Memo: Hire young people, print ‘mediocre’ photos

You may be interested in a revealing memo that former newspaper division president Sue Clark-Johnson (left) sent to publishers on Jan. 1, 2006. It resurfaced after a reader — Anonymous@11:01 p.m. — added it as a comment on my post about how Corporate grades you and your boss.

In the memo, Clark-Johnson talks about goals for the year ahead, quoting vice president of research Dave Daugherty on his views — which she endorses vigorously. Two of Daugherty’s remarks stand out today, given speculation about age discrimination during Gannett’s recent layoffs, and concerns about sliding editorial quality at the 85 daily papers:

  • I’d hire smart young people and promote them before they’re “ready.” We need energy, intellect, innovative thinking and ‘generational perspective’ from young adults. We need to look forward.
  • It’s much, much more desirable to have four mediocre quality photos with five local people in each photo than to have one spectacular photo.

Double-standard alert!
Did Clark-Johnson ever pay attention to her own directives? Corporate has preached shorter-stories-are-better for years, but her memo clocks in at 3,900 words, according to Google Documents. At USA Today, I rarely turned in Cover stories (our longest articles) with more than 1,100 words. How’s a publisher supposed to get anything done when they’re hit with such long memos?

Earlier: Clark-Johnson, one of Gannett’s most powerful, to retire

Please post your replies 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.

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9 Responses to “Memo: Hire young people, print ‘mediocre’ photos”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    that memo is genuine, was leaked to me long ago.

    there is more in there about shedding older workers that could be a liability for GCI. print that part.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Are you saying the memo has more than 3,900 words, anon 8:32 AM?

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Granted, all companies need fresh blood once in awhile. My argument with Gannett is that they are pushing out too many experienced people and relying too heavily on young people to carry them into the next decade or two. We can debate the value of old-time skills vs. new trends and real-life experience vs. tech wizardry, but there is another thing Gannett seems blind to in its quest to get young.

    If Gannett thinks young people are going to show the loyality and longterm dedication that the last generation or two displayed, they are wrong. Without a degree of continuity in the workforce, it’s difficult to grow a business. Businesses with high turnover tend to derail. Studies show that young people today are much more transient than they’ve been in the past. Young, highly educated professionals don’t view a job like people did 25 years ago. They are more mobile and generally don’t have the will to stay within one company for more than a few years. Young people have watched their parents’ lose jobs after 25-30 years with the same company, and don’t want to put that sort of faith in one employer, only to get thrown out the door at the worst age in terms of finding new employment. Today’s young people want to take a more nimble approach to their careers, which is understandable. My beef isn’t with young people. It’s more with how they are brought into the newspaper world (print or online) that is disturbing.

    The youth movement at Gannett is being largely influenced by the thirst the company has to transition to digital. Along with having ideas for trendy stories and fresh presentations, Gannett assumes that young people are much more capable of building up newspaper web sites. Again, you can see the logic in this approach if done in moderation. But there is also a dark side in the way it is being done.

    My editor has watched his department be torn apart by directives from above in recent years. Resignations from disillusioned staffers who saw no future with Gannett, buyouts and losing jobs to online because of the so-called “merger” (this is like saying Iraq simply merged with Kuwait back in Gulf War I…this is no merger) has turned the print staff into a small, overworked, demoralized group of mostly older people. The remaining print people would like to move to online in order to maintain employment for the last 10-15 years of their careers, but someone has to put out the paper, such as it is. So the 45-plus crowd continues to toil in the daily grind while the younger folks conjure up grand ideas and projects for the web site that takes weeks if not months to come to fruition. Things move slowly online, which is somewhat ironic. You would think the two sides could get along because their skills, deadlines, cultures are so different that there should be no sense of threat. But Gannett is making a big mistake in how it is phasing out print. It has created two camps that are not always in a very collaborative mood. There is some overlap that is working fine, sure, but for the most part, the divide between print and online is getting wider as print and some careers fade to black. Simply stated: Those being unfairly left to do the heavy lifting, only to be jetisoned when they can lift no longer, are angry.

    The fix is in. The youth movement will win, and maybe that’s just in line with the laws of nature. This isn’t a fair merger in the sense that many older, qualified people, who could make the transition, are being overlooked simply because of age or false perceptions. Those in print know how this is going to turn out, and in the meantime feel like cheap, overworked prostitutes, just trying to survive another day, until corporate pulls the plug on print all together. Something really stinks about this. I am not sure it’s illegal, but it sure feels that way.

