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SJ-R editor abruptly dumped after she offered to resign to save jobs

Tuesday, May 14, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

* GateHouse is such an awful company…

* Bruce Rushton with the story

The entire State Journal-Register newsroom walked out today in support of now former editor Angie Muhs, who was walked out of the building this afternoon by the paper’s general manager after submitting her resignation on Friday.

In an impromptu show of solidarity, the staff accompanied Muhs as she left the building for the final time. “Everyone walked out with her as a show of respect,” reporter Dean Olsen said. “We all gave her a hug and applauded for her and thanked her for the stand that she was taking. … People are crying.”

Olsen said Muhs told her staff on Friday that she was leaving partly in hopes of avoiding more layoffs at a paper that has been decimated by staff cuts. “I think her hope was, by not having her salary to pay, her hope would be that there would be no layoffs,” said Olsen, who wasn’t present when Muhs announced her departure last week. “She was a very good editor, and she tried to promote good journalism in Springfield, despite some pretty trying circumstances that she had to deal with from GateHouse Media (the paper’s corporate owner).”

Muhs declined to say what she told her staff, but she said she wasn’t expecting colleagues to walk out of the building with her. “I was very touched,” Muhs said. “I didn’t expect that. … I have tremendous respect and admiration for the State Journal-Register staff. They’re dedicated. They’re hard working. They care about doing quality local journalism, and they persevered under some really tough conditions.”

Muhs lasted five years as editor of the State Journal-Register, coming to Springfield from a media company in Maine. For the second year in a row, the SJ-R this spring was named GateHouse Newspaper of the Year for its circulation division. In 2017, Muhs was named Editor of the Year in the SJ-R’s circulation division in a company-wide contest. GateHouse Media, which bought the SJ-R in 2007 and promised “hyperlocal” coverage, publishes more than 150 daily papers and is one of the nation’s biggest newspaper companies.

The paper is down to five news reporters. Ownership laid off the longtime photo editor a couple of weeks ago.

…Adding… The company makes money, it just spends it on the top dogs…

The company’s stock price is down 30 percent since February.


  1. - efudd - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 9:15 am:

    I miss newspapers. Often the only link for the rural community to local and regional happenings.
    The SJ-R sounds a lot like the Southern Illinoisan. Used to be, a Southern Illinoisan yellow box was next to nearly every mailbox in southern Illinois, now a relic from another time.

  2. - statehoss - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 9:26 am:

    Is there an opportunity for the Illinois Times to increase coverage? I know it’s a very different thing. And admittedly, I haven’t read IT regularly since I was an SHS student 35 years ago. Just wondering.

  3. - Linus - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 9:27 am:

    Gatehouse is systematically destroying what used to be a phenomenal newspaper in the J-R. Obviously, not an isolated incident in newspapering these days–but one of the very worst examples, among too many worst examples.

  4. - Honeybear - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 9:28 am:

    You’re so right efudd. In my town you had a Southern Box and an Edwardsville Intelligencer box as well. It’s sad.

  5. - wordslinger - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 9:36 am:

    Gatehouse has that vampire capitalism thing down; take respected local newspapers with generations of brand equity and goodwill and then bleed them dry.

    Gatehouse execs themselves are actually in the lower ranks of vampires; they’re owned by New Media Investment Group, which is controlled by Fortress private equity.

    Lot of vampires in that chain that need to be fed and don’t give a rat’s tukkus about your local newspaper or community.

  6. - flea - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 9:37 am:

    Best Regards to the employees of SJR..however, the content of that paper (or lack thereof) is quite disappointing and I question the value of the subscription to readers at this juncture.

  7. - Shamrockery - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 9:42 am:

    Just canceled my subscription.

