Welcome to New Jersey, Media Wasteland

The smaller papers haven’t fared much better than the big ones. Gannett, whose stock price recently hit an 18-year-low, eliminated 55 jobs this year at four of its six Jersey papers including the Asbury Park Press, the Home News Tribune in East Brunswick, the Courier News in Bridgewater and the Daily Record in Parsippany. This came just weeks after it extracted 83 buyouts from the Press, the Home News Tribune, the Courier News, the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill and the Daily Journal in Vineland. The Record’s sister paper, the Herald News, recently collapsed its sports department into the Record’s since it wasn’t sustainable to run both independently. The Ledger’s sister paper, the Trenton Times, is absorbing 25 buyouts.

But Mr. Codey seemed particularly shocked at the rapid dissolution of The Times’ presence on the other side of the river.

Shortly after The Times announced it would cut 100 jobs earlier this year, the paper began to unroll plans to remove reporters from its Newark and Trenton bureaus. Ever since The Times eliminated most of the original content for its Sunday New Jersey section two years ago in favor of consolidated material shared by all its regional supplements, its presence in the state has been dropping. Now, it’s pretty much all gone.

“Fortunately, when I was governor, The Times did really good stuff,” said Mr. Codey. “I miss it. Now I go to the metro section and when I see a Jersey story, I go, ‘Whoa! This is unbelievable—a story!’”

In a July Q&A with Times metro editor Joe Sexton, a reader asked why the paper had abandoned the state. Mr. Sexton wrote: “Dude, ouch! But Jersey? Love Jersey.”

He said that The Times was leaving behind David Kocieniewski, an accomplished reporter who is well regarded by the masthead. He added that The Times was indeed planning to “concentrate more on New York City,” but pledged that the paper would continue to send reporters to Jersey to cover “major news” and trends on the regular metro beats. Also: Peter Applebome’s twice-weekly “Our Towns” column.

But the numbers speak for themselves. The dozen or so reporters and editors that The Times had covering the state two years ago are gone, farmed out to cover areas still of interest to the paper. David Chen, the former Trenton bureau chief, is the New York City Hall bureau chief; Andrew Jacobs, who covered Cory Booker in Newark, is now in Beijing; Newark reporter and published poet Tina Kelley is, according to an internal memo sent out by Mr. Sexton, “spending more and more of her reporting life online, busting rhymes here and there along the way.”

The cost-saving measures that The Times has taken in Jersey, however, aren’t much more dramatic than what The Record has done. In order to stay afloat, the Hackensack-based daily is actually shutting down its offices and sending reporters onto the streets.

“We have two counties we focus on—primarily Bergen and Passaic—so our reporters will be in these counties and they’ll be running around with their cell phone, a laptop, a camera, and he’ll be writing a story in the lobby of a building and he can shoot and file a picture,” said Mr. Scandale, the editor of the paper.

The Record will keep a small office in West Paterson, but Mr. Scandale said the vast majority of its reporters wouldn’t have office space there, and only some editors would have some.

“People will be coming in and out all day long,” he said. “They can touch base, or not come in for three or four days because there’s no need to.”

Job cuts notwithstanding, The Ledger, under the leadership of Jim Willse, is acting with relative restraint.

It has always been regarded as a good-paying place to work—interns are paid $700 a week, according to one source—and Mr. Willse raised the salaries company-wide. In addition, The Ledger still generates stories out of fully formed suburban bureaus. As a result, it is a good editorial product, but it is expensive to produce.

That, with the combination of the loss in real estate advertising, seems to have taken its toll on the paper.

“It is a perfect storm of economic problems,” said Mr. Newhouse. “It is a very bad year, there’s no question about it. I don’t think there were any forecasts that would predict how serious the downturn would be.”

The Ledger will do it the old-fashioned way: job cuts. The paper will cut 200 non-unionized employees, and one newsroom source anticipates that will mean about 100 newsroom jobs—a little less than a third of the newsroom’s body count of roughly 350. In the course of announcing the cuts, Advance Publications said in a memo that if the cuts couldn’t be achieved, they would consider selling the paper. (Observer publisher Jared Kushner was cited in news reports as a potential buyer.)

Mr. Scandale is confident that The Record will remain a good paper, even without a newsroom. But when asked what the general decline means for the state, and if things will actually get far worse than they are right now, he didn’t offer much.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It remains to be seen.”

jkoblin@observer.com