Negative/positive: How you set this blog’s tone

[You yawned: My post on the Freep‘s good work drew no comments]

I was once asked to launch what amounted to a “positive news” business weekly, designed to lure advertisers and readers away from a competing independent publication in Little Rock, Ark. Craig Moon (left), now publisher of USA Today and one of Gannett’s highest-ranking executives, was my boss at the time, about 1990: Moon was publisher of The Arkansas Gazette, and he pushed the launch of the new Arkansas Inc. (He’s also one of my more high-profile critics, as last month’s USAT staff meeting made clear.)

Chock full of so-called positive stories, Arkansas Inc. failed miserably. The advertising department ginned up plenty of ads for the first issue. But the ad-sales folks quickly lost interest as readers fell off in droves. The lesson then and now: Edgy, hard-news coverage wins out over rah-rah “supportive” stories every time. Readers say they want positive news — but seldom buy or click when it’s offered.

It’s no different on this blog. I rely on thousands of employees to help me find examples of great work going on across the company. Most days, I get zilch. When I find compelling work on my own, the response is often the same. For example, I wrote last week about how the Detroit Free Press got results from its amazingly great work on shenanigans in the mayor’s office (screenshot, above). The response from readers here as I write this post: zip. Not a single comment.

Readers set this blog’s tone
I’m not complaining, so much as I’m explaining, because we’re going through another cycle of people expressing frustration that so much of what’s here is, well, negative. “I don’t come often because, frankly, I am a busy working journalist and I don’t have time or interest in reading a lot of griping,” Anonymous@8:28 p.m. said yesterday in a comment on this post. “Seems like a waste of time. . . . The blog would be better if it wasn’t blatant anti-management. Don’t get me wrong. I have my own issues with management; but, I also don’t think a ‘bitch’ site solves all that much in a company going through an industry paradigm shift.”

I’m not shirking my role; I’m ultimately responsible for everything that appears on this site. Still, the vast majority of its content is now thousands of comments from readers. And those comments often drive the content of my posts. If there were more comments that were pro-management, or neutral toward management, this blog would take on a different tone.

Corporate isn’t candid enough 
As I’ve said more than a few times in the past: There are 46,000 or so of you, and just one of me. I cannot patrol a company as big and far-flung as Gannett all on my own. I need your help. If you want a blog that relies less on what Corporate claims is “rumor mongering and sensationalism,” you will need to help me produce an alternative.

But keep this in mind: Corporate is only going to tell you so much; for the rest, journalists like me will need to ferret out the truth. CEO Craig Dubow (left) wasn’t advising you to limit your exposure to Gannett stock — as I did in December, when shares were trading at $35. (Shares closed yesterday at $17.76.) Corporate wasn’t the one telling you about the likelihood of a mass layoff; that was me, in early August — more than a week before the company acknowledged that it was cutting 1,000 jobs. And Corporate didn’t tell you about a pending reorganization of the newspaper division; that was me, here — three weeks before the company disclosed the news. And most of that came from readers of this blog.

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.

[Image: a screenshot from the Freep‘s website on Sept. 4]

