Longtime New Haven journalists Sandi Kahn Shelton and Vern Williams lost their jobs Wednesday in the latest round of layoffs to hit the New Haven Register.
The daily paper’s parent company laid off 10 people statewide while creating six new digitally focused positions, according to statewide Regional Editor Matt DeRienzo. The company, Digital First Media (DFM), owns three dailies (the Register as well as dailies in Torrington and Middletown), Connecticut Magazine, and community weekly papers. It had 110 newsroom employees statewide before the latest cuts, DeRienzo said.
The cuts “no doubt” were part a money-saving move, but they also reflect a continuing shift to focusing the company on web rather than print journalism, DeRienzo said in a conversation Wednesday.
Shelton has been a Register reporter since 1984. She has worked part-time in recent years to make time for a career as an author. “This gives me a chance to do that a little more. My publisher has been saying, ‘Can you write books a little faster?’” Her nom de plume is Maddie Dawson; here’s a link to her new novel, which is about “a woman who is 44 and discovers she is pregnant for the first time.” (She picked “Maddie” because she was “mad” when she was told she needed a pseudonym. “I’m not mad about it any longer; it’s nice to have a fresh start.” She picked “Dawson” because “there’s some theory you have to be up high in the alphabet.”)
“What I’ll miss is going and doing feature stories,” Shelton said of her layoff. “Going and talking to people who are excited about something they’re working on is great; writing at home can be isolating. But it’s time to concentrate on that” and on writing workshops she has begun teaching.
Williams, the Register’s photo editor, has worked for the Register since 1991.
Mary McBride, a news assistant, was also laid off.
“This is one of the difficult processes of the transition that the business is going through. We’re heartbroken to see people who have been with us a long time go. But at the same time, we have to change, and we have to rapidly push into a newsroom that’s better equipped to be a natively digital news operation,” DeRienzo said.
Some new faces will join the New Haven Register newsroom as part of the latest moves. Tom Cleary will move there from the Torrington paper to serve as statewide breaking news editor; he will oversee five New Haven breaking-news reporters and one breaking-news reporter apiece in Middletown and Torrington. “If there’s a bad car accident in Middletown on a Saturday morning,” a New Haven reporter might find himself covering that story, DeRienzo said. Mercy Quaye will also move from Torrington to New Haven to fill one of the breaking-news slots. The company plans to hire another local breaking-news reporter as well as two more “statewide web producers,” according to DeRienzo.
The Register this month, meanwhile, is serving as a test site for the national company’s new “Project Unbolt.”A national DFM honcho, Steve Buttry, is “embedding” himself in the New Haven newsroom beginning this week to oversee the project’s inaugural operation. The project’s mission, in Buttry’s words: to “wrench newsrooms free from print workflow,” to “take a massive wrench to the culture and workflow of our newsrooms and unbolt them.” Click here to read his detailed description of his mission on a company blog.
The paper is also moving from its largely empty Sargent Drive plant on Long Wharf to smaller quarters, probably downtown; a Jordan’s Furniture store is moving into the Long Wharf plant. The company is expected to move into a 10,000 square-foot space in the 900 Chapel St. building across from the Green; part of the space used to house the Bottega clothing store. Company execs have made repeated visits there recently, though no lease has been signed.
At Connecticut Magazine, the company got rid of three editors and a part-time writer, according to DeRienzo. He said the magazine will hire two new web “writer/curators.” For five years the company has gradually moved the magazine’s focus online and cut positions, shifting the work to staffers from the print papers. For example, reporter Jennifer Swift covers the Capitol for the company’s newspapers as well as the magazine. Among the magazine-only positions cut in recent years: publisher, publisher’s assistant, controller, circulation director, promotions director, collections manager, editor, managing editor, two senior editors, associate editor and editorial assistant.