Archive for the ‘Freedom Forum’ Category

Lumps o’ coal: Before Newseum cuts, big paychecks

December 1, 2008

Related: Economic headlines hit home as Newseum cuts staff 10%.

Earlier: The tortured history between Gannett and the Newseum’s non-profit developer, Freedom Forum. Plus, Charles Overby: First Amendment advocate by day, for-profit prison director by night!

Annals of advertising: Can’t beat ’em, join ’em?

October 13, 2008

[An unexpected ad, from a target of my criticism]

I haven’t exactly been a rah-rah booster of Newseum financial backer Freedom Forum, what with my snarky suggestion that the non-profit foundation’s CEO, Charles Overby, was recently in bed with legendary retired Gannett CEO Al Neuharth. (Ick: there’s an image!)

So, you can imagine my amusement when I saw a Newseum text ad (screenshot, above) at the top of my blog last night. To be sure, it’s one of the new Google-served advertisements I began publishing over the weekend. I doubt the $450 million museum’s marketing department chose this venue. Then again, politics make strange (prison) bedfellows. . .

See a promo worth highlighting in Advertising Watch? 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.

All in the family? Neuharth reveals son’s new book

September 20, 2008

Like rubbernecking past a car wreck, I can’t resist octogenarian retired CEO Al Neuharth‘s weekly column, every Friday in USA Today.

Our man-with-the-tan disclosed a couple surprising tidbits in this week’s column, when he wrote about filling in for his temporarily ailing son at a newspaper conference in Denver. We learn that Dan Neuharth is writing a book about the industry, one based on more than 40 interviews with newspaper CEOs. Now, I wonder if Dan will offer the same candid treatment he gave in a USA Today op-ed piece he wrote in 2006. In that essay, Dan questioned his father’s legacy on the pages of the very paper that made Neuharth pere so famous.

Big Al also writes that he spoke at the conference with Walter Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock — asking Hussman how he succeeded in boosting his daily’s circulation 4%, to 182,202, over the past decade, even as other papers suffered declines. Of course, Neuharth fails to mention another more important measure of Hussman’s success: He ran Gannett out of town in 1991, after GCI closed The Arkansas Gazette just five years after Neuharth bought the daily in the twilight of his career. Gannett was by then losing up to $30 million a year in that newspaper war.

And speaking of tans . . .
I should now be basking in the glory of winning the Hawaiian Tropic George Hamilton-Christina Aguilera Grand Prix du Festival Cup. As you know, that hotly contested trophy was awarded on Labor Day to the winner of the newly revived Gerald R. Ford Pro-Am Summer Biathlon International Tanning Competition. I was, after all, the odds-on favorite, given my choice tanning spot on the Mediterrean island of Ibiza.

But, no! In an 11th-hour switch, crafty Neuharth arranged for the original panel of judges to be replaced with his crony-packed Freedom Forum board of trustees! My riposte: See you in Brazil this winter, Al, because that’s the next stop for Sparky and yours truly, in our Endless Summer of 2008-09!

Dept. of Self-Stroking: Neuharth-Overby Edition

September 14, 2008

[Incest is best: Neuharth and Freedom Forum pal Overby]

Overpaid former Gannett CEO Al Neuharth is honoring equally overpaid Freedom Forum CEO and buddy Charles Overby with the 2008 Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media. Could there possibly be a more deserving recipient? After all, Overby excelled at paying Neuharth a $225,000 salary plus a $200,545 expense account for doing — well, we don’t know, since the non-profit foundation devoted to press freedom refuses to explain Neuharth’s duties.

Meanwhile, the Neuharth-controlled non-profit has paid former Gannett executive Overby $526,593 a year, public documents show. Plus, Overby — who pushed through the controversial $450 million Newseum in Washington, D.C. — has done a crackerjack job of protecting the First Amendment. Readers here will recall that the politically-connected Overby moonlights as a director at for-profit prison chain Corrections Corporation of America. As a director, he contributed $25,000 to the company’s political action committee — a PAC that has battled congressional legislation that would strengthen the federal Freedom of Information Act, public documents show. Now, that’s some most excellent behavior!

The award is co-sponsored by Neuharth’s alma mater, the University of South Dakota, where the campus paper reported Overby’s selection on its website. “So, the Al Neuharth award goes to the hand-picked CEO of his own institution,” a reader said in a comment on the story. “How do you spell ‘incestuous’?”

