Archive for March, 2008

Do top execs pay for their own health insurance?

March 31, 2008

That’s what a reader asked today. For those currently employed at Corporate, I think the answer is: yes, based on the annual proxy report to shareholders, filed earlier this month. I don’t see anything about medical coverage in the footnotes for the executive compensation table.

But I can tell you this: Retired CEO Doug McCorkindale doesn’t pay a dime for his health insurance. I discovered that nugget of information while wandering through last year’s proxy report to shareholders, filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. It reveals a boatload of lovely post-retirement benefits for McCorkindale — the guy who did such a bang-up job as CEO for five years, ending in July 2005, when Craig Dubow took over what turned out to be a sinking ship.

So, next time your health insurance premium jumps, take comfort in the fact that McCorky’s been getting these well-deserved bennies, the document says, since he retired as chairman, in June 2006. The company is paying for all of this:

  • Health insurance for him and his spouse at no cost. For McCorkindale, this includes a Medicare supplement, and reimbursement for the cost of Medicare Part B coverage.
  • Travel accident insurance. Estimated annual cost: $81,390.
  • Legal and financial counseling services. Estimated annual cost: $25,000. (This is one of my all-time favorite piggy executive perqs: Attorneys and financial advisers to help McCorky guard his wealth and minimize income taxes. Wouldn’t TurboTax be a lot cheaper?)
  • $150,000, in annual $50,000 installments, to buy life insurance “or other benefits of Mr. McCorkindale’s choosing, whether otherwise offered by the company or not.” (“Other benefits” is conveniently vague enough to cover, say, a wine cellar.)
  • Home security system allowance.
  • Country club membership fees. (Of course!)
  • Computer and other home office equipment. (McCorky knows how to type?)
  • An automobile. (BTW: Did he ever turn over his reserved-for-the-CEO parking spot to Dubow?)
  • Use of company aircraft “at times not inconveniencing the company,” the cost of which will be reimbursed by McCorkindale at Gannett’s then-incremental hourly rate. (Flying with the the great unwashed, even in First Class, is so unpleasant!)
  • Access to company offices, facilities and services — including the use of an office and executive assistant.

What’s all this cost Gannett? An estimated $155,888 a year. That, of course, is on top of the $150,000 the company pays McCorky annually for five years under a consulting contract, “to enable the company to benefit from his many years of experience,” the report says. Plus, it’s on top of the $1.25 million going-away bonus the board awarded him for being such an all-around swell guy.

As Dubow told shareholders about last year’s performance: “We maintained our usual fiscal discipline throughout the year.”

Hot Off the Press: Pensacola News Journal

March 31, 2008

This is today’s Pensacola News Journal; click on the image for a bigger view. The paper offers a smart angle this morning on how the slowing economy is hurting more vulnerable workers. “Even in the best of times, workers who depend on tips for a substantial part of their income — food servers, bartenders, cab drivers and hairdressers — often struggle to keep afloat,” the paper’s Troy Moon writes. “But as gas prices, food prices and retail prices attest, these are far from the best of times. Folks are holding tighter to their wallets as the economy gets rockier. Just ask your favorite waiter or waitress.”

The News Journal at a glance:

  • Publisher: Kevin Doyle
  • Executive Editor/Director of Content and Readership Development: Dick Schneider
  • Founded: 1889
  • Joined Gannett: 1969
  • Employees: 420
  • Circulation: 57,148 daily; 71,139 Sunday

[Image: Newseum]

Monday Recap: Please, sirs, we want some more!

March 31, 2008

Posts you might have missed last week while you were celebrating spring break:

  • Management mystery: The Home News Tribune got a new (interim) publisher — but no word on why.
  • Gotcha! The Detroit Free Press moved a step closer to claiming a high-profile scalp.
  • Oliver Twisted: The Gannett Foundation revealed an insiders-only platinum perq.

Which family does Gannett’s foundation favor?

March 31, 2008
[James Dobson: founder, Focus on the Family]

This is a story about the politics of religion, a church soup kitchen, a former Gannett chief financial officer — and another set of grants that seem far from the Gannett Foundation‘s mission: helping communities where the company does business.
First, the rules. The foundation’s guidelines for the general public and for average employees are clear: They discourage giving to non-profit groups that mostly promote religion, or that push partisan politics. For the public, and for average employees using the GannettMatch program, that means no “political action or legislative advocacy groups.” No wiggle room there.
On religion, the guidelines for the public ban programs or initiatives “where the primary purpose is the promotion of religious doctrine or tenets.” Average employees get a little more leeway: “Gifts to sectarian organizations may be matched at the Foundation’s discretion, if the organization uses the funds primarily to benefit the community. For example, gifts to a church soup kitchen that serves the general public will be considered for matching, while gifts to a church building fund will not.”
Now, consider the following donations, disclosed in the foundation’s public tax returns — and then see why even small amounts still count.
  • $1,200 to Focus on the Family of Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2000. Conservative evangelical minister James Dobson founded it in 1977. And he’s about as apolitical as the former presidential candidate, Rev. Al Sharpton of New York. These days, for example, the influential Dobson is fighting to keep Sen. John McCain from reaching the White House. On Friday, the Denver Post wrote that Dobson “still stands by a statement that he would not vote for McCain under any circumstances. Dobson, who has said he was speaking on behalf of himself, not his Colorado Springs ministry, is upset that McCain, among other things, did not support a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and has backed embryonic-stem-cell research.”
  • A combined $3,200 to The Family Foundation in Richmond, Va., in 2004-2006. On its website, the group says, its goals at the Virginia state capitol are to “advocate pro-family issues in the General Assembly. Strategize with elected officials. Testify in legislative committee meetings. Produce issue briefs and policy papers. Host pro-family lobby day at the state capitol.” Also, the Family Foundation’s short list of “partners” includes Dobson’s Focus on the Family, and its affiliate, Dobson’s Family Research Council.

