Archive for June, 2008

Reader: Work harder for Gannett, or lose your job

June 30, 2008

Regarding my post about why your publisher is so crabby today, a reader says: “If Gannett is going to stay afloat, then they will need to drop about 15,000 more heads, just to keep up with the right sizing of the organization just this year alone. Gannett people, take a dose of reality. Between the two people you see to your left and right, one of you has to go! I am an shareholder of this stock and have been following this blog. It pains me to see such complacency. You are in trouble. Work harder and make more money for the company or lose your job.”

Join the debate, in the original post.

Why your publisher and boss are so crabby today

June 30, 2008

The Friday Afternoon Massacre reordered the troubled community newspaper division, creating one less management region — and putting publisher’s jobs into play at Indianapolis and Louisville.

“Who’s going to Indy and L’ville?” a Gannett Blog reader asked over the weekend. “I’ve heard rumblings that the new senior vice presidents (Evan Ray and Michelle Krans) will replace all the community newspaper VPs. Can’t be any worse than the motley group they have got there now. Most are washed-up, do-nothing part-timers, anyway.”

The Indianapolis Star and The Courier-Journal — two of Gannett’s single-biggest employers — will be affected the most quickly. But the changes announced by division President Bob Dickey inevitably will ripple across all of the company’s 84 community newspapers. That’s why you may be seeing a nervous look on your boss’ face this morning.

Indeed, staffers at The Journal News in Westchester, N.Y., are already looking over their shoulder, a reader says, after Publisher Mike Fisch told them in a Friday memo: “Not a day goes by that you don’t read or hear of the financial difficulties daily newspapers are experiencing as they adjust to these new realities. In Gannett and more specifically at The Journal News we’re experiencing many of the same things as others around the country.”

Shoring up finances, Fisch said, the paper will cut expenses by “at least 4%” over the next six months — a “significant” reduction. “We will do this in a host of ways. We will hold open positions that are vacant, and review each one to determine whether it’s strategic or critical to fill. We will redeploy staff to critical strategic areas for news coverage, sales, and other strategic priorities.”

What’s the outlook at your newspaper? Your replies, in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, use this link from a non-work computer; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

[Image: this morning’s Star, Newseum]

June traffic: Gannett makes news; what’s next?

June 30, 2008

So much for my prediction of a summer news slowdown: Gannett rolled its pension plan into the deep freeze. USA Today announced a big management shake-up in its advertising sales. GCI stock plunged as May’s revenue collapsed. The Detroit Free Press‘ corporate parent sought 150 buyouts. Then, just last Friday, newspaper division chief Bob Dickey squeezed out two powerful female publishers as he reorganized Gannett’s most important, yet most troubled division.

Now, as the second quarter winds down to a close today, Gannett watchers nervously look ahead to July 16 — two weeks from Wednesday — when the company issues its next round of earnings, in a report expected to be less than cheery.

Reflecting Gannett’s newsy month, traffic here rose in June — defying my forecast to the contrary, according to a new report by Google Analytics. The number of unique visitors jumped 19% over May, to 14,474, as we scored nearly 55,000 visits. Plus, for the first time in a single month, Gannett Blog recorded more than 100,000 pageviews. (For context, Gannett employs about 46,000. And industry-leading blogger Jim Romenesko nabs 100,000 individual visitors a day.)

I deeply appreciate your support. As I plan my next career, I look forward to helping employees organize and inform themselves, as the nation’s biggest newspaper company lurches forward.

Google Analytics has the data, available in a free report I make available to anyone. Want one? E-mail me confidentially, using this link from a non-work computer; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

[Image: Google Analytics]

Reader: Would USAT be better in Murdoch’s hands?

June 30, 2008

Regarding my speculation about the value of Gannett’s hard assets, a reader asks: Would USA Today be better off spun out on its own? What would a stand-alone USAT look like? And would News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch (left) be a buyer?

Good questions! I’ve often wondered the same thing. Murdoch is one of the few media moguls still interested in snapping up more newspapers, after all. He was in the running to buy Tribune’s Newsday, before cable TV operator Cablevision Systems won the Long Island daily at a higher $650 million price.

Murdoch doesn’t want to trash The Wall Street Journal brand, acquired last year with his purchase of Dow Jones & Co. — a paper he’s now turning into more of a general-interest national daily. But with USA Today, he could install British editors, and turn the nation’s No. 1 printed paper into even more of a daily for the masses. More celebrity news! Topless women on Page 3! Nascar racing and professional wrestling!

How much would Gannett management demand for USAT, when newspaper values overall are plummeting? Your replies, in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, use this link from a non-work computer; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

Monday Recap: It’s a transformative reorganization!

June 30, 2008

Posts you might have missed last week while we chose the worst of Gannett’s six CEOs:

  • Maalox moment: We wondered whether Gannett would ever raise its mileage reimbursement rates to anything close to reality.
  • Adios: Ratcheting up pressure on the newspaper division, chief Bob Dickey reorganized two powerful women right out of their jobs.
  • Heading south: Gannett’s shares plunged to $21.79, and the company’s market value fell below $5 billion.

