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The Las Cruces Sun-News laid off three journalists and eliminated their positions on Wednesday, and the newspaper’s top editor voluntarily resigned.
The cuts were part of a continuing reduction in staff at papers owned by the largest newspaper corporation in the United States, Gannett, which owns seven papers in New Mexico and the El Paso Times in west Texas.
The journalists laid off on Wednesday at the Sun-News were community editor Frances Silva, news reporter Steve Ramirez and print planner Ruben Villegas.
Lucas Peerman, the newspaper’s news director, was named interim editor after Sylvia Ulloa, the newspapers’ managing editor since November 2013, voluntarily resigned.
“It has been my sincere honor to be managing editor of the Sun-News over the past three and a half years and to work with the dedicated and talented journalists who are covering our community,” Ulloa said in a post on the Sun-News’ website announcing the changes. “I know they will continue to contribute to the well-being of Las Cruces and Doña Ana County with their watchdog stories and delight readers with great articles, photos and videos about people in our community. I wish them all the best.”
The El Paso Times also laid off staff Wednesday, though NMPolitics.net hasn’t been able to confirm the number. And Gannett eliminated some open positions at other New Mexico papers.
The news comes almost two years after Gannett became full owner of the New Mexico and El Paso newspapers in June 2015. Before that, Digital First Media was the primary owner and Gannett was a minority, non-controlling owner in the partnership.
Gannett has made other cost-cutting changes since becoming full owner of the newspapers, including previous layoffs. Gannett shrunk the print editions of the Sun-News, Times, Carlsbad Current-Argus and Alamogordo Daily News in February. And Gannett has reduced the number of days the Deming Headlight and Silver City Sun-News appear in print to two each week. Those communities can also receive the print edition of the Las Cruces paper on Sundays.
After years of cuts going back to Digital First’s ownership, the Sun-News now has 10.5 full-time jobs remaining in its newsroom. For comparison, The Santa Fe New Mexican — a newspaper with a larger circulation located in a city with fewer residents — lists 38 newsroom employees on its website. That doesn’t include its copy desk employees, but the Sun-News no longer has a copy desk. Those duties are handled by the Arizona Republic, which is also owned by Gannett.
The new layoffs, after years of cuts at many newspapers across the United States, “are disturbing, to say the very least,” said Laura Paskus, president of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Rio Grande Chapter Board of Directors.
“Already in New Mexico, we have too few reporters trying to cover too many issues. And many are doing that on a salary that’s not sustainable, and in a job that’s not guaranteed or secure,” Paskus said. “We’ve watched the disappearance of locally-owned newspapers. And we’ve watched corporations from out of state buy out newspapers and newsrooms. Neither of those have been good for the communities those papers serve. As out-of-state owners value profits above their employees and the communities they’re supposed to serve, all New Mexicans suffer.”
“…At a time when we need to know more — about one another, about what’s happening around us, and about how our governments operate — the news of these layoffs is very bad for all New Mexicans,” Paskus said.
The new cuts in New Mexico and El Paso appear to be part of another round of nationwide staff reductions at Gannett papers. Retired journalist Jim Romenesko, who covers media, tweeted a message he received stating there were staff reductions at 37 Gannett papers on Wednesday.
An editor at the Arizona Republic did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The El Paso Times’ editor referred questions to an official in Gannett’s corporate office who also did not immediately respond.
Sun-News president Rynni Henderson, in the post on the newspaper’s website, said the newspaper “is learning to do more with less, but our commitment to the community is as strong as ever.”
“We are evolving and will continue to deliver breaking news and the best local news and information available,” Henderson said.
This article has been updated to correct Peerman’s title. For disclosure, NMPolitics.net Editor and publisher Heath Haussamen (the author of this article) writes a column every other week that’s published by the Sun-News. NMPolitics.net also partners with the Sun-News on reporting projects and the paper sometimes runs NMPolitics.net’s articles. Haussamen is also a member of the SPJ Rio Grande Board.