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41 Responses to “Negative/positive: How you set this blog’s tone”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Jim,
    You could always post two covers side-by- side and ask viewers, “Which one would you buy?” That way, posters could think visually and comment accordingly, maybe, when presented with the same kind of choices readers face when they stare at the paper boxes or sites.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    The weight of the “negative” comments here are partly due to human nature (people tend to have a thirst for it), and largely due to the fact that Gannett isn’t exactly the most employee-friendly, open and honest organization out there. Has Gannett ever been in those magazine lists of the top 100 or 500 companies to work for? I have never seen it. I’ve been in the business for 30 years (luckily not all at Gannett), and I have heard nothing but negative stuff about this company since I graduated from college in the late 70s. My hometown newspaper, when I was a kid, was a Gannett product, and I can recall my parents subscribing to it, but rarely reading it. They bought it to support the local paper boy, but read the bigger metro in the area we lived. Early in my career, a former Gannett high-level editor who worked in Green Bay and Detroit, but left Gannett to finish his career at a family-owned paper, told me I was already too old to continue my career with USA Today (which I was thinking about doing in a year or two), that there was blatant age discrimination. I was barely 35 at the time. Have you read the book The Chain Gang? Have you ever had a utterly absurd performance evaluation done on you while at Gannett or had to attend their so-called in-house educational sessions? Have so many resources been taken away from you so that you simply can’t do your job, let alone enjoy it, and then been blamed for not producing? Have you seen how transparent the company’s little awards are or ever been complimented by a disconnected manager for something you had nothing to do with? These are the cheap tactics used to keep the troops happy, but tend to backfire because they lack sincerity. A top editor at a non-Gannett paper in Florida once told me that the best move she ever made was in leaving Gannett. There is enough evidence out there that proves Gannett is not the most inspiring place to work. Its managers/editors tend to be sub-par, which is why management as a whole takes a major hit here. We get enough phony pats on the back at various meetings and assemblies. This blog is a chance to counterbalance that, to say what can’t be said in the workplace. To me, this blog mirrors the feelings or Gannett employees created by the blatantly unfair work environment, the worst of managers and the unreasonable expectations of a company that literally is in a glass tower passing judgment. That is not to say there aren’t plenty of content people and good work being done. But there is also something very rotten in the company. I didn’t detect it myself for my first few years. But as I got older and wiser, I saw the many injustices. I think a lot of older Gannettoids eventually come to realize that they’ve been part of a fairly unhealthy company, a company that will not hesitate to make you so miserable that you eventually leave in such a state of anger that it’s amazing this blog doesn’t have even more hostile comments. I understand now why a blog like this leans so heavily towards the negative.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I thought your kudo to the Freep was sufficient, and what could an additional comment say? Everyone agrees they did a good job on this story, or else there would have been a dissenter. That’s the trouble with positive stories. People read newspapers for controversy and want to see pro and con included.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Jim, leave the positive news to the Gannetteer. You serve a higher role. Don’t let anyone deter you.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    What a brilliant comment 10:02. What’s wrong with a pat on the back here and there. I can’t believe there’s no professional curiosity on how the Free Press did what they did and how the readers of this blog could actually learn something from it. Which shows that the majority of the blog readers ARE whiners and complainers. Burned or indifferent rather than motivated to learn and do better. And guess what, I’m not management. I don’t even work for Gannett or any newspaper for that matter anymore. I found newsroom employees always asking what’s in it for me. Egomaniacs reveling in your bylines. Including Jim. I check here from time to time just to laugh. It ought to be a book. The Pathetic Industry. How can you write about others when you can’t get away from your own skin for a second. Or learn how to better yourself. You’re a sad lot. Having said that, my sympathies to those who have lost their jobs. Now that’s a tragedy, but that’s also the ups and downs of business. The rest of your are still screaming what’s in it for me? I will not sign on now for weeks so if you want to slam me in your typical fashion go ahead. I’m outa here.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Honestly, I work in a newsroom and agree with 10:33.

    If y’all are so miserable, why don’t you quit? I mean, who is really the pathetic one here — Gannett or all of you who make yourselves out to be victims of Gannett.

    You’re probably the people who the rest of us, who are busy working and maybe even enjoying our jobs, are talking about behind your backs. Nothing makes you happy. Nothing is good enough. And it’s always somebody else’s fault besides your own. And you know what, we wish you would quit and go work somewhere else because we’re all having to pull your weight while you sit there and whine.

    There is no way that you could write the things you do here and not be the same way in your newsrooms. Save us from overhearing your misery and go work for a different company — find one whose stock is trading at more than $17.

    It is your choice to work at Gannett. It is also your choice to leave.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    10:56 AM
    Who is pulling your weight while you’re so busy back stabbing?

  8. john reinan Says:

    Jeez, Jim — I don’t remember Arkansas Inc., and I might even have written for it! Not sure if I was still on your staff at the time or had moved over to Bob Stover and the state desk by then.

    But if you didn’t get me to write for it, you made a mistake — I was young and optimistic then, so I certainly would have written you some cheery stories!

