Archive for the ‘Fort Myers’ Category

It takes a village: How an employee gets laid off

November 30, 2008

Cutting loose a single employee can require a three-member team: their immediate supervisor; an H.R. representative, and someone from IT. The supervisor and H.R. deliver the bad news in a private meeting, explaining severance terms and other details. While this is going on, an IT worker is likely shutting off access to the computer network. (In some cases, a fourth employee might be assigned to pack the worker’s personal possessions, to be handed to them as they leave the building.)

Suppose this process takes 30 minutes per worker. A three-member team could handle 16 layoffs in eight hours. But what if it’s a bigger paper, with more cuts to make — like The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., where the publisher has already warned of about 80 layoffs? One team would need 40 hours to run through that many people, so there would likely be several teams, working simultaneously.

Earlier: Questions to bring to a meeting where you’ll be laid off

[Image: today’s News-Press, Newseum]

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]

As Currie retires, debate grows over his legacy

November 22, 2008

In one of the least surprising developments in Corporate’s hush-hush executive reshuffling, top newspaper division content boss Phil Currie (left) has told colleagues in an e-mail that he’s leaving the company after more than four decades’ work.

Mark Silverman once accused me of burying the lead in an e-mail I sent to editors, so I won’t do it here,” Currie says. “I want you to know that on Dec. 31 of this year, I will be retiring. Given some vacation time I will be using over the holidays to be with my family, I expect my last official day in the office will be Dec. 19. I approached Bob Dickey about this in October, and he left it to me to choose the time of the announcement. I choose now.”

One of GCI’s most influential editors
A 44-year Gannett lifer, Currie did more than almost any other executive to shape the content of the company’s newspapers over the past two decades. He was not universally popular. Yet, Currie remained optimistic about the industry’s future, as this short February interview shows:

Currie has strong supporters — including Cincinnati Enquirer top editor Tom Callinan, who says in a comment today: “Before this thread dips below the home page and is lost to posterity: It is unfortunate that this good man who has done so much for so many and cared so deeply over the years is getting raked by anons who really do not know Phil. Say what you will about News 2000 and RLRN or whatever other Corporate program, Phil put readers first as well as the families of those of us who moved often. His legacy is rich with recruiting some very good journalists, advancing diversity and standing up for us when the bean-counters intruded into newsrooms.”

Currie’s legacy; what’s next?
When I worked for the community newspapers, publishers did not dare hire an executive editor — sometimes even a managing editor — without Currie’s blessing. He was a driving force behind Gannett’s more hare-brained quality control programs — from the original “News 2000,” to “Real Life, Real News.” Yet, his crowning achievement may be the now-failing Information Center business model, foisted on newspapers two years ago.

Kate Marymont will likely take on Currie’s responsibilities, a shift expected since the former News-Press editor in Fort Myers, Fla., got promoted to Corporate earlier this year.

(Confidential to Currie: That you would reference Tennessean top editor Silverman in one of your final e-mails only confirms you haven’t paid attention to what’s been happening in the field.)

Earlier: More video favorites on my YouTube channel

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.

Are other pubs following Kane, Hudler examples?

November 21, 2008

Publishers in Indianapolis and Fort Myers, Fla., have kept employees up to date on how many of them are likely to be laid off over the next two weeks. Indeed, Indianapolis Star Publisher Michael Kane recently lowered his estimate by nearly half — surely, welcome news for employees trying to plan ahead.

Nothing would be more cruel than sitting on information like this until early December — the deadline Corporate has set for the 84-daily community newspaper division to reduce employment by 10%.

Kane’s revised estimate: fewer than 55 layoffs among about 1,100 employees. In Fort Myers, which has about 600 employees, Publisher Carol Hudler reportedly is forecasting about 100 job cuts — including 80 layoffs; the rest are unoccupied positions.

Both Kane and Hudler are group presidents, which ought to mean downstream pubs in their regions are following their lead. Are they?

How are you preparing for the 10% cut? Post replies in the comments section, below. E-mail gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

[Image: today’s Star front page, Newseum]

For editors, new software tool — and Connell, too?

November 18, 2008

Gannett is on the verge of launching an online software application to make it easier for its newspapers to share and reuse each others’ stories and other content, readers tell me.