    If my editor has fought this ripping apart of a once proud and dedicated print staff that he ironically help build, I haven’t seen it, which just makes things worse because we feel we no longer have an advocate at or near the top. As a result of his and others’ just following orders to get young, the newspaper is going to die a premature death, which I guess is what corporate wants.

    The great dilemma for the print editors/staffers is that they are being asked to put out the same product they always have, with half the support, but only long enough for online to take hold.

    And what’s in it for print folks? It’s been made clear we’re going to be the last to get on the online ship, if we get on at all. It’s also clear that the captains of the .com ship have no intention of throwing life presevers to all of us who propped up the print products in the dying days. Once the paper goes down, the remaining print people will be pink slipped.

    As I said earlier, today’s younger workforce probably has it right by putting themselves first and keeping their resumes handy. Companies have not shown loyalty in recent decades. Gannett wasn’t that bad until recent years. The model for longterm employment, and low turnover rate, is all but gone. It will be interesting to see whether Gannett can build its products with a revolving door of young employees and with the loss of the previous generation’s sense of loyality and expereince levels. In my perfect world a company could blend both young and mature workers, but it is clear that that perfect world no longer exists at Gannett newspapers, at least not the one I work for. If there is something illegal going on here, I hope it does get revealed and challenged.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    10:57 asks what’s in it for print folks? Here it is, the new electronic newspaper coming online in January:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/08/technology/08ink.html?ref=todayspaper

  5. Anonymous Says:

    The web killed print by going free. It’s not so much the marvel of technology that did in newspapers. They did themselves in by giving it away on platform that is accessible to anyone in an office cubicle with time to kill. That’s why I have to laugh at some of these overly inflated egos displayed by some web-only journalists and other proponents. They seem to think their success lies in the bells and whistles of the platform and in their bag of tricks for presenting information. Writing, editing, photography has a feel of being secondary when I go online. It seems much more about presentation and advertising ploys. In my view, people paid for the print product which meant they trusted it to a large degree. That in turn meant the standards and ethics were high, as newspapers didn’t want to betray the public trust. The public will never pay for all the spinning menus and other garbage that pretends to be news and thoughtful story-telling online. I like the NY Times site, as it maintains the feel of the paper, but other news sites leave me feeling like I am at a high-tech carnival or used car lot. The public bought newspapers because they could believe in the integrity of the information they were reading. Remember how long it took USA Today to gain some legitimacy? Does anyone take much of anything said online as gospel? Have you seen some of these newspaper blogs and the comments? Have you seen how the technology often doesn’t work on these sites, and just becomes a frustrating maze, a series of tricks to get you to keep clicking. I sure don’t see the level of integrity online that I see in print, especially seeing up close how this stuff is produced and edited. I will continue to watch PBS or National Geographic documentaries for well-done video stories rather than watch an online a 2-inch window on my computer, shot with a cheap video camera, pretending to be high-caliber journalism. I will continue to read the best magazines and newspapers for real news that I know was edited. I will go to online sites when I need something quick and fairly superficial, like a ballgame score, or to be entertained, but only for free or until online news takes on a more substantive feel. To me, killing off newspapers is a huge mistake. It’s crazy how newspaper people are being thrown out on the streets because they don’t know how to make a picture spin online. Amazingly arrogant of the online world and corporations such as Gannett to see these newspaper people as having little or nothing to offer to the new platform.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    I counted all the newsroom employees (those considered journalists: reporters, editors, graphic artists, photographers) who left our site since 2004, and the approximate years of service they took with them.
    Then I counted all the new employees who’d been hired in that time, and how many years of experience they had. Granted, far more had left than were hired at this mid-size Gannett paper.
    I included those who left for other jobs, retired, were bought out and laid off.
    The difference between those who left and those who were hired, in cumulative years of experience, was more than 450 years. This is not an exaggeration. Nearly a half millennium of job knowledge, gone. And these weren’t all old farts, they included a lot of younger workers with 10 to 15 years of hard-earned and, I thought, valuable experience.
    All but one of the new employees hired in a four year period had at most three years experience.
    This is why Gannett sucks. It does not value anything but the almighty dollar.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    High tech carnival?
    Used car lot?
    I’d add dandruff.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    Gosh, Jim, did you have to drag out this old memo? And I thought we were done with that old hag SCJ. Hasn’t she done enough harm already. I thought we saw the last of her loud mouth and shrill dressing.

    And what, pray tell, after this memo that took several pages and after all the input of Dave Daugherty? Nothing, nada………..

  9. Anonymous Says:

    If she really thinks four mediocre photos are better than one spectacular photo, thank God and Greyhound she’s gone.

    The last thing an industry facing an uncertain future needs to do is mandate mediocrity.

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