  9. mr. whig Says:

    It’s impossible to work at a Gannett paper as a grunt and NOT end up hating management. So
    many bad ideas. So many initiatives that stink to high heaven. So many unqualified hires shoved into positions they were never ready for in the name of “diversity” (and Cincinnati, I’m looking directly at you here). So many empty buzzwords. So few resources. So many bent pennies, they’ve been pinched so much. So many phony-baloney awards (that create so much busy work for whoever has to do them).

    So much for so little.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    10:56, I loved my job, I did it well and as a copy editor I was hardly in it for the bylines. I did what was asked of me, even when my 40-hour weeks were turned into 60-hour weeks
    and I was writing as well as editing. I never, ever quit giving my best effort because I knew I was serving the readers, not Gannett. But I am bitter because Gannett is incapable of having respect for hard work. And if you think they are respecting what you do, you are in for a rude awakening.

  11. Mark Says:

    I just want to point out that the independent business journal mentioned in the story is Arkansas Business. We’re still going. Check us out at http://www.arkansasbusiness.com.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Hey, 10:56 and all of those people with their parochial “love it or leave it” comments… It’s not so easy to quit. People have responsibilities. Kids. Tuition. Bills. Sick parents to care for in the area they work in. Etc. There is a horrid job market and bad economy to deal with. So save your ridiculously simplistic comments about our having to quit if we have any grievances with where we work. What the hell world are you living in that gives you the right to tell me when to quit you freakin’ cheerleader. Many of us are going to stay and fight the good fight while you walk around waving the company flag and think everything is just dandy because you’re happy and treated well. Think beyond yourself! People are hurting and don’t need your small-minded suggestions. We can’t all be Stepford workers like you.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    9:42 I have to agree with most everything you said. Subpar management being a huge factor in why Gannett is in the shape it’s in.(yes, there are good managers out there but too few).Hiring Publishers that don’t have an ounce of business sense in their brain. Bullying bosses that get away with it and then force employees to go to hostile work environment training. What a joke. I’m glad I am out of a truly unhealthy work environment.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    They’re way too rich and revealing to delete, I think.

    I worked for Gannett. Those teacher’s pet, Stepford types are real. Morons—but real.

    I say keep the comments from the cheerleaders who are, no doubt, going to move up the Gannett ladder for nothing more than their lack of critical thinking skills.

  15. Jim Hopkins Says:

    Reinan, you devil! Ask your lovely wife about Arkansas Inc.; she and I worked closely on the prototype.

  16. Anonymous Says:

    Wouldn’t worry much about 10:56 or 10:33. People who make comments like that have no tolerance for anything outside of their perspectives. Their way or the highway. Reminds me of rednecks who fight to keep the confederate flag flying about the state house. Same inability to think or feel beyond themselves, or to connect basic truths or to debate viewpoints. Let these Gannett flag-wavers speak, because every time they do, they show how self-centered they are.

  17. Jim Hopkins Says:

    @12:50 pm: Indeed, I’m very reluctant to delete comments. Except in extraordinary cases, it feels like an abuse of my privilege as blog editor.

  18. Anonymous Says:

    10:56 & 10:33 should be allowed to speak, but I concur, they have their own motives and agendas for backing up Gannett with totally blind faith. Some peeps are happy, but it is curious as to why they come to this blog if their worlds at Gannett papers are so perfect.

  19. Anonymous Says:

    I was once fairly content at a large Gannett newspaper. But the more I saw, the more I realized I was being deceived. Give these Gannett proponents some time to see the truth and you might see them change their opinions. We all know Gannett doesn’t allow many folks to make it to retirement age.

