Archive for the ‘Ask Tara’ Category

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

September 4, 2008

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.

Advertisements

Giving peace a chance, is it time for detente?

August 17, 2008

Regarding whether we should expect Gannett’s official spokeswoman to be more candid, a reader offers an intriguing suggestion: “I agree that you should give Tara Connell a break. She was a terrific reporter, a fiercely focused editor and she has navigated the new world of corporate-speak with more integrity than many who hold such jobs. No, she doesn’t volunteer much, but her very minimalist approach — even before all these layoff woes — has kept her from missteps, dissembling or deception. The truth of the matter is she said very little before this blog; it would be unusual to expect her to be verbose or volunteering now.

“Should she, though, answer your questions? I think the answer ultimately should be yes, because this blog, as mean-spirited as it is at times, is a full-blown news entity now. It’s a two-way street, though. If the blog stops using her as a punching bag, and respects the position she is in, it could very well be useful for the company, through Connell, to occasionally communicate here.

“Right now, though, the blog is a mob scene. Understandable given what’s going on. And Gannett itself — Tara, too — bear part of that blame for the unbelievably poor manner with which this was all communicated. This isn’t five years ago, where Romenesko was the only game in town and maybe he’d publish a memo or two. This blog has gone Gannett-viral, and it is a new part of the company and the employee mindthink. With that, I believe, comes more responsibility on all sides to make it work for everyone.

“It would be less fun to drop the poking of Tara, but maybe a lowering of rhetoric — given that people are losing their jobs — might be good for all sides. There are a lot of inept people in all this — bad managers, scared-silly employees, hangers-on and rubberneckers — but most everyone involved, yes, publishers, too, are trying to get through this. There are a lot of enemies. Tara isn’t one of them.”

Confidential to Everyone: I have nothing personally against Tara Connell. She was responsive until around the time of the annual shareholders meeting, April 30.

But since then, Connell has replied to my e-mails on only a few occasions, and our relationship has grown more contentious. Meanwhile, Gannett Blog‘s readership continues climbing. This site likely has more readers than any other GCI employee publication (see chart, above, of last 30 days’ traffic). It’s now the virtual watercooler for a significant share of the 46,100 employees. Those readers aren’t going away. I don’t think Connell’s going away. And I’m not going away. Given that, perhaps it’s time for a truce?


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.

[Chart: Nearly 24,000 unique visitors read Gannett Blog over the past 30 days, Google Analytics said today. About 20% were new readers, drawn especially by news of 600 newspaper layoffs last week]

Why we shouldn’t expect Connell to be candid

August 16, 2008
“I am confident that she and her staff will continue to do a terrific job communicating
Gannett’s success story to its employees.”

— then-CEO Doug McCorkindale, on former USA Today Managing Editor Tara Connell‘s March 2003 appointment as the company’s top flack. (Layoffs? What layoffs?)

Ask Tara: 46 hours later, no response on layoffs

August 14, 2008

An occasional look at questions I ask official Gannett flack Tara Connell. (Who knows? Maybe we’ll even get answers!)

Updated at 8:03 p.m. ET, Aug. 15. OMG! Connell still hasn’t gotten back to me — nearly two days after I asked her to comment on a report that GCI plans to lay off 600 newspaper division employees, and eliminate another 400 division jobs. (Hmmmm. I wonder if she’d get back to me if I mentioned the SEC again — like I did last time?) In any case, the industry is now watching.

Aug. 14, 2008

Tara:

I have been given a copy of a memo, apparently e-mailed late yesterday afternoon by Salisbury, Md., Publisher Rick Jensen. He has told his employees the following: “Across Gannett’s Community Publishing division, about 1,000 positions will be eliminated — about 3% of the workforce. Of the 1,000 positions, about 600 employees will be laid off.”

I would like a comment from you.

Thank you.

Jim

Got an impertinent question for Ask Tara? Post it in the comments section, below. You’ll be glad you did! Or send it to me confidentially from a non-work computer, using this link; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

GCI’s Connell: No dividend cut in the works, but . . .

July 18, 2008

. . . the company’s chief flack wouldn’t rule it out either, Dow Jones says, as Gannett’s stock dividend nears a sky-high 10% yield. “When it comes to paying dividends, paying down debt and paying for acquisitions, we’re constantly evaluating all our options,” Tara Connell told the news service.

CEO Craig Dubow has said that maintaining the dividend is one of his top priorities. Any concession would likely send GCI’s stock even deeper into the toilet.

The Dow Jones story warns investors that the days of rich dividend payouts for newspaper publishers could be numbered. “These stock prices are declining, and the market is sending a signal that these dividends are not sustainable,” Morningstar analyst Tom Corbett says. “When you have a company with declining profitability paying out above-average dividend yields, investors need to ask themselves how long this will be sustainable.”

Gannett’s yield surged to 9.3% after the company reported dismal quarterly earnings, crushing investors’ hopes for a shift in its strategy. GCI shares dived to new 20-year lows.

