- The move comes after the 69-year-old Indian American reportedly informed the staff earlier this month that the newsroom would be impacted by layoffs enforced by the newspaper's owner Gannett.
Peter Bhatia, editor and vice president at the Detroit Free Press is departing the company early next year. The move comes after the Indian American reportedly informed the staff earlier this month that the newsroom would be impacted by layoffs enforced by the newspaper’s owner Gannett.
Informing his decision in a Dec. 23 staff meeting, Bhatia, 69, said he decided to leave the company “so that Gannett, the company that owns Detroit Free Press “could use the financial savings of his departure to reduce the number of layoffs at the paper that are set to occur in January,” as reported by the Detroit News.
Earlier this month, “the staff at Detroit Free Press was informed its cost-target cut could potentially include five reporters, four assistant editors, three website producers, one photographer and one editorial assistant,” the Detroit News report said.
In an email to the staff, Bhatia thanked them for “a good run” at the paper. “The staff has done an amazing job, and our success in digital (subscriptions) and in journalism in general has been fantastic,” read the email according to Free Press. “I am really going to miss that,” Bhatia added.
The email touched upon the diversity at the paper. “Since the beginning of 2020, we have made 30 hires,” Bhatia wrote, according to the Free Press. “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.”
Highlighting some of the changes Bhatia incorporated at the paper, the Free Press report noted that it “rolled out in summer 2020 an online paywall for some stories after years of all-free reporting on its website.” The move was “aimed at bringing more financial sustainability for the organization, and the Free Press has since exceeded company expectations in gaining paid digital subscribers,” it added.
Bhatia also told the staff that he has “other opportunities that will probably come to work out at some point.” However, by getting his salary “out of the budget it saves some jobs of people on the staff,” a decision he thinks is “the right thing for the Free Press.” His last day at the Free Press − and Gannett − is Jan. 18. A replacement has not been named.
A multiple Pulitzer Prize-winning editor, Bhatia has spearheaded journalism and digital advances at numerous news sites across the country. He joined the Free Press in September 2017, after two years as editor and vice president of the Cincinnati Enquirer and cincinnati.com.
This month, Gannett awarded Bhatia with its highest honor, its GREAT Award, recognizing “an individual who embodies Grit, Resilience, Excellence, Achievement, and Transformation in all that they do for our company and their colleagues.” He was the 2020 recipient of the Ben Bradlee editor of the year award from the National Press Foundation.
In 2018, Bhatia won the Robert G. McGruder Distinguished Award for his commitment to media diversity. The award is bestowed by Kent State University and honors the late Bob McGruder, who was the first Black executive editor of the Free Press and a longtime champion of newsroom diversity.
Bhatia previously was director of the Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at Arizona State’s Cronkite School of Journalism. He joined the university in June 2014 as visiting professor in journalism ethics after a two-decade career at the Oregonian in Portland, where he was the editor. His resume includes helping lead newsrooms that won 10 Pulitzer Prizes, including six in Portland.
He is also a seven-time Pulitzer juror. He is the first journalist of South Asian descent to lead a major daily newspaper in the U.S., running the Oregonian from 2010 to 2014. Bhatia is a longtime member of the Asian American Journalist Association, a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing newsroom diversity.
Bhatia received a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in 1975 with a double major in history and communication. He and his wife, Liz Dahl, have two grown children.