    I couldn’t leave when I probably should have because of life’s ties and responsibilities. Plus I knew it wasn’t much better elsewhere. I entirely agree that any employee who tells a coworker to quit (in this blog or elsewhere), without knowing their particular story or circumstances, is crossing a line and revealing a level of immaturity.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    10:33 and 10:56 should realize that many good people, who got tired of trying to correct wrongs (or as you call it, whining), have done just that – they quit. And it’s hurting the paper I work for, USAT, in major ways. Quitting isn’t always the solution to improving the workplace. It might help those lucky enough to leave, but it creates massive holes in the operation they left behind, which then leads to more unhappy people. Many of those jobs aren’t being filled anymore. IMHO, quitting is not a solution. Listening and resolving problems is usually better for both the employee and employer. And if this is where some problems have to be aired, so be it. I find this blog to be much more of a service (even to the company) than a hinder. In fact, Gannett should pay Jim to keep it running. Where else would they get the honest insights and protected dialogue that occurs right here? Is there some off the wall crap here too, sure. But there are things said that should be raising red flags all over Gannettland.

  21. Anonymous Says:

    1:21. The company spent thousands of dollars on a Gallup survey of employees at USA TODAY not too long ago. The survey, meant to help improve working conditions and morale, was suppose to be totally confidential. But few in the newsroom really believed that their identities would be fully protected, so they tempered their responses to protect themselves from being seen as malcontents. Not sure how others departments viewed or answered the survey. Newsrooms tend to be a bit more cynical than say marketing.

    I am in agreement with you and believe that the company should begin to view this blog as a resource, a window into some honest dialogue so that some real problems can be addressed. The company’s suits should be smart enough to filter out the trivial and the static that sometimes occurs in a venue like this in order to identify some common and important themes/issues. We’re not all crackpots and whiners! There’s a lot of stuff in this blog that shouldn’t be ignored. If I owned a business, I would want to hear the real scoop. This blog, to some degree, provides that.

    Gannett Blog is no less an accurate appraisal of employees’ issues/morale than expensive surveys done by “outside” firms. Gallup, or whomever, might now agree, but there isn’t a survey out there that is sponsored by a company that will reveal the truths and sincere feelings that this blog carries. The company can call it an “outside survey”, but we all know who is paying for the survey, which creates suspicions. This blog has an air of legitimacy because it is run by someone who was entrenched in the company. I totally agree that many other types of blogs are deceptive, but this one seems to have a feel of authencity in that people are able to speak with a lot of inside knowledge.

    As for these so-called Kool-Aid drinkers, well, they always exist in any institution at any age. Didn’t we all hate the popular kid in high school who kissed ass and was the star quarterback or cheerleader? They were just a bit too happy and too perfect and probably too naive. These folks are just stunted. They cover their ears when someone says something they don’t want to hear. They believe what they want to believe and are closed to other opinions. Yes, it’s somewhat intriguing why they would come here to read a variety of comments when all it seems they want to read is that everything is just fine with everyone, and the at company is beyond questioning.

  22. Anonymous Says:

    Some good comments and suggestions today. Thanks y’all for your input. Giving me some food for thought.

    And just to weigh in, I don’t think the negativity of this blog is a problem. I find that I am better off knowing what my coworkers from all around the company are feeling, even if I don’t always feel the same way. It’s like I want to know about people starving in other countries, so I can try to help in small ways and appreciate what I have here in the US. I don’t want to just eat my meals every day and not acknowledge suffering elsewhere.

    Thanks, Jim!

  23. Anonymous Says:

    To piggyback on something 1:57 said, Craig Moon showed a lack of understanding of human nature when he purchased and adminstered the Gallup survey at USA TODAY. When your boss does something this naive, you tend to lose faith.

    Nothing scientifically wrong with the survey itself, I am sure, but there was one huge assumption being made that should not have been made. Put it this way, my team was told by its leader that unless we wanted to prolong this Gallup process (which goes beyond answering questions on a form), we should consider answering the questions as positvely as we can. Of course, part of that directive was to also save my boss (and other bosses) ass. If we answered positively, they looked good. So few were goig to be bold enough to answer the survey honestly. Faulty data in, faulty data out.

    And Moon couldn’t anticipate this? Boy, I want my leaders to be smarter than that. I am guessing this Gallup survey cost a fortune. Maybe we could have saved a few jobs by skipping it and replying on this blog for info about how employees feel about the company!

