Layoffs affect 7 at American News/Farm Forum

Victoria Lusk
Farm Forum

Seven employees were laid off from the American News and Farm Forum on July 11.

The layoffs came as the company begins to structure a new business model aimed at profitability, Dakota Media Group Publisher Kevin Shaw said.

The Dakota Media Group comprises the American News and Farm Forum, and the Watertown Public Opinion. Four employees were laid off in Watertown on July 10

“We let go of a lot of friends, people that have been here a long time,” Shaw said in a July 11 meeting with employees in Aberdeen.

The departments that lost employees include finance, newsroom, production, information technology and an advertising support position, Shaw said.

No cuts were made to advertising sales representatives because those positions are needed to bring revenue in, he said.

“It’d be a classic mistake to cut positions across the board because that’s fewer people knocking on doors,” he said.

Newer positions in the digital and events departments were also not eliminated.

In addition to the layoffs, some vacant positions will also remain unfilled, Shaw said.

“You have to pattern business to the revenue you have,” Shaw said.

The number of employees laid off should ensure the company is profitable through 2018 and into 2019, he said.

The newspaper industry, in general, has been faced with decreasing revenue and increased costs over the last few years. Those include a recent price increase and threatened tariffs on newsprint.

Newspapers in metropolitan areas have been hit particularly hard, Shaw said.

“In most metro areas, newspapers are working with one-third of the staff they had six or seven years ago,” he said.

That’s partly because those areas do not have the benefit of a rural, agricultural economy, he said.

“We’re in an area controlled by farmers,” Shaw said. “In one breath, that’s a good thing because it kept us profitable longer. So the farm economy has helped us a little too.”

But now the ag industry isn’t faring as well as in past years, and that affects businesses across the region.

The Dakota Media Group layoffs represent about 7 percent of its workforce. Prior to the layoffs, Dakota Media Group had 154 total employees. There are now 87 employees at the American News and 56 at the Public Opinion.

“It’s not been a fun two days,” Shaw said.

Shaw received mixed reactions as he broke the news to each now-former employee. A couple of employees even asked if they could finish what they were working on, he said.

“We’re changing everyone’s lives,” he said. “Our biggest expense is people. Unfortunately, our ability to make cuts is that.”

The layoffs are most likely permanent, but if the company sees a need — through an increase in revenue — it will add employees as needed, Shaw said.

Laid-off employees were given a severance package and their insurance will continue through the month.

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