The winds of change are about the only things steady in the newspaper business these days. And on Monday, the winds of change arrived at the Dallas Morning News by email.
"Pretty difficult," now former DMN TV critic Dawn Burkes told us. "It's actually blowing my mind."
On Sunday, all 978 employees of the DMN and its parent company, A.H. Belo Corporation, were informed that an important company-wide message would be delivered 9 a.m. Monday.
"We were told we would get the email by 9:15. I got mine at 9:13," Burkes said of the email that ended her 11-year run at the newspaper.
"Ten seconds after I heard that, I got an email saying that I was one of them and I knew that was the end," said Jeff Mosier, who wrote about the energy industry and the environment at the DMN for 24 years. His work, an article on slowing energy sector growth in the Permian Basin, was on the front page just a few days ago.
"We didn't have any idea that 43 people were going to be let go today," Arnetta Whatley said Monday afternoon as she loaded boxes into her car near the DMN front door at Commerce and South Harwood Street in downtown Dallas. "So it was really a shock to everybody."
Whatley, the now former DMN executive assistant says she was also involved in the production, ironically, of the DMN's profiles of the "Top 100 Places to Work."
DMN president and publisher Grant Moise says the elimination of 43 positions is part of the company's focus to become a "subscriber-first digital organization."
"We are focused as a company on building The Dallas Morning News so it is positioned for success," Moise said. "After considerable thought and analysis, our management team has determined that our business in the future is largely supported by subscription revenue and the need for more aggressive investment in our digital products. We are rebalancing our financial resources to support these new foundational elements so we are positioned for success and can deliver quality journalism for many years to come."
In written comments also submitted to News 8, A.H. Belo chief financial officer Katy Murray said the company is "realigning resources by eliminating 43 existing roles within the organization and creating 25 roles to support this goal. In 2019 The News is also investing in technology platforms that support subscribers' online experience and enhance customer service at every level. We believe these steps are key to making the transition to a dynamic journalistic entity that can thrive in a digital world."
These latest layoffs, representing about 4 percent of the newspaper’s current staff, are just the latest in a series of DMN layoffs since 2014 as the newspaper has struggled to remain profitable. And an agreement to sell its original building in downtown Dallas, on Young Street next door to WFAA-TV, fell through late last year. It still sits vacant looking for a buyer. And employees tell News 8 the reality of layoffs, in a constantly shrinking newspaper industry, constantly hung over their heads.
"I chose to walk in every day not knowing it would be my last but knowing that it could be my last," admitted Burkes who unfortunately had also brought her 10-year-old daughter to work with her Monday, planning to take her to a school camp later in the day.
"It was hard," she admitted. "I had to get someone to take her to camp. I didn't want her to see me in the way I was."
For the newsroom employees who lost their jobs Monday, there is also concern that local journalism will suffer as more and more journalists are shown the door. The cuts include more than 20 writers, editors, photographers and newsroom support personnel.
"The fewer eyes you have looking at things the more room there is for trouble. And we have a lot fewer eyes," said Mosier. "It's scary for democracy. Because the fewer eyes you have on this, the fewer eyes you have on city hall, on school districts, on corporations, on the state government, there's a lot more room for bad things to happen."
But as she loaded her car with the boxes holding the contents of her now former desk, Arnetta Whatley tried to stay positive.
"I am great, honey," she said with a smile on her face. "God has me. I'm just gonna get with him tonight and we're just gonna figure out what we're going to do moving forward. So, I'm good. I really, really am."
A newspaper hopes it is also moving forward, as it leaves 43 more employees behind.