New, in CJR: ‘Gannett vs. the Gannett Blog’

From a story just posted on Columbia Journalism Review‘s website:

“When the news broke, when clarity mattered most to the nearly 32,800 people working in Gannett’s newspaper division, the announced elimination of 1,000 jobs came not from its eighty-four Local Information Centers but from a blog run by a man vacationing off the coast of Spain.

“About 2 a.m. in Spain on Aug. 14, Jim Hopkins, a fifty-one-year-old spending his summer on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza, checked his e-mail one last time before bed. A reader of his site, the independent Gannett Blog, had written to him from Maryland, where employees at the Daily Times of Salisbury had received a memo from the publisher: ‘Across Gannett’s Community Publishing division,’ Rick Jensens afternoon dispatch read, in part, ‘about 1,000 positions will be eliminated — about 3% of the workforce.’

“Six hundred of those eliminations would come through layoffs. The memo confirmed rumors that Hopkins had been tracking. He sent e-mails to Tara Connell, Gannett’s vice president of corporate communications; Jensen; and Greg Bassett, executive editor of the Daily Times. Bassett replied and didn’t dispute the news. Hopkins posted an entry that unfurls like a news story — it flashes a leaked memo, delivers hard numbers, and provides context. It’s a more thorough account than anything a Gannett paper published the next morning.”

CJR‘s story continues, here.

Here’s my favorite part!
It’s Connell’s response to CJR, of course:

“Gannett’s Tara Connell, in an e-mail last week, said the blog initially was an open forum, and the corporate office responded to Hopkins as it would to any journalist:

‘But over time, the blog has changed. When we asked the blogger to correct factual inaccuracies — nothing happened. Standards of accuracy and fairness were dropped in favor of rumor mongering and sensationalism. The attacks he inspired became personal, particularly against women in the company. For these reasons, we don’t participate.”’

Indeed, Connell has very occasionally asked me to correct what she called factual inaccuracies. But it is not true that I did nothing. I responded, by declining her request. On one occasion, involving my first Gannett Foundation post, I offered to reprint her objections — which I did, here.

As to her allegation that I inspired personal attacks — particularly against women in the company — Connell neglects to mention the following e-mail exchange, on May 2. I initiated it, under the subject heading: “A comment that should not have been published.” Click on the image for a readable view.

Earlier: My life, on Internet time

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.

42 Responses to “New, in CJR: ‘Gannett vs. the Gannett Blog’”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Nice work, Jim. Just shows that, like the old firehorses who strain at the sound of a bell, “old” journalists don’t lose their instincts.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Whoo hoo, Christopher picked two of my comments to showcase!

    Ok, I also like getting my picture in “man on the street” quotes. What can I say.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    No kiddin’! Good on ya, dude.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    That’s our Jim!!!
    Way to go.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    If GCI doesn’t want to comment, it is the company’s loss. Tara could always post under her name if she wanted to correct what she contends is misinformation, but I believe she doesn’t want to respond to Jim because she can’t control this absolutely fantastic corporate information spigot.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    kudos to you Jim. You should be proud! Thanks for this site.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    But let’s get real on this Jim for a second. A number of us have posted comments that you and many others have posted and/or encouraged personal attacks on Gannett executives. This goes beyond journalism.

    I made a post describing exactly what was discussed in the article – that Tara stopped responding because the blog became a personal thing, as opposed to a journalistic endeavor. Yes, you’ve broken news about the company, etc… but you can’t deny that there have been numerous personal attacks on this board, including from you.

    The one item you posted above where you removed an item and she responded was only one of many that weren’t removed.

    Now, before the flames begin, I’m a former Gannett employee who was never an executive or a manager.

  8. Jim Hopkins Says:

    Some of the readers’ comments on this blog have, indeed, been personal. I’ve removed the worst ones, but I don’t claim to have removed them all.

    I plead a very simple, but not especially good, reason: I now get as many as 100 comments a day. I read every one. But I would have to chain myself to my laptop in order to edit out every comment that readers object to. I wish that weren’t the case, but it is.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Jim – I’m @6:16PM –

    I’m less concerned with reader comments being personal, and I agree, you’ve definitely done a good job of getting rid of the ones that cross the line.

    I’m a big supporter of what you’re doing, so it always bothers me when your posts (not your readers) have personal attacks in them.

    as a non-editorial person, I look at journalists from two angles – those that report the news, and those that comment on them.

    I’ve always admired those TV journalists who when they are being interviewed themselves, they won’t get into discussions about things like their opinion of the latest political scandal, or whatever. As opposed to commentators from “name-your-network-here” who say they are journalists, but really just provide their own comments an opinion on the news (Rush, O’reilly, hannity, etc…).