  8. - Nick Name - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 9:50 am:

    Laying off Rich Saal is unconscionable. The same paragraph says that Saal’s firing was only “the latest cut for a paper that has seen plenty. In 2012, newsroom employees, voted 26-4 to form a union after the paper laid off the entire copy desk. There are five news reporters left, and several beats, including courts, police and education, no longer have fulltime reporters assigned to them.”

    From thirty news staff to seven, in seven years. This once-thriving paper has been bled dry, with copy-editing done at a hub in Texas and printing done in Peoria.

    This is the right-leaning media chain MO: buy a health newspaper, slowly kill it with pay and staff cuts. If staff retaliate by exercising their right to organize, just fire everyone.

    Trump’s base loves this.

  9. - Glengarry - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 9:50 am:

    Haven’t read it in years and this is exactly why. I’m still ticked at how Chris Britt was run out of there.

  10. - Res Melius - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 10:02 am:

    Angie Muhs is a class act. I have seen her participate in several community events and she is exceptionally gracious and professional.

    Nationally, the increasing dearth of local news coverage is a big loss and a huge concern.

  11. - Langhorne - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 10:04 am:

    Schoenberg and Finke are my last remaining reasons to continue the most minimal SJR subscription. Between gatehouse media and Sinclair broadcasting at channel 20, Springfield is a News desert.

    Channel 20 recently ran a feature story on trump talking about “fake news “. Bernie wrote about it.

  12. - wordslinger - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 10:05 am:

    –GateHouse Media, which bought the SJ-R in 2007 and promised “hyperlocal” coverage,…–

    –There are five news reporters left, and several beats, including courts, police and education, no longer have fulltime reporters assigned to them.–

    So “hyperlocal” that they don’t even wander down the street on a daily basis to check out the courthouses, police station or school district offices.

    Gatehouse peddles snake oil, not news.

    Utmost respect to those who remain, fighting the good fight.

  13. - Michelle Flaherty - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 10:09 am:

    – Ownership laid off the longtime photo editor a couple of weeks ago. –

    Who was then recognized with awards for this photos at a big Illinois journalism conference.

  14. - Not a Billionaire - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 10:13 am:

    Some of the ex employees in Western Illinois started some free Fri weeklies in Galesburg Monmouth and Macomb and have more than the Gatehouse papers.

  15. - Streator Curmudgeon - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 10:18 am:

    Sadly, millennials and Gen-Xers are fixated on their phones, not newspapers. They’re too busy worrying what their friends are posting to be concerned with local news. Subscriptions suffer.

    Newspapers are the best watchdogs over government. They’re not the “enemy of the people” but the guardian of the people.

    The buy-and-trash corporate mentality with the S-J-R is terrible. Same thing is happening with Shaw Media and the Ottawa Times.

  16. - A guy - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 10:25 am:

    Gatehouse is just miserable and content with playing out the string.
    As Ross Perot would say; “you hear that sucking sound?”
    Sure do.

  17. - Anonymous - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 10:26 am:

    They won’t have a paper once Finke and Bernie leave.

  18. - Nick Name - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 10:36 am:

    ===So “hyperlocal” that they don’t even wander down the street on a daily basis to check out the courthouses, police station or school district offices.===

    The school district offices are across town, but the courthouse/county offices/jail is literally next door and the police station/city hall is literally across the street.

    If this can happen to the newspaper of the capital city of a major state like Illinois, it can happen anywhere.

  19. - Stark - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 10:37 am:

    Curmudgeon, I didn’t realize that millennials made the decision to install layoffs at the J-R. You do realize our economic system and its profit margin above all else mentality is responsible for creating the conditions to where people can’t afford old-fashioned newspaper subscriptions alongside their medication and student loans, and thus the collapse of newspapers supported on those subscriptions simultaneously, right?

  20. - Lizard Person - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 10:48 am:

    ===Sadly, millennials and Gen-Xers are fixated on their phones, not newspapers. They’re too busy worrying what their friends are posting to be concerned with local news. Subscriptions suffer.===

    You say, posting on an online news blog. Insert eyeroll emoji.