    But the wrongs of the Gallup survey didn’t stop there. There was absolutely no followup on some of the principles taught at a day-long manager’s seminar held in conjuction with this process. Not everyone in the seminar were managers, but most had some sort of supervisory responsibilities. In fact, it seemed most managers were completely turned off to what was said in the seminar, even though I felt some of what was being taught could have actually helped things within the newsroom if instituted correctly. But we instead just went right back to what we always do.

    This was just one example of wasteful spending at USA TODAY. But worse than that, it also showed that the top is so disconnected from the bottom that it makes many of us feel nothing substantive will ever get solved.

    Sorry if you don’t like negative comments. But almost everything said here is fact, with a dash of opinion sprikled in.

  24. Anonymous Says:

    JH,
    We should comment more on some of the positive stuff you mention on here. Not sure why I myself haven’t. I suspect I am drowning in such corporate propaganda and unreasonable demands on a daily basis at work that it’s hard to give credit where credit is due.

    Regards,
    A fan of the blog!

  25. Anonymous Says:

    Hey we are in the news business and bad news sells. Unfortunatley.

  26. Anonymous Says:

    I am the journalist whose comments Jim uses in this Post to get the dialogue going. He made it a “positive/negative” debate. That was not the direction my full comments were headed. My full comments were about finding a way to engage more than complainers or blatantflag waivers in the discussions. Its about Jim posting topics that might engage us in discussions about how to be part of the solution not just bitch about managment. I’m not saying “dont complain”. There are times when complaining is important to open converstaions and create change.
    But this blog seems heavily weighted to bitching. Today’s dialogue jsut proved that to be the fact.

  27. Anonymous Says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with today’s dialouge. To each their own!

  28. Anonymous Says:

    5:40, I hear what you’re saying, but I have one question for you: You talk about “discussions about how to be part of the solution.” You have a point, however I think a significant number of us have tried at various points to be part of a solution, to offer up ideas, only to be squashed or silenced for pointing out that things weren’t perfect or that plans had serious flaws. What kinds of topics do you think would provoke the kinds of discussions you think we need (and I am not asking this sarcastically; I want to hear what you have to say).

  29. Anonymous Says:

    Hey all. I also was part of the Gallup fiasco at USAT. Not coming down hard on the concept, Gallup or the intention of it, but it was ridiculous to expect people to answer those questions completely honestly. And yes, you have to wonder why someone of Moon’s stature would think that survey was going to change anything. Reminds me of another farce Gannett use to do, called a “360” where bosses picked their favortie employees to evaluate them. Usually just four or five evaluators. How stupid is that! You let the manager cherry pick his favorite people? Just plain silly. Would have been more effective to randomly select staffers for the task. Then the higherups might have at least gotten a clue as to what managers were ineffectively doing their jobs.

    It’s stuff like this that makes people turn negative or cynical.

  30. Anonymous Says:

    I guess the better dialogue is how do we help Jim make this a blog for everyone and not just the disenfranchised. When someone tries to be positive, they are seen as “ass kissers” . When someone has anything good to say, they are attacked.

    Maybe that’s the nature of the beast.
    unfortunately, not all viewpoints are accepted here. Let’s face it. The core readers of the blog want this to be a place to vent and complain about management. So call it what it is. Complainers welcome. All others, why are you here?

  31. Anonymous Says:

    5:58 PM
    All viewpoints ARE accepted here, 5:58 PM. I don’t think Jim removes the positive comments. I’ve seen lots of them.

    Keep pointing out the positives. Please. I want to hear them. Really.

    Question: When you say “disenfranchised” and “core reader,” what exactly do you mean? I think I know, but I want to make sure I understand exactly how you are using those terms.

    Thanks.

  32. Anonymous Says:

    5:58, I think it would become more of a dialogue if the comments on both sides were simply accepted for what they are. From what I’ve seen, the positive comments are met with a negative reaction most often when they contain a tone that scolds the folks who are venting. Quite often, the scolding takes the form of “get out if you hate it so much.”

    That isn’t exactly a response that invites dialogue.