“Yes, it was a bit of a stretch,” a second reader wrote. “Al actually had to walk seven feet from his office to tell Charles the news. Given how many scores of dedicated journalists have died this year trying to get stories out — including the posthumously awarded Pulitzer winner for spot news photography — the notion of giving an award to the head of journalism’s largest country club is perplexing.”

Earlier: Questions for Freedom Forum — and for trustee Ken Paulson, the top editor of USA Today

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.

File under: Dept. of Awkward Neuharth Encounters

August 22, 2008

Like rubbernecking past a car wreck, I can’t resist octogenarian retired CEO Al Neuharth‘s weekly column, every Friday in USA Today.

Manners maven Letitia Baldrige evidently wasn’t in charge of seating assignments at the Newseum luncheon that followed Meet the Press host Tim Russert‘s funeral two months ago. The still-sassy retired White House social secretary would never have seated Neuharth at the same table with former NBC News President Michael Gartner.

Gartner, you’ll recall, was the journalist hired by Neuharth’s Freedom Forum foundation to write a warts-and-all bio of our favorite suntanned retiree in Cocoa Beach, Fla. But then Gartner turned up one particular wart Neuharth’s loyal retainers didn’t want public after all: an out-of-wedlock daughter.

I’d love to read the manuscript Freedom Forum paid to have killed before publication. Do you suppose it’s in a safe at that luxe condominium CEO Charles Overby occupies above the Newseum? (Random thought: Did Overby get a special condo discount?)

Pay no attention to those layoffs!
Today, Big Al managed to overlook another bit of unpleasantness: Those sweeping layoffs at the company he (mis)led as CEO. So, being a service-oriented blogger, I’ll reprise some of his financial bon mots for those of you laid-off Gannetteers now facing ruin:

Former USA Today employee Bennett is alive!

August 13, 2008

[Mad about you: Bennett; Kaczynski; USAT’s Paulson]

Freedom Forum flack Susan Bennett is defending the charitable foundation’s decision to display the cabin where convicted “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski once holed up in Montana. The 10-by-12-foot hideaway is at the journalism foundation’s controversial Newseum, which opened in new $450 million digs in April.

So, why am I surprised to see the one-time USA Today editorial writer quoted in today’s Washington Post? Well, it’s been four months since Bennett assured me that someone would explain what founder Al Neuharth did in 2006 to earn his $225,000 Freedom Forum salary, plus a $200,545 expense account. And I’m still waiting.

Neuharth, 84, is the retired CEO of Gannett. Freedom Forum’s chairman and CEO is Charles Overby, a former Gannett vice president for news and communications. Indeed, Overby leads a group of GCI insiders who run the foundation.

Among the questions I put to Bennett on April 3 — questions the non-profit charity refuses to answer:

  • What are Neuharth’s specific job duties?
  • What was the purpose of his expense account?
  • Did he work 40 hours a week year round?
  • Who determines his compensation?
  • Is there a committee of the board of trustees who sets his compensation?
  • How much was Neuharth paid last year?

Bennett’s silence has been all the more ironic because of Ken Paulson‘s role as one of the foundation’s trustees. Paulson, of course, is the top editor at USA Today. Before Publisher Craig Moon plucked him from obscurity, Paulson ran the foundation’s First Amendment Center in Nashville, Tenn., where he traveled the country, promoting free speech. What’s more, Paulson wrote earlier this year that “keeping an eye on people in power and how they do their jobs is a driving force behind American journalism.” Seems like he’d want Bennett to, well, help me keep an eye on people in power, no?

But wait; there’s more!
There have been several developments since I first questioned Bennett about those odd payments to Neuharth.

I reported that her politically savvy boss, Overby (left), is a $165,000-a-year member of the board of directors at for-profit prison chain Corrections Corporation of America. In that capacity, Overby has contributed $25,000 to the company’s political action committee — a PAC that has battled congressional legislation that would strengthen the federal Freedom of Information Act, public documents show. (Overby has been a Corrections Corporation director since December 2001, public documents show — a seat that still doesn’t appear in his Freedom Forum bio.)

And then there’s this development: Gannett Blog now has more than 17,000 readers for Bennett to continue ignoring each month.

Earlier: The tortured history of Gannett vs. Freedom Forum

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.

[Images: Bennett, Freedom Forum; Paulson, Indiana University]

Ethicist Neuharth: Journalists lazy, must be jailed

August 1, 2008

Like rubbernecking past a car wreck, I can’t resist octogenarian retired CEO Al Neuharth‘s weekly column, every Friday in USA Today.