    I’ve got news for you, millennials and gen Xers are in or entering middle age. We’re becoming homeowners and parents. We care about property taxes and school board policy. We care about local news. We’re entering our prime earning years and are willing to pay for local journalism. Unfortunately there’s very little local journalism left to pay for.

  21. - Fool On The Hill - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 10:53 am:

    The cost of the SJ-R subscription is prohibitive to many, especially for an increasingly bare bones paper. The value just isn’t there for many locals of all ages.

  22. - Teacher - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:00 am:

    (Sadly, millennials and Gen-Xers are fixated on their phones, not newspapers. They’re too busy worrying what their friends are posting to be concerned with local news. Subscriptions suffer.)

    Something has to change. I agree with the statement, but a successful model to report journalism at the local level has to be possible in the 21st century.

  23. - Annonin' - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:06 am:

    Wonder what brain stormin’ session came up with resign to save jobs theory? Papers still have not figured out how to make money in the digital issue. The editor was wron. Wait til they start covering the State House from out of town like the Tribbies and the BrightOne.

  24. - Dupage Liberal - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:06 am:

    Fun fact - Angie is now entitled to unemployment until she finds a new job because IDES would classify this as a qualifying discharge.

  25. - don the legend - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:56 am:

    …Muhs told her staff on Friday that she was leaving partly in hopes of avoiding more layoffs at a paper that has been decimated by staff cuts. “I think her hope was, by not having her salary to pay, her hope would be that there would be no layoffs,” …

    Calling BS on this. She can’t be this naïve after five years with Gatehouse. Gatehouse will continue layoffs and pocket her salary as well. She is simply jumping off a sinking ship.

  26. - Hawkeye - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 12:12 pm:

    Ms. Muhs is an editor’s editor.

    The number of regional, state and national awards for excellence won by her, her papers and her staff stretch from Springfield to Maine to South Carolina to Florida.

    She’s the current national president of one of the two key news editor associations and was instrumental in negotiating their merger into one organization.

    She knows her stuff.

    Her mantra has always been “local news matters the most”. I don’t need the SJ-R to find out what’s happening in Chicago, Washington or London. I DO need the SJ-R to find out what’s happening in Springfield and the region.
    Gate House’s “strong commitment to quality journalism” = maximum profit for shareholders by cutting local news rooms and replacing their content with stories shared across the system. So all Gate House papers will eventually be more and more like USA Today and less and less the go-to source for reporting and analysis on local issues until they become irrelevant. Muhs probably came to this conclusion and realized she could no longer preside over the dismantling of the thing she held most dear.

    It will be interesting to see if Gate House even fills her position or uses this as an opportunity to go toward a “Regional Editor” where the content is managed from some other Gate House locale. If they go that direction you can bet we’re going to start seeing more stories from that locale crowd out space that was formerly occupied by Springfield / Sangamon County content. Just watch.

    Best wishes to Ms. Muhs. Can’t wait to watch how quickly area organizations looking for a great leader line up to make her an offer.

  27. - Hawkeye - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 12:22 pm:

    don the legend - “hopes” does not necessarily mean “expects”. I think she was trying to apply any public leverage she could to nudge Gate House into forestalling more layoffs to the extent possible. But anyone can see the Gate House ship is one to jump off. More layoffs will happen, probably sooner than later, but maybe not as soon as they would have. We’ll never know, so it’s a moot point - but to jump without a life boat under you speaks volumes.

  28. - Huh? - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 12:30 pm:

    This is an example of labor cuts are something to be cut in pursuit of profits. Instead, labor costs ought to be seen as a resource to be valued and grown.

    Cutting labor costs ends up reducing productivity and therefore the potential to increase sales. Increasing sales is key to profitability.

  29. - Excessively Rabid - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 1:42 pm:

    You had me at Gatehouse is such an awful company….

