Sunday | Dec. 14 | Got news, or a question?

December 14, 2008

Can’t find the right spot for your comment? Post it here, in this open forum. Real Time Comments: parked here, 24/7. (Earlier editions.)

Money trail: How to file an open-records request

December 14, 2008

I’ve sent the following letter to Western Carolina University officials Clifton Metcalf and Bill Studenc. Metcalf is vice chancelor for advancement and external affairs; Studenc is senior director of news services. In a telephone interview last week, Metcalf declined to disclose the whereabouts of $40,000 in Gannett Foundation gifts that CEO Craig Dubow directed to WCU for endowed scholarships. Citing university policy, Metcalf also refused to say whether the money went to the Craig and Denise Dubow scholarship fund. Also, foundation Executive Director Tara Connell has not responded to my requests for information. WCU is a public university, prompting this:

Dec. 12, 2008

Clifton Metcalf, Bill Studenc
Western Carolina University
Cullowee, N.C.
Via e-mail

Clifton and Bill:

Pursuant to North Carolina’s open-records laws, I am seeking access to all public documents relating to the Gannett Co. Inc., the Gannett Foundation, Gannett Chairman and CEO Craig Dubow, and other Gannett employees and representatives.

My request includes but is not limited to any public documents concerning contributions by the Gannett Foundation to the Western Carolina University Foundation, including any contributions to the Craig and Denise Dubow scholarship fund.

I am requesting an expedited response, and look forward to your reply.

Jim Hopkins
Gannett Blog

Documents show few Jennings scholarships; Gannett Foundation gave $159,250 in four years

December 14, 2008

[Income tax return shows the Gannett Foundation awarded
$42,250 in Madelyn P. Jennings scholarships in 2007]

Hard to believe, isn’t it? The Gannett Foundation apparently gave only $42,250 in college scholarships to employees’ children in 2007 — a year when the company employed 46,000 workers, according to public documents. That would be just 14 Madelyn P. Jennings Scholarships, based on the contest’s current $3,000 award value.

Those numbers appeared so low that I dived back into the foundation’s four most recent public income tax returns to learn more. But it turns out that 2007 wasn’t an anomally, if these reported annual totals are accurate:

  • 2004: $39,000
  • 2005: $39,000
  • 2006: $39,000
  • 2007: $42,250

That’s $159,250. For fall 2010, each scholarship is a one-time award of $3,000, sent to the winner’s college as a single payment. (Application instructions.)

Now, there are several reasons why these figures might be so low — but lack of money shouldn’t be one. In 2007 alone, the foundation donated $11.3 million to non-profits across the country. That included $320,000 in grants that CEO Craig Dubow and 15 other current and former executives steered toward scholarship funds at their alma maters, and to other pet charities, under a perquisite available to only the well-paid top brass. (Noteworthy examples.)

Of course, average employees aren’t so fortunate, according to foundation rules for everyone else: “The only scholarship program currently funded by the foundation is the Madelyn P. Jennings Scholarship Program for children of Gannett employees.”

Possible explanations
I can only imagine what foundation Executive Director Tara Connell would say about this, given that she’s not talking to me. (Indeed, I’m still waiting for Connell, who also is Gannett’s spokeswoman, to explain the whereabouts of $40,000 in other foundation money.)

Maybe there’s a pile of other Jennings scholarships disclosed somewhere else; I could only find one page summarizing the grants in the tax returns. Perhaps the scholarships aren’t getting promoted enough. Maybe the qualifications are too tough, or the application process too daunting. (Basically, college-bound high school seniors must score well on the PSAT/NMSQT test, plus meet other criteria.)

Whatever the reasons, Gannett Blog readers want to know more. “Where is that list of award winners?” Anonymous@4:35 p.m. asked yesterday. “We applied when my daughter was a junior, too. I was dismayed when we didn’t hear a single thing back — not even a, ‘tnx for applying’ note.”

How to apply for 2010 scholarships
Deadline for fall 2010 college enrollment is Feb. 28, 2009, for high school students who took the standardized PSAT/NMSQT test this fall. (Details, here.)

Got a Jennings experience to share? Post it in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar.

Columnist: Could this be Detroit’s new Edsel?

December 14, 2008

[Famous flops? A 1958 Ford Edsel vs. a 2008 Gannett Griffon]

Ending most home delivery of the Detroit dailies is “less a bold innovation than a Hail Mary pass,” Chicago Tribune media columnist Phil Rosenthal writes today.

Naughty nicknames we’ve given to moms sites

December 14, 2008
“Don’t expect Woodward and Bernstein on MomsLickMe.”

Anonymous@6:14 p.m., responding to critics who claim some Gannett employees are secretly manipulating conversations among readers on the company’s network of Moms Like Me websites.

