Archive for the ‘Asheville’ Category

Toll punches through 1,900; big dailies still missing

December 7, 2008

Gannett has eliminated 1,904 newspaper jobs in a mass layoff that moved into high gear last week, a new Gannett Blog survey today shows, as employees who survived the cuts now look ahead nervously to vastly changed working conditions.

At the urging of readers, I’ve added positions lost from separately announced press shutdowns in Asheville, N.C., and Clarksville, Tenn. (left). Our survey now includes 67 of 85 newspapers in this layoff round.

Still, papers that are missing or have incomplete figures include three of the company’s biggest individual employers: USA Today, the Detroit Free Press, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. Combined, those papers plus other worksites with missing figures employ as many as 5,500 of Gannett’s approximately 30,000 newspaper employees.

Gannett has estimated it will have cut about 2,000 jobs at the mostly small papers in its community newspaper division, once this layoff round is done. That estimate would cover Cincinnati — but not USAT or Detroit, because they’re managed in a division of their own, subject to separate budget-cutting goals.

Survivor: ‘No cavalry is coming’
Whatever the final tally, employees who escaped layoff now face a new reality. “Those left behind — at medium and small properties, anyway — are going to be crushed by the additional workload,” Anonymous@12:20 p.m. wrote today in a new comment. “I already put 10 additional hours in this week (exempt; no OT, of course), and that was nothing, because the hard workers who were laid off had worked ahead as always. . . . This week, we will begin to feel the real loss, as it is all on us and no cavalry is coming.”

There’s more: “I am not looking for sympathy. I know I am extremely lucky to still have a paycheck, and I know any number of unemployed journos out there would change places w/me in heartbeat. I am just saying that being a survivor is going to be very rough indeed, and I don’t believe we will stay on this melting iceberg very long.”

We’re tallying job cuts, paper-by-paper. Is yours included? Please post figures on our list, or in the comments section, below. You may also e-mail confidentially via gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com].

[Image: today’s Leaf-Chronicle front page in Clarksville, Newseum]

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As layoffs near, charity that doesn’t begin at home: Foundation pours more cash into execs’ pet causes

November 30, 2008

Gannett is about to launch one of the industry’s single-biggest newspaper layoffs, so I figured it was time to update my reporting on Gannett Foundation gifts to charities favored by company executives. (Who knows? Maybe we can save some jobs if someone in charge realizes there are other ways to economize.) The following is based on the foundation’s just-filed 2007 tax return, which I received Friday under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

As CEO Craig Dubow (left) imposed draconian budget cuts last year, the company’s charitable arm — the Gannett Foundation — made an unusual gift: $20,000 for scholarships at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C. It was one of the foundation’s single-biggest direct grants of 2007, and followed an identical $20,000 gift the year before, public documents show.

The gifts were unusual for several reasons. The Gannett foundation’s website says it won’t give money to endowment funds; the two grants were for an “endowed scholarship,” the foundation’s tax returns shows. Also, the foundation’s stated mission is to help non-profit groups where Gannett owns a newspaper or TV station. The closest GCI business is 53 miles away: the Citizen-Times in Asheville, N.C.

But Western Carolina had a powerful ally: Dubow himself. He is the foundation’s chairman and president, and one of its seven unpaid officers, all Gannett employees. As Gannett’s CEO, Dubow is among a handful of current and former executives allowed to steer foundation money to favorite charities — often, charities including religious groups that would be ineligible under rules applying to regular employees and the public.

Sure enough, Dubow recommended both $20,000 gifts, the foundation’s new tax return shows. Last year’s grant was among $320,000 awarded to charities recommended by Dubow and 15 current and former executives — including some of the highest-paid brass, an analysis of the tax return shows. The 2007 grants were on top of $724,000 the foundation gave in 2004-2006 to charities favored by executives.

Unseemly ‘philanthropy’
There is nothing illegal about any of this. The grants were made under a little-known perquisite that Gannett says is meant to attract and retain top executives. Under the benefit, the foundation imposes fewer restrictions on donation requests from top management compared to requests from average employees and the public. For example, these direct grants didn’t require any matching money from the executives — unlike a similar program for regular employees, GannettMatch.

Based on last year’s giving, each executive got $20,000 in what amounts to play philanthropy money. All of it appears to have gone to non-profit groups. I suspect many other big companies offer a similar benefit to top executives. Plus, the $320,000 last year was just a fraction of the overall $11.3 million in grants approved.

Yet, with a mass layoff coming this week at papers including Florida’s News-Press in Fort Myers, spending on executives’ pet charities is at sharp odds with Dubow’s claims of fiscal discipline and shared sacrifice.

