Arizona Republic Employees Say They Lament the Gradual Decline of the Newspaper


Employment in journalism has taken a hit in recent years, and The Arizona Republic, known as AZCentral online, is no exception. The Republic was bought by the left-leaning publisher Gannett in 2000, which bought up several large newspapers in the 2000s. The paper took a sharp lurch to the left politically, and since then, there have been numerous high-profile layoffs and furloughs as the paper shrank faster than most other large newspapers.

Rebekah Sanders, a consumer protection reporter and the president of the paper’s union, Arizona Republic Guild, tweeted about the latest cutback on December 2. “The company is planning to discontinue work cell phones,” she complained. “A [bat sh*t crazy] idea for a company whose entire workforce depends on phone calls! But we will push back and make sure our members are taken care of.”

An editor who works for Gannett, Sarah Claus, tweeted back at Sanders, “You know it’s bad when people who don’t even work there start to notice how much talent you’re losing.” The newspaper came under criticism in recent years for replacing experienced journalists with unpaid interns.

Priscilla Totiyapungprasert, a food and dining reporter, said in October, “Management fosters a culture where sometimes, people have to silently choose between working for free, or doing less thorough work, which ultimately is a disservice to the communities we are reporting for.”

In another tweet, Totiyapungprasert observed that the Phoenix New Times, the local alternative newspaper, now pays better than the Republic. “Congrats @VMGGuild! I remember when journalists talked about Phoenix New Times paying peanuts. Now they have a higher base pay than The Arizona Republic + guaranteed annual pay raises.”

One of the most well-known writers at the Republic, Elva Diaz, said, “As a columnist now, I’ve been calling out politicians, the rich and powerful, always advocating for the poor, the most unfortunate. I now feel compelled to speak up for my own colleagues, who are fighting for a living wage.”

The NewsGuild, a union that represents journalists at more than 40 Gannett newsrooms, launched an investigation into unpaid overtime after a Republic editor blew off a complaint by Sanders that she had worked hundreds of hours of overtime without pay.

Reporter Rafael Carranza said mileage reimbursement rates have been stuck at the IRS’s 1999 level, despite increases in the cost of gas. The Arizona Republic Guild sarcastically tweeted a clip from Prince’s song 1999 showing him singing “I’m going to party like it’s 1999.”

The Republic started many of the high-profile layoffs in 2008 when left-wing Randy Lovely took over as editor in chief, eliminating longtime journalists with impressive backgrounds. The paper also began giving employees unpaid furloughs. About 40 people were laid off in June 2011. In 2013, 29 were laid off and 223 jobs were eliminated. Another 15% cut took place in 2014.

The Phoenix Business Journal reported in 2019 that the Republic saw a steep decline in circulation of 17% in each of the previous two years. This is significantly worse than the average; print publications in the U.S. are losing an average of 12% of subscribers each year. Its circulation in 2020 is down to 116,000.

In March 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gannett announced it was making drastic cuts. Reporters and editors who earn more than $38,000 annually would begin taking an unpaid week off on a rotating basis. Executives took a 25% cut in pay. CEO Paul Bascobert blamed the cuts on declining ad revenues and the pandemic.

The situation at the Republics was so notorious that New Times published an article in April entitled, “Why Are So Many Journalists Leaving The Arizona Republic?” Journalist Josh Kelety observed, “[E]very passing week seems to bring a new, grim announcement on social media that another long-time journalist is leaving the paper.” He said some of the reasons include “low pay, burnout [and] a toxic work environment created by the paper’s executive editor, Greg Burton.”

Despite the left-leaning narrative the news outlet promotes in its articles, the New Times reports, “Women make an estimated $30,000 less in median wages than men, while people of color earned roughly $25,000 less in median wages than white employees.” Sanders told New Times that 21 people from the editorial department quit since April a year earlier.

Republic employees say they hope Congress passes the primarily Democrat-sponsored Local Journalism Sustainability Act in the Build Back Better bill, which would provide them with government funding.

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Rachel Alexander is a reporter at the Arizona Sun Times and The Star News NetworkFollow Rachel on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].




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