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(Editor's Note: Oppel is editorial advisor to Austonia.com. From 1995-2008, he was editor and vice president of the Austin American-Statesman.)
Veteran sportswriter Suzanne Halliburton and culture critic Joe Gross were among seven staffers laid off on Friday by the Austin American-Statesman. The layoffs come at a time when most Statesman employees are on unpaid furloughs one week each month.
The Statesman layoffs apparently were a part of layoffs across Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper chain, which owns the Statesman and 260 other newspapers in 46 states.
Those dismissed by the Statesman were:
—Arianna Auber, who was the "liquid Austin" columnist covering beverages in the features department.
—Joe Gross, who was the pop culture, film and literature writer. He was considered one of the strongest writers on the Statesman's staff.
"May 1 will be my final day at the Austin-American Statesman, where I have worked fulltime for 18 years and had a byline for nearly 20," Gross tweeted Friday. "I was informed this morning my position was eliminated. Thank you for reading my stuff there."
—James Gregg, who was a photojournalist and deputy director of video and photography. Gregg is a University of Kansas graduate who previously worked for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson and the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has been in Austin since 2014.
—Suzanne Halliburton, who covered Texas A&M football and was an expert on recruiting and on the NFL draft. She was among the female pioneers of sports journalism who gained access to the once male-dominated press boxes and locker rooms. She joined the Statesman in August 1986.
"So, let me tell you about my day," Halliburton wrote on a Facebook post Friday evening. "Woke up late after working til after midnight. Heard rumors about layoffs. Noticed I had a had a text message and a Zoom invite from the editor. I had time to fix my face and find out I'd been laid off from a job I've had for almost 34 years.
"To say this sucks is an understatement. I feel like my family filed for divorce. But this is what happens when your paper is bought out, then one chain merges with another. Got any job ideas? Please send them my way."
The Statesman was purchased from Cox Enterprises Inc. of Atlanta for $47.5 million by GateHouse in April 2018. In August 2019, GateHouse bought Gannett for $1.4 billion. In the combined company, GateHouse took on Gannett's name.
—Mike Parker, who graduated from Texas State University in 2002 with a B.A. in mass communications, for the last five years has been editor of the Round Rock Leader and Pflugerville Pflag, both in the Statesman's community newspapers group.
—Nick Wagner, who graduated from Western Kentucky University in 2017, was a photojournalist with the Statesman.
Wagner tweeted, "Hey editor! I'm your newest freelancer available for hire in Texas/northern Mexico. I am fluent in Spanish, excel under pressure & nothing stops me from making photos (just ask Bevo XV). @Gannett just laid me off from @statesman as a result of its latest merger. DMs are open!"
Wagner was struck by Bevo during the 2019 Sugar Bowl when the Longhorns' mascot charged Uga, the Georgia Bulldogs' mascot. He was not hurt.
—Aaricka Washington, the K-12 education reporter, who has a degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and joined the Statesman in September 2019.
She tweeted, "It's been taking me hours to muster the courage and strength to write this. I was one of seven reporters who just got laid off from @Statesman. It hurts. It feels unreal. But I'm grateful for everything I've learned as an edu reporter working for this great org."
Poynter.org reported on its website, "It's unclear if the layoffs are in response to the economic impact of the coronavirus or the result of the merger with Gatehouse, though one source told Poynter the cuts relate to the Gatehouse/Gannett integration and that sites with overlap were getting the cuts. Gannett executives told The New York Times in November that they would look for 'efficiencies' after the merger."
The Poynter Institute for Media Studies is a nonprofit journalism school and research organization located in St. Petersburg, Fla.
It is not clear how efficiencies would be achieved at the Statesman by reducing "overlaps," since no other Gannett newspapers operate in Central Texas. However, the Statesman has been well-staffed among its Gannett peers, given the tough environment for newspapers.
Statesman editors declined to comment.
On March 30, the Statesman newsroom was among Gannett newsrooms that were directed to furlough employees. Those making more than $38,000 a year were required to take one week of unpaid leave for April, May and June.
A Gannett company spokesperson told Poynter.org, "We remain steadfast in our efforts to integrate our new company in order to realize the full potential of our combined resources and scale to sustain and preserve quality journalism for the long term. The moves, while imperative, are tough. The elimination of any job and the loss of valued colleagues is deeply felt."
Wagner, the photojournalist, tweeted that at the time of the GateHouse-Gannett merger, "CEO Paul Bascobert said front-line reporters are 'the last place we want to touch' with cuts. A week ago I was 'front line' in every sense or the term, covering a protest an risking my health. Yesterday I was laid off."
He added later, "I can only hope Gannett keeps its hands off my favorite newsroom."
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a record-setting second quarter during an earnings call broadcasted from the Giga Texas construction site in Southeast Travis County on Monday.
The electric carmaker reported more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and the production of more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time despite challenges such as a global semiconductor shortage.
"It … seems that public sentiment towards electric vehicles is at an inflection point, and at this point, I think, almost everyone agrees electric vehicles are the only way forward," Musk said.
Exterior shots taken just a while ago of Giga Texas (while @elonmusk is reportedly at the Gigafactory!) during today's earnings call!
Hope @peterdog15 got to catch the technoking in his video! #fastestinhistory #Tesla pic.twitter.com/WqeDlb5wU3
— Austin Tesla Club (@AustinTeslaClub) July 26, 2021
Despite rising consumer demand and adequate factory capacity, Tesla faces what Musk described as a "quite serious" global semiconductor shortage, which will determine the company's growth rate for the rest of the year.
With increased revenue and production, Tesla is investing in new factories, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said. These include Giga Texas, the $1.1 billion manufacturing plant that broke ground last summer and is slated to open later this year.
The Giga Texas factory in Southeast Travis County has rapidly increased in size since ground broke last August. (Tesla)
Musk commended the construction team for "incredible progress," transforming what was basically a vacant site into "a mostly complete large factory a year later."
I was at Giga Texas yesterday. Team is making excellent progress. Building will be almost a mile long when complete.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2021
Giga Texas will produce the highly anticipated Cybertruck, along with other models, but Musk said scaling its production will be difficult, especially given the supply chain delays caused by the pandemic. "It's going to move as fast as the slowest of its up to 10,000 unique parts," he said.
In other news, Musk said Monday's earnings call would likely be his last regular appearance, only jumping on future quarterly calls when big announcements warrant it.
Tesla Solar recently made news when it announced plans to build the nation's most sustainable residential community in Southeast Austin earlier this month. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
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The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
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Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
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