Besides, there’s something unseemly about sending foundation money to charities far from Gannett communities — at the same time GCI is reducing employment and news coverage in those same places. Why didn’t these 16 executives give their $320,000 in earmarked grants to the company’s Employee Disaster Relief Fund?

It’s not even clear whether Gannett is getting credit for all its gifts. Consider the $40,000 to Western Carolina University. The tax return says the money went to an “endowed scholarship,” rather than to, say, a general-use scholarship fund. Scholarship funds typically offer naming rights.

I asked foundation Executive Director Tara Connell which fund received the money. I asked WCU, too. I look forward to their replies. (Connell is also Gannett’s spokeswoman. Read her objections to my last report.)

The Dubow scholarship fund?
Meanwhile, I searched WCU’s website, but turned up just one reference to the Gannett Foundation, a $3,270 grant to a theater group in early 2003. Then I found a page showing a “complete listing of WCU scholarships.” But Gannett and the Gannett Foundation do not appear anywhere on the page. There is, however, a scholarship listed under the names of Dubow and his wife:

“Craig and Denise Dubow have established an endowed fund to provide scholarship support for deserving students at Western Carolina University. This scholarship provides support for full time undergraduate students from Jackson, Macon, and Transylvania counties who demonstrate financial need and maintain a B average.”

More than likely, this amounts to an out-of-date list on a website or some other innocent omission. The Dubows probably established and funded the scholarships on their own, using their own money. In fact, the return’s GannettMatch section shows the foundation matched an unidentified employee’s $10,000 gift; that could have been from Dubow, ponying up for his own fund.

But until I hear back from Connell and WCU, I still don’t know how the Gannett Foundation received credit for its $40,000 in direct grants. There’s reason to be curious: Last spring, I found at least two examples where foundation money went to other scholarship funds named after executives — rather than Gannett or the foundation. (Updated at 10:41 a.m. ET, Dec. 1: A WCU spokesman has now referred my questions to the the school’s fund-raising office.)

More liberal rules
The direct grants to endowed scholarship funds at WCU and elsewhere are made possible because of the more liberal foundation rules for the executives. For anyone else seeking support for their scholarship fund, the foundation’s website says: “The only scholarship program currently funded by the foundation is the Madelyn P. Jennings Scholarship Program for children of Gannett employees.”

Gannett provides all the foundation’s funds. Periodically, it donates a newspaper to the foundation, which then sells it, and reinvests the proceeds in stocks and other investments. That’s what happened to the Chronicle-Tribune in Marion, Ind., which Gannett sold last year via the foundation for $12.3 million. It had been a Gannett paper for 36 years.

More executive-directed gifts
Other noteworthy Gannett Foundation direct grants given last year on the recommendation of current or former executives. Each person directed a total $20,000 to charities of their own choosing.

Earlier: How to examine a non-profit’s tax returns

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.

[Image: today’s News-Press, Newseum. The paper is expected to lay off up to 80 of 600 employees in the next week]

Asheville: Print moves to Greenville; 60 jobs lost

November 21, 2008

Asheville Citizen-Times Publisher Randy Hammer says there had been talk of combining production at the North Carolina paper with its sister Gannett paper, The Greenville News, 63 miles south, in South Carolina. “The economic downturn we’re seeing across the nation has pushed us to make this move sooner rather than later,” Hammer said, according to a story on the paper’s website.

Although 60 jobs will be eliminated in Asheville, some of the employees laid off could transfer to new jobs being added at Greenville to handle the extra work, the paper says. But any press job cuts will be on top of those eliminated at Asheville in the 10% workforce reduction now underway; those additional layoffs will be announced early next month, Hammer’s memo says.

Calling Asheville: Is Dubow still coming today?

October 21, 2008

And if CEO Craig Dubow does meet with Asheville Citizen-Times employees today, as a reader suggested, could you please tell us what you hear from him? Last Friday in Louisville, Ky., and in Cincinnati, Dubow told employees about another round of layoffs.

Asheville: Please post 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.

Stock sinking, Dubow said raising specter of layoffs

October 18, 2008
Less than a week before management reports to Wall Street, Gannett’s shares have sunk to fresh lows — swinging the spotlight on CEO Craig Dubow, after he reportedly disclosed plans yesterday for more layoffs in as little as 10 weeks.

Dubow told Courier-Journal employees in Louisville, Ky., that another round of layoffs is in the works, according to reader comments here, and details I’ve gathered from people familiar with the matter. Dubow didn’t give details on Friday, other than to say the new cuts could come by year’s end. An employee in the meeting said Dubow himself raised the subject of layoffs, without prompting.

“He brought it up and said he wanted to be as transparent as he could be and answer any questions,” the employee told me in an e-mail.