Ibiza: Why we’re here — and what’s next

June 29, 2008

Part of an occasional series about Ibiza and surrounding regions.

We arrived on this Mediterranean island one month ago today, long enough to look back on how we chose Ibiza as our summer ’08 home — and to look ahead at what’s next in my second journalism career. Following is a post, illustrated with photos showing a typical day in our new life here.

Our day: a recent Sunday
We start shortly after 10, when I check my iPhone (left) for e-mail sent to my blog. That photo on the cellphone screen is of me and my grandmother, Peggy, in 2003; she died four months later, at age 99. I think of her nearly every day.

Sparky and I talked for years about spending a summer in a climate warmer than San Francisco’s — in the gay-friendly beach community of Provincetown, Mass., where we first met, in 1999. Then, suddenly, a confluence of events forced our hand.

A big birthday, a friend’s death
I turned 50 last year (I’m now 51). Sparky retired early from his employer, spent a year developing a condo, then sold it successfully. A very close San Francisco friend was diagnosed with cancer, just as he started to pursue life-long dreams: Sam‘s eventual death, in January, left me fretting about further putting off our own plans. When USA Today offered me a buyout, the stars seemed perfectly aligned.

As on most days, Sparky and I start with coffee at home. Then, I usually head for Chill Cafe to do a couple hours of blogging. There are lots of other mobile workers there, all working on laptops. Next: brunch. We practically live at the Croissant-Show, a french cafe where later that day we had (above) croissants, many espressos, scrambled eggs with ham and cheese, bottled water and a sandwich. The bill: 19 euros, with tip; or about $30.

How Ibiza is different from home
During a vacation last summer, Provincetown seemed a bit dull, the weather unreliable, housing overpriced, as we planned our time away from San Francisco. We chose Ibiza. We’d been here together three times: in 2001, 2002, and then last summer. The island had been a stop on the global Hippy Highway, starting in the 1960s. Hippies spread word of its charms: Geographically beautiful and blessed with an exquisitely temperate climate, Ibiza is socially liberal and always full of entertaining surprises. It’s like San Francisco — but with better weather. Plus, 41 years later, it’s still the Summer of Love here.

So, on a return trip in October, Sparky hunted for a place to rent, eventually settling on a lovely three-bed, three-bath condominium in the Los Molinos neighborhood. We negotiated a good lease this past spring — and off we went, on May 31.

Above: Time for an early siesta, then a quick shopping trip for bottled water; new friends are visiting later in the afternoon. Sparky sleeps in a living room chair, magazines and sandals at his feet. Later, we go to the Hotel Cenit, for a view of where we live.

I shot this photo of our condo’s hilltop location from the hotel pool’s terrace. The tiny white sails of boats are barely visible, in the azure-blue Mediterranean.

Time for a new job
I’m having such an incredible time here that I’ve decided to extend my stay through October. Sparky may return to San Francisco in August, to deal with his real estate business, then possibly return here. We’ll likely travel to Brazil for the winter before returning to San Francisco. I’ll then begin job-hunting. (This means, of course, lots more time for Gannett Blog. Whoo-hoo, Tara Connell!)

I’m looking forward to returning to journalism, but only after I’ve had a full year off. This is my first summer-long vacation since 1985, so I want to enjoy it while I can. My goal is to learn how to produce short video documentaries — a skill I’ll need to get my next job. Video has lots of potential in public-service journalism as an adjunct to text, graphics and still photos. I’ll learn the only way I’ve ever learned how to use new technologies: By diving into the deep end and making lots of mistakes before (I hope) I master this new craft.

No matter what, however, I don’t see myself joining the payroll of another media company: Those jobs are now being replaced with contract work, and that’s just fine with me. I want to be a self-employed online journalist, in control of my own schedule. Technology has upended the entire media landscape. But it’s also liberating: With only my MacBook Pro, a high-speed Internet connection and my trusty iPhone, I can work anywhere on the planet.

Indeed, I’ve lately become more optimistic about the prospects for 21st century journalism. Certainly, the next five years are going to be very rough, as tens of thousands of journalists lose their jobs, flooding the labor market. But I’m willing to retrain, work hard and accept a big pay cut until what I expect will be an inevitable turnaround.

Our day comes to an end
At 4 p.m., I head into the quiet shopping district. It is Sunday, and that means almost everything is closed. I find a small bar, where I buy six bottles of bubbly water, taking it back to our condo. It’s still pretty warm, so I then head for our building’s pool. I’m the only one there when I take the following David Hockney-like photo.

Near midnight, I stop at the entrance to the old fortress in Dalt Vila, to take this final photo:

Your thoughts, in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, use this link from a non-work computer; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

12:06 a.m., Ibiza: Out Of Time People cafe

June 28, 2008

I’m checking e-mail at one of my favorite Wi-Fi cafes, here on Ibiza: Out Of Time People.