Saturday | Dec. 13 | Got news, or a question?

December 13, 2008

Can’t find the right spot for your comment? Post it here, in this open forum. Real Time Comments: parked here, 24/7. (Earlier editions.)

How Hunke persuaded Singleton to pull the trigger

December 13, 2008

[Detroit bosses: Hunke, Singleton]

The CEO of Gannett’s Detroit business, Dave Hunke, reportedly overcame reservations from GCI business partner William Dean Singleton, in order to reach this historic moment: A high-stakes plan to save the city’s money-losing dailies by abandoning most home delivery. Singleton, CEO of MediaNews Group, wanted Hunke to first run the idea past major advertisers, I’ve been told. Those presentations apparently went well; unless Gannett gets cold feet, an announcement is expected Tuesday.
Gannett owns 95% of the Detroit Media Partnership, the joint operating agency that publishes the two papers: Gannett’s Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, which is owned by MediaNews. The Denver company owns the JOA’s other 5%.
Even with that controlling stake, Hunke may have needed Singleton’s formal OK because the plan is such a radical departure from Detroit’s business model. (To be sure, Singleton could also have given in because he’s gotten so distracted by problems in Denver, where he’s locked in another JOA, with an increasingly desperate E.W. Scripps.)
Culprit: Auto industry meltdown

Gannett is one of untold businesseses threatened by the slow-motion collapse of the Big Three automakers, long the engine of Detroit’s economy, according to this Freep video by Alexandra Bahou:

Please post your thoughts in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

What happens to GNS after ContentOne’s launch?

December 13, 2008

Regarding the new editorial service that CEO Craig Dubow unveiled before Wednesday’s UBS conference, a reader tells me the following in an e-mail; can anyone else confirm — and add details?

The ContentOne concept, which management concedes has not been fully thought out, will also eliminate Gannett News Service, which has to date collected and edited stories from papers and put them on its wire for all to use. There may be a few reporters and editors left at GNS, but they would be part of ContentOne. GNS’s 60 employees will be able to ask for a buyout, but the terms and conditions of those buyouts won’t be revealed until early January. Gannett wants GNS to cover the Obama inauguration, so it is deferring the buyouts and layoffs until after the inauguration.

Holidaze: Your gift shopping dilemma solved!

December 13, 2008

Buy an optional Gannett Blog subscription today for that someone special, and you’ll get a bonus: I won’t launch a really annoying 12 days of Christmas countdown of reasons to support this blog.

I’m trying to earn $6,000 quarterly, through voluntary subscriptions of $5 per reader; advertising contributes just a tiny share. Please use the “Donate” tool in the green sidebar, upper right. Or, send checks and cash to: Jim Hopkins, 584 Castro St. #823, San Francisco, Calif. 94114-2594.

Chatter: On moms, talk ‘leaders’ — or ‘paid shills’?

December 13, 2008

[Ground zero: The Indianapolis Star launched the original moms site]

Chatter is an occasional peek at your comments. In today’s edition, readers are debating the ethics of paying people — including men — to spark provocative discussions on the
Moms Like Me websites.

It all began early yesterday, when Anonymous@12:10 a.m. wrote: “Anybody out there in Gannettoidland hear of any shenanigans with their Moms sites? At the paper I work at, two males in the Information Center were directed by management to pose as females in the Moms forums to start conversations to increase traffic. Also, some moms in the community were getting paid a weekly stipend to go on their sites and start conversations. Is false page view generation an actual strategy for all sites?”

Next, Anonymous@1:06 a.m. piped up: “The mommy site at my paper also has paid shills. Please expose this scam.”

In Phoenix, Anonymous@9:32 a.m. said: “A couple of people who work on the Moms site were told to set up multiple user IDs and make numerous posts to drive traffic. I don’t think *they* were paid (other than their salaries) to post, but I know they paid their friends to set up multiple IDs and post. This was several months ago and management claimed not to be aware of the practice. They said the practice was to stop. Not sure if it actually did.”

Take a chill pill, everyone! wrote Anonymous@3:19 p.m. “There’s nothing ethically wrong with paying community management staff to foster communication within an online forum,” they wrote. “The only gray area here is if they actually have men posing as women — and even that is laughable. Those of you freaking out are grasping at straws — there’s no ‘fake traffic’ or ‘false page view generation’ here; the traffic is real, if people want to take part in the conversations. This kind of thing happens all over the Internet and is considered more than normal — it’s often mandatory to get communities started. Lighten up and concentrate on the fact that you might lose your job next week, next month, or next year. Sheesh . . . stop complaining and start solving problems.”

Related: The exciting 1,674-word Moms Like Me Privacy Policy makes riveting, late-night reading!

Now, it’s your turn. What’s the story at your moms site? Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.