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.
“Angie Muhs exemplifies everything one could ask for from an editor,” former SJ-R publisher and president Todd Sears wrote when Muhs won the 2017 editor of the year award. “She is deeply connected to her community, constantly looks for ways the SJ-R can be a leader in community engagement, demands excellence from her team and works tirelessly to ensure deliver (sic) quality, impactful content to our readers every day.” The praise remains posted at www.bestofgatehouse.com, the company web page dedicated to its contests.
Gracing GateHouse Media’s home page is a photo of Abraham Lincoln impersonators taken by Rich Saal, the paper’s longtime photo editor who was laid off two weeks ago, 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.
Muhs declined to discuss staff cuts, but she praised Saal, saying he was one of the best photojournalists she’s ever worked with. She’s been vocal in the past about her feelings while GateHouse sliced her staff. Last September, amid a round of cuts, Muhs tweeted a quote from New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, who said “You cannot cut the value of the product you give readers and expect them to reward you with growth.” Muhs included her own take: “Amen. If only all owners heeded these words.”
Olsen said Muhs appeared emotional as she left the building for the last time.
"I think she's tried to fight within the channels of GateHouse to try to preserve the staff," Olsen said. "I don't know how successful she's been. I know it's been very frustrating for her. Her heart is in this. She quit without a job lined up. I think that says a lot right there."
Bruce Rushton is a former SJ-R reporter who resigned in 2011. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.