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At one of Washington’s oldest newspapers, deep cuts and an uncertain future

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At 123 years old, The Daily Herald is tightly woven into the fabric of Snohomish County, its reporters and readers knitted together through generations.

There’ve been presidential visits, political scandals, and tragedies like the fatal Oso mudslide. And there’ve been  Boeing airplane rollouts, high school sports championships and graduations. Each event witnessed and etched into the community’s legacy by those at the flagship newspaper.

This week brought another entry, chronicled like its predecessors, except this time the paper’s reporters, photographers, editors, and executives were at the heart of it.

On Wednesday, 10 newsroom employees and two editors got layoff notices in a corporate ransacking by the company’s new Mississippi-based owner, Carpenter Media Group. Another 50 employees of Sound Publishing, of which the Herald is a part, also got pink slips.

As if that wasn’t painful enough, Herald publisher Rudi Alcott and Carpenter CEO Todd Carpenter, considered the paper’s story on the layoffs, penned by two veteran reporters, to be a hit piece and pulled it from the Herald website early Thursday. 

Negotiations ensued between Carpenter and editors and a toned-down version went up later in the day, averting a planned walkout by staff.

Reeling from the tumult, civic leaders wonder if the cutbacks will leave an irreparable hole in the community. Snohomish County, located north of Seattle, is the third most populous county in Washington. Everett is home to Boeing’s largest manufacturing plant.

“I sure hope the Herald can survive. The community needs it,” said Larry Hanson, who spent 45 years at the paper, his last 18 as president and publisher. “I hope they can maintain enough of a news staff to do it right.”

‘Readers won’t notice’

It’s unclear if they can. After the departures, the Herald will have one photographer, six news reporters, two sports staffers, and two news editors to cover a county of 850,000 people. There will be no full-time digital staff or news page designers, according to the employees.

Alcott declined to comment and Carpenter did not respond to an email on what readers should expect in early July when the layoffs are supposed to take effect.

In the Herald story, Alcott said trimming 62 jobs affects “pretty much every division.”

Still, he maintained: “Moving forward, operations are not going to change much. The readers won’t notice.”

Bob Drewel, a former Snohomish County executive and civic icon, said he was offended by Alcott’s comment. 

“You can’t tell people things are going to be the same when you know things are not going to be the same,” he said.

Sportswriter Nick Patterson, a 20-year employee, who survived the cuts, wrote on X that the gutting of the newsroom put the county “in danger of becoming a news desert, of having one less institution to hold us together at a time when we seem to be drifting further apart.”

“It’s a loss for the journalists who are losing their jobs. It’s a loss for those who remain, who are tasked with trying to deal with the impossible mess that’s been left behind,” he wrote. “But more than anything it’s a loss for Snohomish County. This will have a massive effect on our ability to cover our local communities.”

Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin said the mass layoff “is devastating” and that the paper didn’t have enough staff to begin with.

“Without the Herald we will not have reliable news for our residents about our community,” she said. Seniors will be hardest hit, she added, “because they rely on it for news and information.”

‘A sad day’

The Herald’s endured financial challenges for years as print subscribers disappeared and ad revenue fell. 

There were layoffs in 2020. Then came elimination of the Sunday edition and the start of mail delivery of the paper in December 2022. Even with those moves, Sound Publishing managed to keep its newsroom staff at higher levels than other local papers – though its lower wages spurred formation of the union in fall 2022.

On Wednesday, Executive Editor Phil O’Connor, who steered the staff through the changes,  was let go immediately. Local News Editor Caleb Hutton will depart by July 3.

The 10 newsroom employees – four news reporters, two sports reporters, two photographers, a digital news producer and page designer – are to be let go in early July. The Herald’s state Capitol reporter is among them.

All are members of the Everett NewsGuild. Federal labor law requires negotiations between the employer and union on terms and conditions for those facing the loss of a job, according to a NewsGuild press release.

Carpenter acquired The Herald, along with 42 other Sound Publishing newspapers in Washington and Alaska, when it purchased parent company Black Press in late March. The new ownership group includes Carpenter, along with Canadian investors Canso Investment Counsel and Deans Knight Capital Management.

Todd Carpenter, the chief executive officer, reaffirmed the company’s commitment to the long-term success of journalism in Snohomish County in comments to the Herald.

“Our responsibility to the community and our readers requires us to make difficult business decisions, and then invest in and organize our team to move forward to produce a product that continues to improve and serve,” his statement read.

Drewel said actions will speak louder than words.

“It’s a sad day,” he said, adding there would be “at least a pinhole of light at the end of the tunnel” if they would have a community meeting to talk about what occurred and what’s envisioned.

Employees, even those who lost their jobs, want the Herald to survive.

“Without a doubt, Snohomish County news consumers will be the biggest losers when these layoffs take effect,” said former Mukilteo Beacon Editor Nicholas Johnson, a NewsGuild member and the Herald’s page designer since 2022, who was among those let go.

 “My advice: keep subscribing to the Everett Herald and demand that Carpenter Media Group do better by the journalists who remain,” he said.

Members of the Everett Guild plan a one-day strike Monday,  June 24, to protest the proposed layoff of more than half the newsroom's journalists.

Beacon Publishing Managing Editor Brian Soergel contributed to this story.

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