  30. - Give Me A Break - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 2:01 pm:

    We cut our home delivery to Wens-Sunday. The Monday and Tuesday SJR is a joke, hardly anything more than ads.

    If not for Bernie and local HS sports coverage I would dump the SJR. Told my wife any day now I expect to hear the SJR is moving to Thursday-Sunday paper or becoming a weekly.

  31. - Klaus VonBulow - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 2:03 pm:

    I just canceled my e edition. Sorry, Dean, Bernie and Finke. I don’t follow sports.

    I would guess this (Capitol Fax) news source grosses more revenue than the at this point. I was looking for a someone to paint my house and was surprised to see how few classified adds they had and Craigslist had. I guess that market is gone to HomeAdvisor or something.

  32. - Streator Curmudgeon - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 2:04 pm:

    Stark & Lizard Person–

    I also subscribe to the local newspaper (cue eyeroll), but I know what I see. Newspapers have always been supported by advertising, not subscription fees. But if subscription levels are going down due to lack of interest (and high prices), advertising suffers, especially co-operative ads with national advertisers and agencies, which require specific circulation levels. Those are big revenue earners for papers.

    One thing newspapers require that web sites don’t is a printing press, or paying for use of someone else’s press. That means press operators, paper, plates, and ink. And of course there are carriers, who have to be paid.

    The Internet may have made the newspaper model obsolete, but how many cities have an ad-supported news web site alone, without a printed paper? Not many.

    The newspaper industry has been discussing a subscription news web site setup (similar to CapFax) for years, but that model can’t seem to go anywhere. Maybe enough people don’t click on/read ads to support the salaries of a dozen full time newsroom staff.

  33. - revvedup - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 2:06 pm:

    I hope she files for unemployment, since they fired her after she gave a 2-week courtesy notice that she was leaving (Illinois has no legal requirement to give notice to resign).

  34. - Klaus VonBulow - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 2:07 pm:

    Is it true all of gatehouse’s real property assets are in a different cooperation?

  35. - LakeCo - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 2:14 pm:

    Rich Saal was laid off too? That’s terrible! Gatehouse is terrible!

  36. - Mama - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 2:16 pm:

    I wish Ms. Muhs the best of luck in finding another newspaper job sooner than later.

  37. - Smitty Irving - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 2:25 pm:

    Know this is a political blog, not economic blog, but this tsunami is being “enhanced” by the economic trend that started under Reagan (stock buybacks are legal, Henry Ford’s living wage replaced by Milton Friedman / Gordon Gekko’s profit maximization).

  38. - Keyser Soze - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 4:54 pm:

    Gatehouse is encouraged to please sell its interest in the SJ-R to someone who cares about the community.

  39. - Hawkeye - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 5:22 pm:

    Keyser - now that is a great idea.

  40. - The Dude Abides - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 6:40 pm:

    Given the actions of Gatehouse in the last few years in regards to the SJR it makes perfect sense that they endorsed Bruce Rauner for a 2nd term. They are birds of a feather. For many years I had daily delivery of the newspaper and about 5 years ago I went to weekends only and I canceled that about two years ago. Since then I considered online access only but I just couldn’t bring myself to give them any of my money given what Gatehouse represents. The day is coming that the capital city of the 6th largest state in the country will no longer have a newspaper. The day that Gatehouse bought the SJR was the death knell.

  41. - Abdon - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 8:03 pm:

    Amen to everything Hawkeye said about what a great Editor Angie Muhs has been. And to Keyser’s suggestion: Springfield’s business owners, civic leaders, unions, and philanthropists might want to look at the model the current Chicago Sun-Times ownership group put together to buy that paper to keep it functioning as a strong local voice.

  42. - Peanut - Wednesday, May 15, 19 @ 1:03 pm:

    I haven’t seen any increase in “hyperlocal” news stories. Seems they include less and less each week. The paper is quite thin for the major newspaper of a Capital City.

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