Our favorite Jack Kelley enabler opines today that reporters and their lazy — err, “time-pressed” — editors should be jailed for protecting all those lying, cowardly, anonymous, whistleblowers. The 84-year-old South Dakota bootstrapper sneers, “any good reporter can get such tips verified, if they’re true, by a reliable source willing to be identified.”

(Of course, the suntanned manuscript shredder neglects to mention that persuading a source to identify herself publicly doesn’t necessarily guarantee publication. Just ask authorized-but-later-dismissed Neuharth biographer Michael Gartner!)

Reader: ‘John Quinn was the real deal’

May 6, 2008

Regarding my post about whether a blog in the 1990s might have positively influenced Gannett’s culture, a reader recalls former USA Today editor John Quinn (left): “About two years into Gannett ownership of our newspaper, we had a Gannett publisher but were just making the transition from homegrown to imported newsroom leadership. The longtime editor was nearing retirement, and with no obvious successor in-house (also due to age), it was inevitable that the first Gannettoid would be joining the staff.

“Quinn worked quietly with senior newsroom staffers to craft a new editorial leadership structure that made the process as painless as possible. Then he showed up unannounced one day with the new guy in tow.

“After introductions in the newsroom, Quinn and the import were joined by the longtime local editor in a march into the startled publisher’s office. ‘We’ve got a new arrangement for the newsroom,’ Quinn told the publisher. ‘Now, how are you going to try to f**k it up?'”

“All laughed heartily, although the publisher’s laughter was rather nervous. Message received, and mission accomplished.”

Join the debate, in the original post.

[Photo: Freedom Forum]

Hard lessons: Analytics software vs. common sense

May 1, 2008

This is a story about online journalism, traffic reports — and the downside of not always using common sense when it comes to figuring out what’s important to readers.

I wrote nine posts about the annual shareholders meeting in the month before it took place, yesterday, at Corporate’s headquarters in McLean, Va. As I often do, I studied traffic reports from Google Analytics and two other services to gauge interest in the subject. My conclusion then: Folks weren’t that interested in the meeting. My conclusion today: I’m a whole lot less sure. First, the statistics.

Gannett Blog had nearly 70,000 pageviews over the past month. The single most-read subject was anything to do with the mysterious departure of Ketan Gandhi as publisher of New Jersey’s Courier News and Home News Tribune. Only three of the posts mentioning yesterday’s meeting cracked the top 50 most-read subjects: An effective ban on live-blogging during the meeting; and two posts, here and here, about a T-shirt (left) I designed for fun. On the basis of all that, plus relatively few comments on those posts, a now-chagrined yours truly concluded there wasn’t much interest in the meeting.

Now, had I applied an equal dose of common sense — i.e., Gannett’s most powerful insiders were going to assemble en mass in one spot — I can sure imagine approaching coverage of yesterday’s meeting differently. (I’m still thinking this through, so please bear with me.)

To be sure, I am not a total slave to web analytics software; I know it’s imperfect. That’s why I watch comments very carefully; they’re one of my other best gauges of reader interest. In fact, I often write about things I believe are important, even when readers don’t show as much interest. For example, I put a lot of work into writing about Freedom Forum, even when readers initially greeted what I wrote with a big yawn. Traffic eventually surged on that subject far beyond anything I published about the annual meeting.

Writing about stuff I find interesting is the prerogative of being Gannett Blog’s editor. But I do so at some risk; if I write endlessly about subjects no one wants to read — well, you can guess what happens. So, having now read lots (oy!) of comments about my coverage of yesterday’s annual meeting — well, let’s just say I’m looking forward to applying some hard lessons I’ve learned over the past 24 hours.

Your thoughts, in the comments section, below. Use this link to e-mail feedback, tips, snarky letters, etc. See Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

Questions for Overby at his Press Club talk today

April 24, 2008

Freedom Forum CEO (and former top Gannett executive!) Charles Overby (left) talks to the National Press Club today about the non-profit foundation’s newly opened Newseum in Washington, D.C. I won’t be there for his 12:30 p.m. ET address, so I can’t ask him questions that the foundation has refused to answer for weeks now:

  • Why he’s moonlighting for a for-profit prison chain with a vested business interest in a weaker federal Freedom of Information Act.
  • What foundation founder and retired Gannett CEO Al Neuharth, 84, did for his $225,000 in salary and $200,545 expense account in 2006.