Dept. of Memories: Calling all Gannett historians

A well-connected reader once told me about an apartment kept at company expense, where the top brass took their girl — err, best advertisers. This was during the imperial 1980s, the reader said, when CEO Al Neuharth ran the company as his personal fiefdom for the benefit of buddies he promoted to GCI’s highest ranks. Back then, I’m told, executives used Gannett’s fleet of jets as party planes for golfing weekends and other extra-curricular excursions. (And is it really true that Neuharth insisted his desk be placed on a raised platform, so he’d always be intimidatingly higher than anyone sitting before him?)

Earlier: Boozin’ Neuharth loves his Cadillac healthcare

Those are the kinds of stories I’m now collecting for what could be an advance obituary for Gannett. Got similar tales to tell, photos to share, or documents to pass on? Post a note 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.

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7 Responses to “Dept. of Memories: Calling all Gannett historians”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Let’s ask Larry Sackett since he was one of four people that built USA Today from the beginning.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Back in the olden days, when Thomson owned my paper, we had corporate leadership on the East coast. These fellas didn’t really know the newspaper business, they weren’t ‘newspaper people’, but we dutifully sent our numbers and variance reports and requests for signatures on any purchase over $5000. And our profit margin was consistently 28% EVERY YEAR.

    In my state, we had a number of Thomson newspapers that reps could sell across territory lines. We had consolidated some accounting functions across the group. Circulation was helping each other out. Even prepress was using one set of fonts at all the papers. We had a group president at the biggest paper who assisted the smaller papers’ publishers. Y2K was handled at a group level.

    Gannett didn’t understand that. It didn’t fit in their current model. So we got a bunch of publisher-presidents and advertising directors to replace the publishers and ad managers who had been there for years. The new people were told to worry about their market alone. The grass started growing between the markets, money we used to scoop up laid there because it “really wasn’t our market anymore.”

    After a year, everyone saw new publishers. “It’s the Gannett way” we’re told. Do a good job and move up, do a bad job and move out. The brass name plate on the publisher’s door is replaced with a plastic printed version.

    Time passed. The utility of having newspaper clusters operate as groups was finally recognized. Centralized presses, finance, circulation, call desks soon followed. That fallow cash laying between markets is harvested again, though it’s not as plentiful. Seems many of our advertising partners found other audience sources while we ignored them.

    What we used to call Partnership Selling is now TIDE. Find out what your customer actually needs, and then custom tailor your product mix to get that need filled. TIDE is so involved though, that we reserve it for our best prospects only. Partnership Selling was five minutes with every customer, asking what we could do to help them. Today’s version is a sales meeting where the restaurants’ sales rep is told to sell the Home Improvement special section – “because people renovating their house don’t want to eat there”.

    Back in the olden days, we would get cute college gals and handsome young hunks as our new ad reps. We would explain the triplicate ad order form, lay out the deadline schedule, and then their manager would drive their territory with them – introducing the new rep at every current customer. Thank god the kids are still cute, but now they get three days of G2 instruction, two days of product discussion, and a map. Their manager never gets out of the office at all anymore, except to handle open territories.

    You know what, I’m not bitter. Even after the years of Gannett progress has brought us to 14% profit margins, the people I work with are pretty much the same local folks I always have been around.

    The directors, and the publishers no longer have their names printed on the parking spots. Most everyone has figured out that whatever comes down from corporate will go away or be forgotten in a year. So ya shuffle the numbers around enough to make it look like you made an effort, and you try to serve your hometown the best you can with the resources you have.

    Yes, I work in an area that probably will be outsourced. Finance, Information Technology, Ad Design, Copy Desk, Circ Sales – doesn’t matter which. And when I get laid off, it will hurt – because newspapering is the only thing I have ever done.

    But until then, I will do my best to provide the service my community deserves – even if my corporation doesn’t. The pride I have in myself and the pride I have in my staff and departments around us doesn’t allow me to sit back and watch it implode.

    ———-
    Disclosure: I am a supervisor – not a manager, not a director, not a vice president, not a publisher. When a position on my team is open, I do the work.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Yes – Al’s desk was raised. It’s currently stored at the maryland operations center

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Al isn’t the only one who had an apartment paid for by the company. As recently as two years ago it was discovered that a publisher in a mid-size market had an apartment downtown for which the site was funding. Needless to say this expense was cut.

  5. rmichem Says:

    Straight talk JIM. First, why do you think you need to write an obituary for Gannett? Can you really be objected in anything you write? You worked for Gannett for twenty years, then they threw you out (and others), like a use piece of toilet papers.This blog seem to be published not with objectivity toward, but with getting back at Gannett. For the rest of the reader of this set of words, I do not work, and never and have no intention of every working for Gannett> My relationship, stared out with Gannett, as a medical potboiler business decision.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    The jet was used to fly firewood to his home out West. And he had a fond liking for expensive artwork especially for his home in Cocoa.
    I suspect that an apartment was kept for the then Gannett Media Sales group in Westchester, New York. But some research could be done on the number of going away parties that were held around the country for his retirement as CEO.
    The Chicago Hilton comes to mind.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    in the vast reception area to his CEO quarters in Rosslyn back in the day stood a giant woolen sheep, said to have been the design feature of a Neuharth gal pal who did the interior. It was someone’s job to place foil-wrapped Hershey kisses on the floor beneath the sheep’s rear. And to replace them should someone be willing to stoop to the floor for a piece of candy.

    Same trip, for a Gannett leadership conference: I enjoyed fine dining in the private corporate dining room and I’ve wondered since if it is still staffed by white-coated staff as it was then, pouring Pouilly Fusse.

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