The service, possibly called Gannett One or Content One, could largely or completely replace what remains of Gannett News Service. What’s more, it appears to be a step in the direction of weaning the company off increasingly expensive Associated Press stories, video and other content.

CEO Craig Dubow and Gannett’s chief spokeswoman Tara Connell described the new initiative in a series of employee meetings yesterday during a Corporate tour of papers at Greenville, S.C., and at Brevard and Fort Myers in Florida, readers say. “There was a TON of open groaning and shifting about this from the news side of yesterday’s meeting,” one tipster told me about the News-Press meeting in Fort Myers.

In a curious twist, I’m told, Connell — who has been vice president over corporate communications since 2003 — would take on an editorial role, working with research and development chief Michael Maness to run the service. (I asked Connell for comment last night, but have not heard back from her.)

Gannett One would let an editor quickly determine which company newspapers have just published a spring gardening story on, say, planting tulips. The story could then be downloaded, re-written to include more local information, then published online and in print, readers say.

Dubow and newspaper division President Bob Dickey talked about the same sharing of information when they visited employees last month in Louisville, Ky. “Someone asked if this meant eliminating AP, and they said that it would probably happen later down the road, but not immediately,” another reader says. “The impression I got was within the next 3-5 years.”

Connell’s credibility problem
An employee since 1972(!!!), Connell has spent the past five-plus years in the public-relations spin cycle, defending Dubow and other top executives even as their compensation skyrocketed while revenue and the company’s stock price tanked.

To be sure, Connell has worked editorial before: Prior to being named the company’s top publicist, she was a managing editor at USA Today before being replaced during a change in top editors. While her defense of Corporate has hardly been full-throated, I imagine her credibility among some editors is now pretty much shot. (Besides, if Connell moves back to edtorial, who’s going to make sure you-know-who doesn’t keep losing her BlackBerry?)

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.

Calling Brevard, other staff: What’s Dubow saying?

November 17, 2008

Gannett CEO Craig Dubow is reportedly on the road again this week, visiting Florida Today this morning/afternoon before (I believe) hitting The Greenville News in South Carolina, and The News-Press at Fort Myers, Fla. So, what’s he saying during employee meetings?

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.

Fort Myers: Hudler said warning up to 80 jobs going

November 12, 2008

The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., will eliminate between 60 and 80 jobs — as much as 13% of all — as the paper races to comply with Corporate’s demands for a broad workforce reduction across the newspaper division by early next month, readers are now telling me.

Publisher Carol Hudler, who also is chief of Gannett’s South group of papers, disclosed the figures to employees yesterday, without identifying individual victims. I’d been waiting until now for further confirmation before publishing any hard numbers.

On the high end, the 80 jobs would include 20 unoccupied positions — resulting in 60 forced layoffs, readers say. What’s more, those 80 would represent more than 13% of the News-Press‘ total workforce, based on the paper’s official company page — a higher percentage than forecast. That may mean Hudler had fewer well-paid workers to choose from, so was forced to target more, lower-paid employees.

Earlier: our new paper-by-paper list of late-2008 layoffs

How are you preparing for the 10% cut? Post replies in the comments section, below. E-mail gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

Fort Myers: Hudler said bracing staff for big layoffs

November 11, 2008

News-Press Publisher Carol Hudler — who’s also chief of the South group of papers — today announced how many jobs the struggling Florida paper must cut to meet Corporate’s new budget-cutting goals, a reader tells me in an e-mail.

But I’d first like confirmation from other readers before I post the specific figures given to me. Fort Myers staff: What do you hear?

If Hudler did announce a layoff target for Fort Myers, she did so much sooner than expected. Corporate has told publishers to submit proposals by this Friday on how they’ll meet a planned 10% workforce reduction; most affected employees are to learn their fate the first week of December. As a group leader, however, Hudler is high enough up the food chain to have gotten her plan OK’d already. The question my reader asked: When will Hudler notify the individuals who are getting laid off?

How are you preparing for the 10% cut? Post replies in the comments section, below. E-mail gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

Earlier: Key dates in Gannett’s planned layoff of up to 3,000 workers

[Image: today’s News-Press, Newseum]

In new data, a stark portrait of digital’s newsroom

October 26, 2008

Two years ago this month, Gannett unveiled what it called the newsroom of the future: the Information Center, a strategic shift designed to bolster readership and advertising sales by emphasizing digital over traditional print distribution.

