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Everett Herald’s new owner appears to censor story about layoffs

caption: A screenshot of the new version of the Everett Herald's story about the layoffs, republished Thursday afternoon.
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A screenshot of the new version of the Everett Herald's story about the layoffs, republished Thursday afternoon.
Everett Herald

The company that recently bought Snohomish County’s largest newspaper, the Everett Herald, told its newsroom Wednesday that about half of them would be laid off. Then a story that staff wrote about the layoffs disappeared from the website.

The story was replaced Thursday afternoon with a version that appears friendlier to the newspaper’s new ownership, Mississippi-based Carpenter Media Group.

Calls and emails to publisher Rudi Alcott and owners Carpenter Media Group went unanswered Thursday. Carpenter Media Group acquired the Everett Herald and 42 other newspapers in Washington earlier this year.

Local news editor Caleb Hutton told KUOW that Alcott called the original post a “hit piece." Hutton said that staff were deeply upset by the move to take down the story.

“When the publisher asked me what the temperature of the newsroom was today, I said it felt like about 140 degrees,” Hutton said Thursday.

Ten reporters and two editors – including Hutton and the executive editor – received layoff notices.

A blurb under the headline in the original article called the move “a wave of layoffs mandated by new owners,” according to a web-archived version of the piece. The new version changed that language and added that Carpenter Media Group “meant to ensure long-term success of the newspaper.”

The original story also said the newsroom had been “gutted” and said staff were given “walking papers.” The new version removed those words, instead saying the employees were “dismissed” and their positions “eliminated.”

The edited version of the story included a statement from the paper’s new owner that wasn’t in the original one.

“We are committed to Everett, The Herald and all who have a stake in its success,” said the statement in the new story, attributed to Chairman Todd Carpenter. “We have deep sympathy for those affected by these changes and will work hard with each of them to see they are well-compensated through a transition period that helps them move forward in a positive way.

“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. Our track record in this process is good. We seek to work with the best and brightest and to pay them well. We must have a strong business with highly productive people to meet our standards, and with the help of our team and community we expect to meet them here in the days to come.”

Much of the language from the original story appears in the new piece.

Both versions of the piece include comments from Alcott that “readers won’t notice” the layoffs. That statement has drawn condemnation on social media, including a post from U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen (D), who represents Everett in Congress.

Other employees at the Everett Herald, still reeling from news of the layoffs, expressed dismay over the removal of the original story.

“It was just really disappointing to see a move like this from a newspaper,” said Sophia Gates, a reporter who covers city hall and is among the group that received notice of layoffs. “This is what we do. We often publish stories that are unpopular, and it's difficult to imagine a scenario where we would take a story down because someone in the story didn't like how they were portrayed.”

Gates added that the editors wouldn’t have put out a story they couldn’t stand behind, and the important points from the first story are still in the changed piece.

Acquisitions followed by layoffs are an all-too-common story for local newspapers, many of which in recent years have been thinned by large hedge funds looking for profits.

“We're just seeing the exact same behavior that we have seen from an Alden (Global Capital), from a Gannett,” said Kaitlin Gillespie, the executive officer of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, the newsroom’s union. (This reporter was part of that union and sat on its board in 2022.)

Gillespie said the owners will still have to negotiate union-member layoffs with the guild.

Carpenter Media Group recently bought the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and, just this month, 24 newspapers in Oregon, including the Portland Tribune.

“It was a really tense day today,” Hutton said after the newspaper’s print deadline Thursday. “It was a really sad, tough day yesterday. And you know, I really feel for everybody on the staff, both people who are losing their jobs, and the folks who are still going to be here.”

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