Detroit Free Press Vice President and editor Peter Bhatia has announced that he will resign from his position to save other employees from losing their jobs amid impending layoffs.
Bhatia, 69, announced his decision in a virtual staff gathering on Friday. With his resignation, Bhatia believed that Gannett, the company that owns USA Today, could use the money saved by his departure to spare some employees from upcoming planned layoffs at the Detroit Free Press in January 2023.
“I do have other opportunities that will probably come to work out at some point,” Bhatia told Detroit Free Press, “but if by getting my salary out of the budget it saves some jobs of people on the staff, I think that’s the right thing for the Free Press.”
Bhatia said that the company’s downsizing would set back the Free Press’ efforts to diversify its staff, which currently has a total of 110 people.
“Since the beginning of 2020, we have made 30 hires,” Bhatia wrote in a staff email. “Of those 30, 27 are people of color or women. This staff reduction will cut into what the diversity and skills gains achieved during that time.”
The company had gone through layoffs and cost-cutting at its other news properties following a series of quarterly losses, including one that ended on Sept. 30 with a $54 million net loss.
Gannett reportedly rolled out measures to address the financial losses, including a sale-leaseback deal for the printing press site in Sterling Heights, Michigan, and a paywall for some Free Press stories in the summer of 2020.
The problem persisted despite the company’s efforts, which led to the downsizing. Bhatia announced on Dec. 12 that Gannett would be laying off up to five reporters, four assistant editors, three website producers, one photographer and one editorial assistant.
Before joining the Free Press in September 2017 and becoming a regional editor in the USA Today network for nearly 30 properties in Ohio and Michigan, Bhatia was the first journalist of South Asian descent to lead a major U.S. publication at The Oregonian in Portland from 2010 to 2014.
A 2020 recipient of the National Press Foundation’s Ben Bradlee Editor of the Year award, Bhatia was named Gannett’s top employee of the year in early December.
He was also given Kent State University’s Robert G. McGruder Distinguished Award in 2018, which is given to professionals who promote diversity. The award was named after Robert G. McGruder, the first Black executive editor at the Detroit Free Press in 1996.
Since joining the Free Press, the publication has reportedly become one of the strongest companies in the Gannett network due to Bhatia’s imaginative and creative leadership, Free Press columnist ML Elrick said.
The company has yet to name a replacement for Bhatia.
A similar incident occurred in April 2020 when tech CEO Nikesh Arora decided to forfeit his $1 million salary to save his company and employees from layoffs at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.