    Realizing that you are only one person (don’t listen to the voices in your head), perhaps tagging your columns as news vs. commentary provides the balance between reporting on some event (like the excellent work on the layoffs), and commenting on something (like the latest executive blunder).

    I hope this post comes across as constructive criticism. I’m not trying to make it appear that it is an attack.

    Just my $0.02.

  10. Jim Hopkins Says:

    @6:34 pm: That’s VERY constructive criticism. Thanks!

  11. Anonymous Says:

    I think a lot of the personal attacks are from sheer frustration because Corporate doesn’t seem to care about what’s going on with this company and its employees. Keeping quiet about this blog only fans the flames. It’s a matter of time before this blog becomes national news. It’s already on the verge of happening. How embarrassing will it be for this company to have all of its dirty laundry aired to the world? Woudn’t it just be better to at least look like you’re attempting to fix some of the obvious problems this company has rather than just ignoring the problems and hoping they’ll go away? Sometimes ignorance isn’t bliss, it’s embarrassing.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    So Jim, did CJR contact you for a comment on what Tara alleged?

  13. Anonymous Says:

    I agree. I generally find this blog to be well moderated. There are some items that stay online for a while before they are removed, but I would attribute that to the time difference between the U.S. and Spain, and it is impossible for one man to edit the blog in real time. I also commend Jim for the quality of information. Having not really participated in a blog before, I find the information interesting, helpful and insightful.

  14. Jim Hopkins Says:

    7:19 pm asks: “So Jim, did CJR contact you for a comment on what Tara alleged?”

    No, but for reasons I can’t articulate, that seems appropriate. Perhaps that just reflects my different perspective as a blogger.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    Here’s the bottom line to me:
    Readers freely post their grievances against Gannett on the company’s forums and other community Websites. Then there’s Jim’s blog which, to me, offers some great insight into what’s going on internally that’s making it so very difficult for staff to turn out the kind of products readers want.

    Too bad corporate can’t see it that way.

  16. Anonymous Says:

    It would be a lot better without the personal attacks. Those are just immature, unprofessional, mean-spirited and frankly, diminishes credibility.

    Also, the blog seems to favor the negative comments over anything positive someone might have to say.

  17. doglover Says:

    When I worked in a Gannett newsroom, someone was always commenting that for a company in the communications business, our company, our newspaper was a terrible communicator with its employees. To me this story in CJR just points out that what we saw at the single paper level was indeed a reflection of the entire corporation. Poor communicators in the communications business.

    And isn’t it ironic that here is this industry, the once mighty print media, struggling to find its place in 2008 and here comes this new thing and it is just totally at a loss at what to do? It’s like corporate is driving down the Autobahn in a some old Lincoln at 40 mph and being passed by Jim/this blog in Porsche at 200 mph.

  18. Anonymous Says:

    In a company that seems to discourage its employees from saying anything that can be even vaguely considered as negative, I think this blog, and most of its comments, are a form of balance and even a dash of justice. Even if I don’t agree with everything said here, I see this blog filling a huge hole created by some managers and editors. The number of posts here that indicate managers are leaning on employees to “stay positive,” even in the face of obvious wrongs, just astonishes me. Why would a media company want to silence its own employees? Why would editors advocate spin within their own newsrooms? Why would an editor be so concerned about appearances of his or her staff? No wonder most of the public doesn’t trust what they read or hear on TV news. This business has gone the way of many big businesses in losing its core values, and apparently it’s beginning to show in the product (print, web and TV).

  19. Anonymous Says:

    Way to go Jim! Thank you for this blog and allowing us to have somewhere to find common ground amongst the nonsense.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    I find the comments here about negative posts and personal attacks interesting, because one thing I’ve noticed from reading various sites were anonymous commenting is allowed, people define a personal attack in different ways.

    For example, calling someone a mindless drone would be a personal attack. But some people feel they’re are being personally attacked when their performance of their duties or comments they have made publicly have been brought up in the blog and essentially thrown in their faces.

    No one likes to be held accountable for their actions or particularly their words (Remember how “No New Taxes” became a huge punchline while Bush Sr. was in office?). But that’s what this blog does: It calls GCI to task for its actions.

    As to Tara’s comments about the sexist tone of some of the comments about the female executives: They absolutely were. For all the invective directed at Dubow and Moon, you don’t see implications about their sexual behavior. It’s a sad reality for all of us women in this business (and most male-dominated fields). If you get promoted, there will always be some clown who claims we didn’t get there on merit. As long as Jim deletes those, that’s all he can do. We’ll never cleanse the world of sexism or racism, as much as I would like to believe otherwise.