Dubow and his team are reportedly reviewing contingency plans for sharp budget reductions — up to 7.5%, possibly more — in the newspaper division. The timetable is unclear; this may be part of the 2009 budget review. Or Corporate might apply them to the current budget, which would almost certainly require layoffs.

Whatever the timing, I would think Dubow would want to preview details with Wall Street analysts during next Friday’s third-quarter earnings conference call. Big strategic shifts also require approval of the board of directors. The board, with Dubow as chairman, is likely to begin its quarterly two-day meeting on Wednesday.

Any job cuts would follow the layoff of 100 newspaper managers last month in a reorganization of the newspaper division. Those layoffs followed 1,000 jobs eliminated in August in the revenue-losing newspaper division.

A new round would not be surprising, given the economy’s direction (see: toilet) — and Corporate’s prior warning two months ago, in its layoff instructions to publishers: “If advertising and circulation revenues continue to decline, further payroll reductions may be necessary.”

Ad revenue slide accelerates
The newspaper division, which employs about 30,000, accounted for 65% of Gannett’s $1.7 billion in operating revenue during the second quarter. But the division is hemorrhaging ad revenue, the No. 1 source of GCI’s income and profits — further raising the stakes in next Friday’s third-quarter earnings release.

Following are changes in newspaper ad revenue from a year before; the list starts with last year’s first quarter, when revenue first started falling:

Visits paving way for news?
The third quarter probably isn’t going to look a lot better. And all that will pale alongside what the fourth quarter delivers. We’re three weeks in, banking crisis and all, and it’s not looking pretty.

Yesterday, Dubow and newspaper division President Bob Dickey also met with Cincinnati Enquirer employees, before heading to Louisville. And a Gannett Blog reader said today that “some very important folks from Corporate” are due Tuesday at North Carolina’s Asheville Citizen-Times. This suggests Corporate could be softening up the field for big news. (Or it may just be a busy travel week for McLean, Va.)

As Dubow met employees Friday, Gannett shares touched new lows. The stock closed at $10.79, up 12 cents, after trading as low as $10.40 earlier in the afternoon. Still, that capped one of its worst months since I began tracking GCI: shares fell 40%, according to Google Finance. In contrast, the battered S&P-500 Index fell a smaller 22%. (Chart detail, inset; bigger view).

Is Corporate scheduled to visit your paper or TV station in coming weeks? 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.

[Image: today’s Louisville Courier-Journal, Newseum]

Asheville: Production chief said axed; papers late

October 2, 2008

Two weeks after dumping their production director, a reader here says, the Asheville Citizen-Times in North Carolina could not get the newspaper out this morning, so had to print at a sister site in Greenville, S.C. “Papers were two to three hours late,” the reader says.

Lost your production director in the layoff of 100 managers? What’s the impact? 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.

Earlier: Readers describe big print woes in Louisville. Plus: our paper-by-paper list of laid-off managers

[Image: today’s front page, Newseum]

Documents: GCI eliminating 275 finance jobs; Asheville, WUSA-TV among first 11 taking hit

September 19, 2008

The company will eliminate the accounting and other jobs as part of the previously disclosed creation of two national shared service centers in Springfield, Mo., and Indianapolis, according to internal documents I’ve just obtained.

The documents were provided by a Gannett Blog reader who requested anonymity. They describe in detail the timetable and scale of the plan to consolidate finance work at newspapers and TV stations in a bid to cut costs as Gannett wrestles with declining revenue and profits. Previously published reports gave only a broad outline of the project.

The plan calls for a combined 11 papers and TV stations to be used as pilot sites starting last month, the documents show, with completion of the entire project expected by March 2009. About 55 jobs will be created at each of the two new centers — for a net job loss of 167 positions, the documents show. Gannett now employs about 46,000 in the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

“The termination dates for employees losing their positions are determined by the implementation timetable,” one of the documents shows. “As a site begins migrating their activities to the national shared service centers, employees begin losing their positions.”

The documents say the first 11 pilot sites are the papers at Asheville, N.C.; Greenville, S.C.; Springfield, Mo.; Mountain Home, Ark.; Jackson, Miss., and Hattiesburg, Miss. The TV stations are WGRZ in Buffalo, N.Y.; WUSA in Washington, D.C.; WTSP in Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla.; WBIR in Knoxville, Tenn., and KTHV in Little Rock.

In sharing the documents, my reader says: “This is top secret. You have to protect my identity! So many people are frustrated because Gannett is keeping this such a secret. People just want an idea of when this transition is going to happen at their units. These people are not stupid — they know there’s a schedule out there somewhere, so why not share it — even if it’s tentative. So, here it is. I’m not sure if Gannett is on schedule or not. Do with it as you feel is appropriate.”