    Will there be some of us who complain for the sake of complaining? Of course. It’s the nature of the situation. But the angry responses to the positive comments will go down if there is a measure of respect for all posting here. And that respect has to go both ways. If you are someone who has nothing but positive experiences with Gannett, that’s great. Somewhere, someone in this company must be a human being and it’s good to know we haven’t all entered the 7th circle of hell. Perhaps instead of saying “quit if you don’t like it,” those who are happy can suggest things they’ve done (don’t laugh, really!) that have helped make for a better atmosphere in their place.

    And for those who find the anger and the venting here just too upsetting, I would strongly suggest they just not come here. This isn’t an evangelical church where the members are knocking on your door, trying to convert you to their beliefs. It’s a place that was created to give folks who just don’t have anywhere else to go a safe place to express their frustrations and anger over what they’ve experienced.

    That’s something people who criticize the negativity are forgetting: People are talking about things they’ve experienced, things that have impacted their lives in very tangible, meaningful ways, whether it’s an impact on their family life due to time demands, a financial impact, or what have you. These are very real-life experiences. And like any other situation, life has its very ugly side.

    Neither side is wrong. Both sides have their place. And folks just need to remember to respect that fact.

  33. Anonymous Says:

    11:47 a.m. wrote: “I am bitter because Gannett is incapable of having respect for hard work. And if you think they are respecting what you do, you are in for a rude awakening.”

    I’m slowly coming to that awakening myself now … and it’s not pretty.

  34. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you 7:00 pm. You expressed my feelings well.

  35. Anonymous Says:

    Arkansas Inc. failed because too many people saw it as fluff to appease Gannett’s advertisers. It’s one thing to report positive stories about the what happens in your community, and another to basically regugitate PR pieces from local businesses.
    Why would any business-owner subscribe to that?
    Arkansas Business survives because it has a small highly-targeted audience, and covers business happenings (both good and bad) in detail that you won’t find in mainstream media. And because the market for it is so narrow, ad rates can be much higher than they are for other forms of media.

  36. Anonymous Says:

    8:18 AM
    Seems the news organizations that write for the reader and not the source are the ones that are surviving.

  37. Anonymous Says:

    I am an advertiser and let me make this very clear: I want my ad in newspapers that readers respect. Period.
    That means I value a focus on the editorial product a great deal.

  38. Anonymous Says:

    We used to have our own employee survey. It was long, detailed and asked good questions. There was room for comments, too. That survey really helped us get to the heart of some of the problems we were having. After those surveys, we’d be put on committees to further explore an issue in detail and come up with some solutions. We’d present our findings and suggestions to the higher ups, who would decide which solutions to implement.

    It wasn’t perfect, but that whole process made us feel like we were being heard, that our opinions mattered and that they really did want to improve our workplace.

    Now, we do the Q12.

    The Q12 is awful. Are those really the only 12 factors that make a good, healthy, functioning workplace? NO! The most frustrating things about where I work are not covered by the 12 questions. It’s possible to answer the majority of those 12 questions relatively positively and still be unhappy.

    The things that I have the biggest problems with I discuss with my managers. I feel obligated to tell them what isn’t working in our department.

  39. Anonymous Says:

    The world needs cheerleaders; a positive attitude can do wonders. But you have to wonder about a company with a plethora of unhappy and bitter employees.

    I think it’s safe to say we were not all hired that way, and that it takes years of a particular work environment to become the “bitter complainers” the Pollyannas are accusing us of being.

    There are no easy answers, and the longer employees are not heard, disrespected and ignored, the angrier this blog will be.

    Everyone deserves a voice, and I think the majority have spoken.

  40. Anonymous Says:

    7:17, I’m sorry that you’re going through that. I hope it helps to know that others here understand it. And I especially hope it helps to know that there is life outside of Gannett and after Gannett.

  41. Anonymous Says:

    It’s unfortunate that people only want to read about scandal. I say though your positive blog on the Freep’s coverage of the Kilpatrick debacle didn’t generate as many comments as you would have liked, that should not dissuade you from highlighting positives — albeit few and far between — about Gannett. As a reporter, I hate that people bitch about there not being any positive news, yet the first thing they click on is the latest murder, rape or sex scandal. Society sucks.

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