RG-J morgue chief laid off

A portentous layoff at the Reno Gazette-Journal has local newspeople wondering if the newspaper’s management has given up on saving it.

Jeanne Rasmussen, librarian at the Gazette-Journal, was informed on July 9 that her position was being eliminated.

“I still have the knot in my stomach that has been there since last Thursday,” she said in an interview the following week.

Rasmussen ran the RG-J “morgue”—newspaperese for the paper’s library or archives. She had been at the paper for four decades—since Lyndon Johnson was president and Paul Laxalt was governor. Each day for most of that time, she clipped the newspapers—there were two of them, morning and evening, when she first started—and stuffed the clippings in the appropriate 6-by-9-inch manila envelopes with other relevant items—court documents, advertisements, campaign leaflets, etc.

When a story came up—the Harvey’s casino bombing, a local death, wild horse shootings—Rasmussen could produce background material from both the envelopes and her head.

When she walks out the door, she will take a significant portion of the newspaper’s institutional memory with her. She is precisely the kind of key worker a newspaper would normally be loathe to lose. Indeed, when buyouts were offered to 20-year employees in 2007, she was an exception. The newspaper could not afford to lose her. Now, however, something has changed. At age 60, she will leave with 38 weeks of pay.

“I can sit on my duff and not do anything for a year,” she said. “I would go crazy doing it for more than that.”

She said she will then go back to school to “expand my knowledge of web-based” archival functions. A part-timer will be brought in at the RG-J to handle her old function, and she is helping the newspaper on the transition. The newspaper has long since donated much of the morgue to the Nevada Historical Society, though one reporter saved some of it for continued in-house use, and the envelopes are giving way to a digital morgue.

“They’re losing Jeanne?” said one Reno newsperson with something like a gasp. “That’s crazy.”

Veteran journalist and UNR journalism professor Jake Highton said it’s part of what he considers the newspaper’s suicidal management. He says the lack background in its stories means “every morning I pick up that paper and read it in six or seven minutes.”

“I am very unhappy about the circulation decline, the advertising value plummeting—but the thing is, they are not doing things to attract advertisers,” Highton said. “That’s not the way to bring them back. That’s not the way to get people to subscribe to your newspaper.”