Earlier: Testing new lows, Gannett stock tumbles 2%

Reader: I can’t get a corrected pension statement

July 15, 2008

Regarding errors in the company’s retirement plan statements, a reader says in an e-mail: “My first Gannett paper wasn’t included, depriving me of 5 years that would put me over 20 years at a higher accrual rate. A colleague’s statement is missing 10 years. I’ve called the ‘help’ line three times. It’s just a call center, but I was supposed to have heard back more than a week ago, and haven’t. I got a correct statement just five years ago — has Gannett lost its files, or is it intentionally cutting service short, hoping we won’t notice?”

Join the debate, in the original post.

Earlier: Ask Tara: How many incorrect pension statements?

Ask Tara: Something amiss with e-mail alerts?

July 15, 2008

Updated at 9:35 a.m. ET. This just in from Connell: “We’re checking with thompsn, who handles the alerts for our major releases. Silberman wasn’t released through businessWire so may not have gone out on the alert system. We generally don’t put out publisher releases on bizwire. Are those the ones you are missing?”

Earlier: An occasional look at questions I ask official Gannett flack Tara Connell. (Who knows? Maybe we’ll even get answers!)

July 15, 2008

Tara:

I am writing to you as both a journalist and as a Gannett stockholder.

It appears there’s something wrong with Corporate’s e-mail alerts for press releases. I’ve subscribed and re-subscribed to the service, using both my Gannett Blog e-mail address, and my personal address. Yet, your recent delivery of press releases has been sporadic at best.

Today, for example, I noticed that you posted a release about the appointment of a new publisher at the Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore. (This was, of course, old news to my more than 10,000 readers.) I have no record of receiving that release. Perhaps it is a glitch at my end. Or perhaps it’s at yours. In any case, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to deliberately deprive me of the latest news about the company.

I do not know whether the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission mandates equal treatment of all shareholders when it comes to e-mail alerts. I do know, however, that the SEC is very interested in senior executives who post anonymous comments on websites — especially with the intent of shoring up stock prices. (Whole Foods CEO John Mackey learned that lesson the hard way last year!)

Thank you.

Jim

cc: Todd Mayman, vice president, associate general counsel, secretary and chief governance officer

Got an impertinent question for Ask Tara? Post it in the comments section, below. You’ll be glad you did! Or send it to me confidentially from a non-work computer, using this link; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

Ask Tara: Is GCI going to sublet headquarters space?

June 26, 2008

An occasional look at questions I ask official Gannett flack Tara Connell. (Who knows? Maybe we’ll even get answers!)

June 26, 2008

Tara:

One of my readers asks if it’s true that Gannett has hired a space planner to review the headquarters tower in McLean, Va., as part of a plan to possibly sublet excess space to other tenants.

Thank you.

Jim

Got an impertinent question for Ask Tara? Post it in the comments section, below. You’ll be glad you did! Or send it to me confidentially from a non-work computer, using this link; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

Ask Tara: How many incorrect pension statements?

June 18, 2008

An occasional look at questions I ask official Gannett flack Tara Connell. (Who knows? Maybe we’ll even get answers!)

June 18, 2008

Tara:

Roxanne Horning has told some employees that they received pension statements containing errors. Her e-mail notes: “Very few of the 26,000 statements we sent have this error.”

1. How many statements contained errors?
2. What was the specific “data glitch” Horning blames for these errors?
3. Given employees’ already frayed nerves about the pension freeze, what steps did Gannett take to guarantee these statements would be error-free?

Thank you.

Jim

Got an impertinent question for Ask Tara? Post it in the comments section, below. You’ll be glad you did! Or send it to me confidentially from a non-work computer, using this link; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

Underdog days: Shalala, and Press Releases 101

June 13, 2008

Gannett hasn’t gotten around to issuing a press release about one of its biggest moves in decades: wheeling GCI’s pension plan into the deep freeze. But holy stop the presses! Chief flack Tara Connell did broadcast this jaw-dropper yesterday: Gannett board member Donna Shalala (left) is to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom next Thursday at the White House. (Note to USA Today photo editors: You may now start planning your most flattering shots for the ceremony.)

As we’ve observed, any Connell communique wouldn’t be complete without an almost-sounds-real quote from an overpaid executive. The former journalist(?) doesn’t disappoint in her new Shalala missive — leading me to imagine the following dramatic scene in CEO Craig Dubow‘s office yesterday:

Connell (charging into Dubow’s sanctum): Give me an ass-kissing quote, and make it snappy!

Dubow (visibly shaken): Gracia‘s right; you are tough!

Connell (narrowing eyes): Squeal, you no-account Atlanta advertising salesman!

Dubow (puking into nearby trash can): Stop! Stop! I can’t stand the pressure! How about: “Donna Shalala is a remarkable American and deeply deserving of this wonderful honor. She has spent a lifetime breaking barriers, leading change and speaking out for the underdog. We are thrilled for her and proud she is a member of the Gannett family.”

Connell: Underdog. . . . Gannett family. . . . Hmmmm. I like it! Makes us sound almost human. I’ll put it in quotes and no one will be the wiser. Now, start cracking on the multiple major projects those whiners think you’re working on.

(Confidential to Corporate: When sucking up to a member of the board of directors, it’s best to proofread a press release before sending it to Business Wire — if you want to avoid embarrassing mistakes over who’s actually the U.S. president.)

Your snarky responses, 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.