I’ll anticipate my critics: The Gannett Foundation donates millions annually — $9.2 million in 2006 alone, according to its tax return. This is just $4,400; who cares? Well, I’ve now heard from what appear to be two different groups of Gannett employees who say they’ve failed to persuade the company’s charitable arm to support critically ill co-workers. “The Gannett Foundation won’t let employees who are being paid less annually than Craig Dubow makes weekly pool their donations to make a matching-gift contribution to the American Cancer Society to honor a co-worker who is fighting cancer,” one reader told me. “The foundation’s response: Pooled donations are not allowed under our rules.”

Dobson’s ministry and the Virginia group say they’re non-profits under Internal Revenue Service guidelines, so they meet one key foundation eligibility test. Still, why would the foundation make these $4,400 in donations, when it apparently won’t bend its rules to help ill employees in Gannett communities — places making the foundation’s giving possible in the first place?

The foundation’s tax returns don’t explain the Dobson donation (pictured, above, in a detail from the document). The $3,200 to The Family Foundation, however, came at the direction of retired Gannett Chief Financial Officer Larry Miller, the returns show, under a special benefit available only to the company’s highest-paid insiders.

Use this link to e-mail feedback, tips, snarky letters, etc. See Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the sidebar, upper right. Or leave a note in the comments section, below.

My answer to that long-anticipated question

March 31, 2008

A reader asked: Who died and made Jim Hopkins the arbiter of all things Gannett? Put another way: Why does Corporate pay one bit of attention to anything I say?

Here’s my answer: Four months ago, I had maybe 10 readers per week. Now, I’m averaging more than 2,000, paying about 10,000 visits a week, according to Google Analytics. About 60% are current Gannett employees, based on the results of the “Where do you work?” survey, now running at the top of the blue sidebar, right. The rest are former employees, and a few folks who’ve never worked for Gannett.

It’s a small, but influential group. Many are newsroom employees — smart people who determine the editorial content of Gannett’s 85 dailies and 23 TV stations. Editors and publishers read me. Ditto for local operating committee members. My readers have also included at least one Wall Street stock analyst. And I think it’s possible one or more members of Gannett’s board of directors have stopped by.

Here’s a little history: In October 2006, Gannett had 50,000 employees. But there wasn’t a single blog about the company — amazing, I thought, since Gannett is the nation’s biggest newspaper publisher, and one of the country’s largest private employers. So, I started blogging anonymously — and privately; nothing I wrote was visible to the public until early last September. Four months later, when I formally launched Gannett Blog, I urged readers to start blogs of their own, hoping to establish a companywide network. I didn’t suggest these blogs be anti-management, or pro-management.

I’m not afraid of competition. If another blogger comes along and grabs my audience, Corporate will shift its attention to them. That’s because the power behind this blog isn’t me — it’s you.

[Image: Friday’s USA Today, Newseum]

Quiz: Which very political minister got the loot?

March 30, 2008
[Ministerial mystery: James Dobson vs. Al Sharpton]

The Gannett Foundation gave $1,200 to the ministry of which politically partisan pastor: A) James Dobson of Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colo., or B) Al Sharpton of New York City. Come back tomorrow to find out which one got the bucks, and how even that small sum could have made a difference if it had been spent instead in a Gannett community.

A question I’ve waited months to be asked

March 30, 2008

Unhappy with my reporting on the Gannett Foundation, a reader posed a provocative question in a comment that I’ve been expecting for months: “Just who appointed you as the ‘all seeing eye?'”

Indeed! Who died and made Jim Hopkins the arbiter of all things Gannett?

I think I have the answer! But I’d rather hear your thoughts first. Leave a note in the comments section, below. Or use this link to e-mail your reply; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the sidebar, upper right.

Choose the genuinely generous philanthropist

March 29, 2008

Heiress Brooke Astor (left) donated $195 million in family wealth to New York City museums and libraries, boys’ and girls’ clubs, nursing homes, homeless shelters and other charities benefiting the weak and poor. Retired Gannett CEO Doug McCorkindale (right) used Gannett Foundation money to, well, burnish his own self-image.

Use this link to e-mail feedback, tips, snarky letters, etc. See Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the sidebar, upper right. Or leave a note in the comments section, below.

Reader: ‘Whining’ staffers to ‘dangerous forum’

March 29, 2008

On my post seeking names for the newly uncovered executive “charity” program, a reader says: “This blog has gone from a few whining editorial employees mediated by you to a dangerous forum to twist facts fueled by you. If you’re trying to effect change at Gannett, you need to more closely monitor the comments. The value of your reporting is diminished by the quality of the comments (which appear to mostly be provided by editorial employees). But maybe the quality of your reporting is diminished by, well, the quality of your reporting. Getting people all fired up about giving money to charity is not exactly Woodward and Bernstein material. Time to find a real story and move on.”

Join the debate, in the original post.

Crowdsource! Name the exec ‘charity’ program

March 28, 2008

Gannett Foundation Executive Director Tara Connell told me there’s no formal name for the fake philanthropy program available to select current and former company executives. So, creative readers, help me come up with a name for this boondoggle of a Corporate perq.

Use this link to e-mail your reply; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the sidebar, upper right. Or leave a note in the comments section, below.