‘You just don’t have enough bodies’

The Journal Star of Peoria, Illinois, has seen its newsroom staff dwindle from 32 people just two years ago to 11 journalists, mostly through layoffs by GateHouse and the current owner, Gannett.

“The constricted staff means much less of the newspapering that readers want, such as in-depth and investigative pieces,” said Phil Luciano, a reporter and columnist at the Journal Star since 1988 who is the newsroom’s longtime Guild unit chairman. 

Despite the limitations, the staff is “rich with experience and thus excels, especially when there is big, breaking news,” Luciano said.

He said readers were captivated by the staff’s coverage of peaceful demonstrations, protests, property damage and looting in Peoria, a city of 111,000 people in central Illinois, in the days after the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.

But readers have complained as the daily newspaper’s ability to do investigative or in-depth reporting dried up, he said. The newsroom staff’s frustration about that has grown, too. “It’s hard to even fathom doing something like that,” Luciano said.

“Even taking one week to work on a story — we just don’t have that at all,” Luciano said. “You want to be able to focus on the things that are really important, but you also have to fill the paper every day. You just don’t have enough bodies.”