staff buyouts have been a semi-perennial occurrence at McClatchy papers since the company purchased the Knight Ridder newspaper chain for $4.5 billion in 2006. A global recession followed and print revenues spiraled, never to recover. McClatchy has worked to transition the Bee into a digital media outlet, but online advertising revenues have yet to match what the paper has lost in declining print ad sales and accrued in debt.

Reporters in the newsroom were taken aback by Monday’s developments. Senior reporter Brad Branan wrote that he was “exhausted” by the cycle of attrition on Facebook.

Branan later learned he was spared from the latest round of cuts, but expressed concern for his “colleagues and the institution of journalism. I don’t blame anyone for this situation, because no publication has figured out an answer.”

McClatchy has put a positive spin on its current transitional period. On the webpage devoted to careers, McClatchy boasts that the company “is experiencing the most transformative period in its history. We’re growing rapidly in the digital space and delivering award-winning journalism in innovative ways.”

Scroll down the page to where the company spotlights some of the members of “the McClatchy family,” and you’ll see a smiling photo of Macias and the following quote:

I feel very lucky to work for a company that’s not only allowed me to hone my creativity and journalism skills, but provided me with a fantastic career that’s enriched my life.

*Updated as of 3 p.m., May 23.*

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