All readers: Can you provide confirmation — and further details? 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.

[Image: yesterday’s Asheville Citizen-Times, Newseum]

Olympics-sized coverage from two smaller papers

August 20, 2008

Part of a series of posts by Gannett Blog Olympics news analyst Ed Hutcheson, a pen name for one of my long-time readers. Ed, an employee at a GCI paper, will file occasional dispatches about Summer Games coverage. It’s all yours, Ed!

Updated at 10:31 a.m. ET. The Beijing Olympics are more than a week old, and so far, so good for Gannett’s coverage team. GCI’s plan is simple: Deliver coverage of hometown athletes to their newspapers, then complement it with broader coverage. Let the Associated Press do the rest. It seems to be working.

A byline count suggests a team of at least 16 reporters: 10 from metro and community papers, five from USA Today, plus Gannett News Service columnist Mike Lopresti. If two staffers from the smallest papers are any indication, Gannett and those hometown papers are getting their money’s worth.

Kevin Tresolini, a sports writer at The News Journal in Wilmington, Del., covered at least seven sports, including swimming, field hockey, soccer and tennis, in his first week.

Tresolini describes the job on his blog from Beijing: “Most of what I write (is) Gannett-paper specific — a story about the wrestler for the Shreveport, La., paper, the weight-lifter for the Salem, Ore., paper, the women’s basketball player for the Nashville paper, the field hockey player for Cherry Hill, N.J.,” he says. “Wednesday at swimming, I popped out three different dispatches for three different papers on three different swimmers.”

Bob Berghaus, the sports editor at the Asheville Citizen-Times, covered softball, canoe/kayak, tennis, cycling, swimming and shooting in his first week. He’s also writing columns and blogging.

On his blog, Berghaus confesses that he went into a women’s restroom by mistake, ate some mystery meat, and passed out on his flight to China. On Friday, he wrote a column about how he tried to bend the rules at the swimming venue and didn’t get away with it.

Tresolini has blogged about dishes he has not eaten, spitting in public — and the smog.

Got a tip for Ed? 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.

[Images: yesterday’s front pages, Newseum]

Annals of Bad Communication: Layoff memos

August 15, 2008

Have the publishers all attended the Tara Connell School of Corporate Communications? I’ve now read countless we’re-gonna-lay-you-off-suckas memos, sent over the past 24 hours to nervous staff at Gannett’s 84 community newspapers.

Let me save you a lot of effort in the future. Employees want to know one thing at the top of your memos: How many of us will lose our jobs? For example, Publisher Randy Hammer‘s 250-word note to staff at the Asheville Citizen-Times can be boiled down to 11 words that I’ve highlighted in the fourth paragraph, below:

TO: Asheville staff
FROM: Randy Hammer
RE: Staff reductions

We’ve had many successes these past several months. But despite our readership gains and Web site growth, the nation’s economic downturn has hurt many of our businesses in Asheville and throughout the nation.

We’ve been affected and so has Gannett. The company announced today it is eliminating approximately 1,000 jobs in the Community Publishing division.

About 400 jobs that were open throughout the division have already been eliminated. That means about 600 people across all of Gannett’s newspapers and magazines will be laid off in the next week or two.

For the Citizen-Times, our number is still being finalized, but it appears that six of our more than 250 employees will be laid off. I expect to receive word about our final number next week and will do my best to keep everyone informed.

I realize how difficult this news is, especially in light of the excellent work everyone has been doing. But the economy doesn’t appear as if it will turn around anytime soon.

I assure you we will work very hard to treat people who are laid off with dignity. I realize nearly everyone will have questions about what is happening. In the next few weeks, I will meet with each department so we can talk about it. But right now my priority and concern are the people who will be laid off. I expect to be able to give you an update by Wednesday of next week.

Earlier: Top GCI exec Clark-Johnson is quote-a-licious!

[Image: today’s front page, Newseum]

Reader: New Colorado pub shows Ivey’s clout

June 5, 2008

Newspaper division President Bob Dickey‘s pick this week for new Coloradoan publisher reflects the growing influence of Louisville uber-Publisher Denise Ivey, a reader tells me, in an e-mail that points to one other Ivey protegee who also got a top job. “Looks like a continuing purging of the innovative initiative of Sue Clark-Johnson for the bean-counting metrics of Dickey — which has been Ivey’s claim to success,” the reader tells me in an e-mail. “Suggests a much more corporate, bottom-line driven initiative by Dickey than the innovation that SCJ was trying to push.”

Join the Coloradoan publisher debate, in the original post.

Ivey was named president of the Mid-South Group in early 2006; some critics have waggishly tagged her Poison Ivey.

Related: ‘Demoralized in Kentucky’