  21. Shirley Says:

    The admonition about nasty comments against women has merit. People posting on this blog have written in a very crude and disrespectful way about the women executives of The Des Moines Register and other Gannett newspapers.
    That example and others caused a top woman editor at another Gannett paper to tell me reads the blog but “I just can’t read the comments on that blog anymore.”
    For the most part, blog readers don’t even know them. Yet, because they can do so anonymously, the men coming here seem to feel free to flame them.
    The point someone made that Gannett newspapers don’t discourage readers’ posting sexually explicit and personal attacks against editors and reporters in the comments section tacked on to their stories is well taken. But we’re all supposed to be professionals here. I hope we can do better.

  22. Anonymous Says:

    I read this blog often (not quite religiously) and I don’t see much misogyny. I remember some posts about how so-and-so is a hottie, etc.

    Is that what has people up in arms?

    The worst 10% of the posts here are child’s play compared to the worst 50% of the posts on my newspaper’s “story comment” area.

    The company is falling apart. If you’re in charge and you’re not innovating, prepare to get ripped here. That goes for women, too.

  23. Anonymous Says:

    Also, Shirley, many of the people posting on our “story comment” areas are professionals as well.

  24. Anonymous Says:

    Professionals like Jim fix problems promptly. (He removes posts promply and, in Tara’s case, lets the attacked person know what’s going on.)

    In the past, I watched readers’ posts that clearly violate terms of service linger on newspaper sites for way too long. That doesn’t fit my view of professionalism. Gannett can do better.

  25. Shirley Says:

    Anon 10:33
    The online newspaper readers may well be professionals. But we newsies are supposed to have better vocabularies and be able to express ourselves in a civilized manner.
    Saying a woman publisher is a “MLF” is uncalled for.

  26. Anonymous Says:

    “The point someone made that Gannett newspapers don’t discourage readers’ posting sexually explicit and personal attacks against editors and reporters in the comments section tacked on to their stories is well taken.”
    Sorry Shirley, but I’m just not finding the post(s) you’re talking about. Please help me.

  27. Anonymous Says:

    10:23, shirley made the point for me: it’s one thing to criticize decision-making by any executive. But when you start calling them hotties and MILFs, those comments are way off the charts. I don’t see anyone saying they’d love to rip Dubow’s clothes off for hot sex with him.

    Jim, thankfully, deleted those comments.

    Regarding attacks on reporters and editors, they happen frequently. Check out the comments on some of the stories on the APP site. One story in particular drew all kinds of claims that the APP was covering it up because one reporter — who was not covering the story in any way, shape or form — was covering for someone he was friends with. There are other APP readers who regularly trash certain columnists, calling them “geezers” or saying they have dementia or Alzheimer’s, just because they disagree with his stance.

    Those comments are permitted to stay, even though they’re not backed up with facts.

  28. Anonymous Says:

    Gannett papers have community forums where people attack one another liberally. Women, men, homosexuals, minorities, dogs — all have been smeared in the interest of driving up web hits and encouraging “conversation.”

    Yet we don’t say that the newspapers themselves are sexist, racist, homophobic, etc. In the same way, it isn’t the Gannett Blog itself that should be tarred, but rather some posters.

    I would have hoped that Tara would have made the distinction that you, Jim, are not the one being accused of “inspiring” sexist attacks.

  29. Anonymous Says:

    12:59, excellent point. Tara SHOULD have made that distinction.

  30. Anonymous Says:

    I don’t even know what a MLF or MILF is. Sounds like I don’t want to know, so don’t tell me.

  31. Anonymous Says:

    Anonymous said…
    It would be a lot better without the personal attacks. Those are just immature, unprofessional, mean-spirited and frankly, diminishes credibility.

    Also, the blog seems to favor the negative comments over anything positive someone might have to say.

    9/04/2008 8:46 PM

    Well, buhu, I’ll guess that’s the game our supervisors play every day. Being lied to, shown the door after numerous years of service and shortchanged when it comes to the paycheck – what do you all expect? A Thank You note? Pllleeaassee – if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen (in this case the blog). This is our way to vent and let’s face it: Where there is smoke – there’s most certainly a fire!

  32. Anonymous Says:

    8:46 PM said
    “Also, the blog seems to favor the negative comments over anything positive someone might have to say.”

    You might be happier reading the Gannett corporate page and all those happy Gannett press releases. That might make you feel all warm and fuzzy and positive!

    I prefer the raw authenticity on this blog.