“Breaking news on the Web and updating for the newspaper draws more people to both those media,” CEO Craig Dubow told employees at the time. “Appealing to more and different readers helps bring us more and different advertisers.”

Now, new data show, Dubow’s Information Center strategy is failing to turn around Gannett’s biggest and most troubled business: the community newspaper division; its 84 dailies plus USA Today account for nearly 80% of revenue, and 65% of GCI’s 46,000 employees.

For the first time, Dubow is conceding that online advertising sales are now falling across those newspapers, following months of increasingly narrow gains. Online sales fell 7% in the third quarter from a year ago, Dubow told Wall Street media stock analysts in a Friday teleconference.

It was Dubow’s starkest concession that a cornerstone of his strategic plan was not delivering the goods, raising troubling questions about Gannett’s viability as the 102-year-old newspaper publisher steams into uncharted waters.

Newspaper losses accelerate
The fall in newspaper online revenue came despite higher website traffic, company documents show. Gannett captured 15.6% of the U.S. Internet audience last month, up from 15% in September 2006, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.

What’s more, the online revenue decline comes as newspaper advertising losses accelerate: Ad sales plunged $210.6 million, or 18%, in the third quarter from a year ago — the single-biggest drop since sales started falling early last year.

Meanwhile, Gannett’s purely digital businesses aren’t making up the difference, other data show. Digital sales totaled $77.6 million, up from $17.2 million in last year’s third quarter. This newly created revenue category comprises jobs site CareerBuilder, ad services company PointRoll, plus other ventures.

Tweak vs. fatal flaw
The bottom line: Gannett’s profit plunged 32% in the third quarter on a 9% decline in operating revenue, shaking investor conference, and guaranteeing another round of job reductions by year’s end, Chief Financial Officer Gracia Martore told the Friday teleconference.

Advocates of the Information Center model might argue that the newspaper division’s revenue losses would have been even worse without a big change in how Gannett gathers and distributes news. Rather than abandoning it, they’ve begun revising the concept.

But a mere tweaking will not address the Information Center’s fatal flaw: It was to be launched while Gannett simultaneously reduced employment in the newspaper division. Dubow didn’t make that clear in his original Information Center memo. It became obvious over the past two months, as GCI cut more than 1,000 newspaper jobs through layoffs and other means.

You cannot do this simultaneously and succeed: build an innovative digital start-up (the websites, moms microsites, Metromix, etc.) while also putting out 85 traditional daily newspapers — all at Internet speed, but with fewer employees, shoveling as much cash as possible to investors.

Gannett is now spreading the Information Center strategy to its TV stations and U.K. newspapers, even as the company plans more job cuts amid a likely global economic downturn. In Friday’s earnings statement, Dubow made clear he won’t turn away from that strategy. “While our results this quarter reflect the difficult and volatile economy both here and in the U.K., they also highlight our determination to move forward with our strategic plan,” he said.

And, yet: Is it determination — or desperation?

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: yesterday’s News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., Newseum. The paper was one of the test sites for the information center concept]

Pensacola: An experiment (with Ivey?) continues

October 19, 2008

The Pensacola News Journal is apparently still experimenting with producing two different front pages: One for home delivery, the other for rack sales aimed at young readers. Meanwhile, former long-time Publisher Denise Ivey is heading back to the paper as some sort of advisor, a tipster says: “Just heard the word ‘consultant’ being thrown around. Sounds like she’ll be making a list.”

Ivey, you’ll recall, was Pensacola publisher from 1994 to 2006, when she was named publisher of The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., and president of the former Mid-South Group of Gannett papers. Ivey lost those two posts during June’s Friday Afternoon Massacre. Arnold Garson of Sioux Falls, S.D., replaced her as Louisville publisher, and the regional authority was moved to the newly formed South Group in Fort Myers, Fla. Ivey was bumped up to the newly created Louisville position of chairman, until her scheduled Jan. 1 retirement.

Like Gannett’s other three Florida papers, the News Journal is in trouble over its exposure to the real estate collapse. Florida is one of four states (Arizona, California and Nevada are the others) that have lost enormous sums of housing-related advertising in the past year — a loss that has pulled down Gannett’s overall revenue and profits.

Please post your reactions 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.