Freedom Forum family values, Gannett style

Run by a roster of Gannett insiders and political luminaries, Freedom Forum has done more than build a much-discussed $450 million news museum in Washington, D.C. The non-profit foundation sponsors a wonderful scholarship program benefiting young minority journalists. The Chips Quinn Scholars honor the late John “Chips” Quinn Jr., son of John Quinn, a Freedom Forum advisory trustee and former USA Today editor. Chips, editor at the Poughkeepsie Journal, was just 34 when he died in a tragic 1990 automobile accident. (Quinn Sr. and my mom were briefly co-workers long ago at The Providence Journal.)

I would think Freedom Forum’s multimillionaire founder, Al Neuharth, would love the Quinn Scholars program, and would do anything to make sure it gets every penny of funding possible. The retired Gannett CEO (left) grew up poor, after all — a fact he references all the time in his weekly USA Today column. “As a kid on the prairie of South Dakota, heart of the ‘Dust Bowl,’ I learned what ‘tightening your belt’ really means,” Neuharth, 84, wrote not long ago. “My widowed mother sold the house my dad had built before he died. She got $1,700 for it and downgraded by buying a smaller one for $1,000.”

But wait, tissue-holders; there’s more: “She took some of the leftover money to buy a used sewing machine to do repair work on laundry she took in to help pay for groceries and other necessities. The rest of the cash she kept for several years in shoe boxes under her bed because she didn’t trust banks, some of which then failed.”

I’m kinda guessing Mother Neuharth wouldn’t have trusted Freedom Forum either — based on the following eye-opening figures I compiled from its latest public tax return. Amount spent in 2006 on:

  • Grants to 69 needy Chips Quinn Scholars: $105,500
  • Wages, expenses for one 84-year-old Neuharth: $425,545

Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for Freedom Forum to explain what Neuharth did for that six-figure payday. I’d also like to know what the trustees in charge knew about his platinum pay package.

Your thoughts, in the comments section, below. Use this link to e-mail feedback, tips, snarky letters, etc. See Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

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5 Responses to “Freedom Forum family values, Gannett style”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Good job Jim. Keep going. I’m sure your remember the national United Way scandal of the early 90s when the media was so outraged.

    This all just smells of the political insider behavior of the gannett heirarchy.

    And this political behavior that continues to saturate the company and the individual properties.

    In the area of management of digital/online products there are separate entities within the structure all trying to shine. There is the Gannett CIO and his entire domain. The News division that tries to push it’s agenda. Then there is GMTI that can’t seem to ever dig themselves out of a hole.

    I see all this from the perspective of an online producer/manager at a metro property.

    Furthermore there are the local battles where this division/regional president hates tha publisher or executive editor.

    You see decisions, at least at this property, are made based on the whim of the senior editor, not on sound business decisions. Despite our being journalists, who you would think base decisions on fact, the decisions are based on what the editor wants.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    —- You see decisions, at least at this property, are made based on the whim of the senior editor, not on sound business decisions. Despite our being journalists, who you would think base decisions on fact, the decisions are based on what the editor wants.—-

    Sadly, it’s the Gannett way. I’ve seen enough of this that I think there’s something in the corporate culture that breeds capricious, whim-based decision making by the editor in chief. (In extreme form, it leads to a situation where the level of assistants below the exec editor are unable or unwilling to make decisions — everything gets kicked upstairs, cuz woe unto anyone who makes a “wrong” decision. That person might get talked about harshly the next morning.)

    So it’s a rigid top-down structure — collegiality may get lip service (at staff meetings and in annual evaluations), but it’s not to be taken seriously.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Wow. The comment from 9:40 a.m. is right on. In fact I thought I was reading one of my posts. This is exactly the way it is at our place. Whim driven.

    Jim, how about putting together a list of examples of whim-driven management.

    It is particularly acute in online decisions.

  4. Jim Hopkins Says:

    For anyone curious about the condition of these tax returns: They’re pretty clean. The 2006 return is 155 .pdf pages. The grants to Chips Quinn Scholars are spread over nearly 20 pages, in 131 separate transactions. I used Excel to organize the data, and then run the final stats.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Love that “South Dakota, heart of the Dust Bowl” crap … the Dust Bowl NEVER came CLOSE to Al’s home state. It struck SE CO, the TX and OK panhandles, the W half of KS, and slivers of NE NM and S NE. See any reputable source, such as Tim Egan’s fine book, “The Worst Hard Time,” or the PBS home page for “Surviving the Dust Bowl.”

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