[My lemon reading glasses also come in apple green]

Friday’s massacre: Real change, or real retribution?

June 28, 2008

Companies facing a crisis shrink rapidly — first by eliminating front-line jobs (because there are so many), and only later chopping high-paid executives as management gets flattened. Sooner or later, that’s going to happen in Gannett, too.

But yesterday’s reorganization of the newspaper division sure doesn’t look like a flattening of management to me. If anything, this may be division chief Bob Dickey‘s way of vanquishing rivals for the job he inherited in February, from now-retired Sue Clark-Johnson. And as a Gannett Blog reader said last night, the timing of this announcement is worrisome: It comes just three days before the close of the second quarter — a period when earnings are likely to be just “awful.”

Under Dickey’s long-awaited reorganization, there are now four vs. five regional groups of uber-publishers reporting to him. In fact, Dickey (above) used the occasion to add two, new top positions to his division’s staff:

  • Evan Ray, 54, becomes senior vice president/finance and operations. He was chief financial officer of Phoenix Newspapers and group controller of the former Pacific Group. (I worked with Ray in Little Rock when I was business-news editor at The Arkansas Gazette, and he was vice president of finance.)
  • Michelle Krans, 46, becomes senior vice president/Strategy and Development. She had been publisher of The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, Calif., and vice president of the former Pacific Group.

Left behind in the dust: Denise “Poison” Ivey, 58, president of the Mid-South Group and publisher of The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. She leaves the company Jan. 1. Also: Babs “Dominatrix” Henry, 55, publisher of The Indianapolis Star and chief of the Interstate Group. She’s gone Aug. 1.

Of those two, Henry’s departure seemed especially welcome, based on the many comments on what might be called the Friday Afternoon Massacre. “This is the most joyous occasion for all of us in Indianapolis,” one of my readers said, in far more colorful language I won’t highlight here.

Henry (above) was certainly a Gannett lifer: She’d been with the company since 1974, when she started as a reporter at the Gazette-Journal in Reno, Nev.

So, what’s next?
Once you get past personal invective, think about the more important stuff: What does this reorganization mean for the future of Gannett’s most important and yet most troubled division — and for the company as a whole? “I have to imagine,” one reader said last night, “there is some strategic reason for doing this now, just before the end of Q2 and a couple weeks before the next earnings call — which has got to be awful, based on all indicators around the country.”

The comment continues: “All this ugly name-calling is wasted energy. I understand the impulse; I’ve worked for every kind of miserable Gannettoid you can name. But the whole industry is imploding because the money is draining away. Yes, the industry has been mostly complacent and technologically short-sighted for decades, but the audience has moved on and now it’s too late to save what used to be journalism.

“Brace yourself for a future where local news is a big collection of whatever the websites can scour up for free, with a little sprinkling of ‘investigative’ reporting as a fig leaf. Most of the customers are no longer willing to pay for more. No amount of hand-wringing or name-calling is going to change that.”

Earlier: In N.J. layoffs, fresh evidence of the new Gannett

Related: the Courier-Journal‘s story about Ivey; the Star‘s about Henry

Your thoughts, in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, use this link from a non-work computer; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

Breaking: Ivey, Henry out in big reorganization

June 27, 2008

Updated at 6:10 a.m. ET, June 28: Friday’s massacre: Real change, or real retribution?

Denise Ivey just told The Courier-Journal staff in Louisville, Ky., that she’s leaving as publisher, with a replacement to be named within 60 days. Barbara Henry is quitting as publisher and group chief in Indianapolis at the Star, Gannett just announced, in a release describing a major reorganization. Short iPhone post; will update. Comment, below, please!

It takes a village (of CEOs) to lead a company astray

June 27, 2008

[CEOs-a-go-gone: top row: Frank Gannett, Paul Miller, Al Neuharth; bottom: John Curley, Doug McCorkindale, Craig Dubow]

As Gannett edges closer to oblivion, it’s tempting to heap all the blame on Craig Dubow, CEO since July 2005. But he had five predecessors, starting with Frank Gannett himself, who co-founded the company in 1906.

Two former CEOs stand out in my mind, because they ran Gannett during a time when the Internet rose as the company’s biggest threat. John Curley was CEO from 1986 to 2000; the Web emerged as a viable commercial entity about 1995, with the launch of Netscape. Doug McCorkindale, CEO from 2000 to 2005, might have pushed for a massive investment in R&D, leveraging all the cheap technology talent available after the 2001 tech bust. Yet, we saw none of that.
Related: Gannett’s official company history

Earlier: McCorkindale’s gold-plated retirement package

Was Dubow simply the poor sucker left standing when the music stopped? Plus, which of Gannett’s six CEOs was the worst — and why? Post your reply in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, use this link from a non-work computer; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

[Other CEO terms: Frank Gannett, 1906-57; Paul Miller, 1957-73; Al Neuharth, 1973-86]