  33. Anonymous Says:

    if i recall correctly, one of the posters who used “milf” specifically said s/he was changing the usual “translation” and said it should mean “manager i’d like to FIRE.”

    doesn’t sound like a comment on gender to me . . .

    in indy, someone who was forced out a few years ago left a sign on her office door that said something like managers aren’t remembered so much for what they get done as for how they treat people.

  34. Anonymous Says:

    Sorry, but there were several MILF comments left on this blog regarding one female in particular that were extremely offensive. Not a very professional way to speak of someone. Why aren’t handsome men referred to in some derogatory way? Why is it if a woman is attractive and successful, she has to have the acronym MILF attached to her? It’s pretty sexist, if you ask me, juvenile, and not at all professional.

  35. Anonymous Says:

    This sexism debate is getting old. Some people are just tacky.

    Now, I’m wondering if all the ageist comments bothered Tara as much as the sexist ones did.

  36. Anonymous Says:

    I do think Tara has a point, and one which has bothered many of us. The sexist and degrading comments didn’t just emanate from anonymous posters, but from Jim himself.

    It seems better now, but there was a period there where Jim’s ‘voice’ was nasty, unprofessional and exceedingly mean-spirited. For most blogs, that would be an anything-goes attraction.

    But there is so much actual news here, and so much to discuss, that there is no need for Jim to denigrate others or put on a show to get attention.

    This blog is the real deal, it is necessary and it is highly valued. Jim should realize this and act more mature when it comes to dealing with others and, yes, when it comes to dealing with the company.

    Independent and free-spirited is one thing. Being mean-spirited only makes communication even worse than it is now — if that is possible!

  37. Jim Hopkins Says:

    10:35 pm: Finding the right “tone” for this blog has been a struggle. For the most part, I try to write in ways that reflect the thoughts and emotions of my readers. Sometimes, readers are angry — as when Gannett froze the pension plan — and that means I get angry, too.

    Blogs are constantly evolving — including this one. I write posts that seem appropriate one day, only to re-read them days, weeks or months later, when I discover they seem less appropriate. It’s the nature of this new medium.

  38. Anonymous Says:

    Anon 7:49 wrote: This sexism debate is getting old.
    Imagine how old it would feel if you were a woman striving in Gannett and having to work next to it your entire career.
    There is a reason that many newsrooms call everyone together to view the video about sexual harassment every year or every other year.
    I was shocked by the reader comments on The Des Moines Register blog criticizing the top editor who had the audacity to moderate the newspaper’s presidential debate and ask important questions instead of focusing on the hot topic of the day.
    I was sickened by the comments on the paper’s website when Mary Stier retired. Then again when a new publisher was named.
    And the people who frequent this blog were equally crude when that publisher’s photo appeared with a post about the Register.
    So if you’re weary 7:49, the women of Gannett, whether they’re an executive assitant, reporter or editor, are sick of it, too.

  39. Anonymous Says:

    You don’t remember correctly, Anonymous 9/05/2008 6:18 PM. I made that post because I didn’t know what MILF stood for and asked if it was ‘manager I’d like to fire?’ The next poster revealed the true meaning, which I won’t repost here. Apparently I was the only person who wasn’t clued in … not that I’m disappointed about that.

  40. Anonymous Says:

    7:49, there is no debate: Sexism exists in Gannett and Corporate not only allows it, they promote men who are openly sexist and allow them to run newsrooms.

    A newsroom executive dismissed my concern about rumors that my job was in danger by saying, “you have all those hormones in your system, so I’ll give you a pass on that.”

    Tell me: As a man, if friends came to you and said, “Hey, the rumor going around is that you’re about to be fired,” wouldn’t you be legitimately pissed, too?

  41. Anonymous Says:

    Hi 8:54 AM
    First off, I’m a woman.
    The answer to your question is “maybe.”

    Here’s something I posted about sexism somewhere else. Sorry for the repeat if you’ve already seen it.

    “UGH—That’s so offensive. Ouch about the hormone comment.

    But, are there women working in sports for Gannett? Yes. Are there women working in the upper management positions? Yes. Do women sit on the board of directors? Yes.

    I still maintain that Gannett does not discriminate against women, and believe the statistics would back that up.

    And I still maintain that the statistics just might show that Gannett discriminates against against workers 40 and older in hiring, training and evaluations.

    So sorry to hear about your experiences with sexism in the workplace, Anon 8:44 AM. But I’m not sorry you work in a place that seemingly gives women equal opportunity.

    Gannett would have to show me the company doesn’t discriminate against one protected class—-workers 40 and older.

    I’m guessing the Baby Boomers will attempt to change this practice, much like my cohort paved the way for women.”

  42. Anonymous Says:

    I think I can put a finger on why the men in management in Gannett don’t get racy comments. Have any of you ever looked at these unattractive slugs?

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