Critic Geeta Sharma-Jensen penned her final column as books editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Saturday after announcing last week that she has accepted a voluntary buyout offer from the newspaper’s publisher. Similar deals—part of a cost-cutting plan to address flagging ad revenue—have been accepted by thirty-six other employees at the paper, including four arts and entertainment writers.
“I’m not totally gone from the paper,” Sharma-Jensen told the National Book Critics Circle, where she is a board member. “I will continue to write about books and other matters for the Journal Sentinel on a freelance basis and may write for other publications as well. This gives me the time I was craving to work on some personal writing projects while still allowing me the opportunity and freedom to continue writing a bit about the book world. It’s a good place to be.”
“It is as it should be,” wrote Sharma-Jensen in her farewell column. “Better mousetraps trump rusty ones. In this current maelstrom, then, I’m grateful for the guidance and opportunities my editors gave me, the best of them ten years ago when they let me become book editor and critic. The job has meant more to me than they know.”
With last week’s voluntary buyouts included, the total number of jobs shed by the Journal Sentinel now stands at ninety-two. But employees are still bracing for additional cuts. “I am not in a position to tell you how things are going to unfold here,” says Mary Louise Schumacher, one of only two remaining critics in the paper’s arts and entertainment department. “We are expecting the possibility, incidentally, of additional layoffs as part of this downsizing.”
Journal Communications, which owns the publisher of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, expects these and other reductions to generate a yearly savings of $21 million.