Archive for the ‘Jackson (Miss.)’ Category

Things we say when we’re scared and desperate

November 18, 2008
“Does anyone know
anything on papers in Mississippi?”

Anonymous@9:57 a.m. on Sunday, in a comment reflecting the desperation I described today among employees seeking details about the mass layoff now underway in the newspaper division.

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]

Cutlines Only: Gustav cleanup starts in Mississippi

September 4, 2008

Boats left in Pass Christian Harbor litter the area long U.S. 90, two days after a weakened Hurricane Gustav hit the Louisiana coast, west of New Orleans, The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., says. Photo by Brian Albert Broom, Clarion-Ledger via Newseum.

Cutlines Only showcases Gannett website art. To e-mail suggestions confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right. Or post a link in the comments section, below.

Weakened storm Gustav lands west of New Orleans; hundreds of employees publish live news coverage

September 1, 2008

[Army National Guard members patrol the 5th District today after Gustav skirted New Orleans, in this USA Today photo]

Updated at 4:25 p.m. ET. Gannett employees from Louisiana and Mississippi, fortified by teams from Florida, Des Moines, USA Today and elsewhere, are covering Hurricane Gustav‘s landfall today, publishing videos and other news reports live and real-time. As millions fled inland, The Times in Shreveport, La., and other sites streamed live storm video.

Watching the story unfold, Gannett Blog readers cheered: “GREAT JOB SHREVEPORT!!!!!!!! The best paper in Louisiana, and the best operating committee and publisher in our company,” one said in a comment, below. “You guys are doing a great job covering the storm.”

[Storm updates: The Timeshomepage, moments ago]

Do you know co-workers there? Wish them well! Please post your notes 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.

Earlier: Gustav revives the overtime-pay debate

[Photo: Rob Curtis, USA Today]

Reader: GCI can’t prosper with ‘miserable’ staff

August 11, 2008

Regarding The Clarion-Ledger‘s failure to report its own 20 layoffs, a reader says: “I’m not a Gannett employee nor do I consider myself an anti-Gannett whiner. I am, however, a stockholder. I find it pretty hard to get excited over the stock price being just over $18 when I purchased it at $84.00 a few years back. If I knew then what I know now about the way Gannett treats its employees and the shady practices they engage in, I would have reconsidered my purchase. . . . How can a company perform well when the employees are so miserable? Maybe people would have a better outlook and stop complaining if this company would start listening to the needs of its employees. I understand that layoffs are necessary during times of recession. From what I can gather, the employees also understand this, they just want the company to be upfront with them.”

Join the debate, in the original post.

Jackson, Miss.: A double standard for layoff news?

August 8, 2008

Updated Aug. 15: The paper finally reported its layoffs today.

The Clarion-Ledger has bravely dragged Ku Klux Klan members to justice, no doubt at great risk to its own reporters and editors. So, it was pretty discouraging when I searched the paper’s website today, and found zilch about last week’s layoff of 20 Clarion-Ledger employees — right there in Jackson. Was the number too low to meet a self-imposed threshold for such news? Not likely, given today’s story about 25 layoffs at the Ameristar casino-hotel — a full 45 miles away, in Vicksburg:

(Confidential to Publisher Larry Whitaker: You may win a President’s Ring from Corporate for stuff like this. But you’ll be a weenie in the eyes of your employees. Plus, how do you think the Jackson business community feels about such selective reporting?)

Earlier: Here’s one of journalism’s toughest assignments

How did your Gannett newspaper or TV station cover news of its own layoffs or buyouts? 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 Clarion-Ledger, Newseum]

New Gannett budget cuts hint at huge job losses

August 6, 2008

Racing to shore up unprecedented losses in revenue and profits, Gannett is now quietly engaged in an aggressive new round of budget cuts that could wipe out as many as 2,300 jobs, or 5% of the company’s workforce.

The latest cuts were revealed today, when the Springfield News-Leader reported that GCI is consolidating finance and accounting for 67 of its newspapers and TV stations — moving the work to two new service centers at company locations in Indianapolis and Springfield, Mo. The shift will wipe out a net 167 jobs, the paper says — with the possibility of more consolidation to come. “Gannett may move other services at its more than 100 newspaper and broadcasting sites to the Springfield and Indianapolis service centers,” the story says.

Gannett hasn’t disclosed details of the new budget cuts, including any final target. The consolidations at Indianapolis and Springfield follow similar shifts involving customer service, photo-toning, TV station graphics, advertising art production, and copyediting work. The company’s silence has created even more uncertainty for the company’s approximately 46,000 employees.

“Anyone have a rough estimate of how many Gannett papers have offered buyouts now?” a Gannett Blog reader in Alabama said in a comment yesterday. “I’m in Montgomery, and we haven’t heard any talk of it, but the recent rash of buyouts has many people nervous.”

Rumors swirled last week that the company planned to ax perhaps 1% of payroll, based on June levels. But recent buyouts and layoffs in Cincinnati; Jackson, Miss.; Detroit; Fort Myers, Fla., and Honolulu, have been in the range of 5% of their workforces. If that higher figure were applied across Gannett, combined job cuts would be close to 2,300.

“Every newspaper will face this in the very near future,” a reader here says. “The ‘loser’ papers (those with publishers with the 60’s mentality of 30%-40% profit margins frozen in their brains) are the first to be affected. Cincy is a classic example. They have/had 900 employees? It’s a wonder they aren’t looking for 250 buyouts.”

Budget cuts at your Gannett workplace? Please post details 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-Leader, Newseum]

Documents: GCI knew of risks at least 10 years ago

August 2, 2008

Updated at 3:47 p.m. ET. It’s easy to imagine that Gannett’s increasingly serious problems — especially competition from technology companies — are mostly recent. But then I read the company’s new second-quarter 10-Q statement, filed yesterday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. I paid close attention to the “potential risks” section published quarterly, then compared it to the second-quarter report filed in August 1998.

The bottom line? For at least 10 years now, management has known about the same, fundamental risks that Gannett newspapers like The Clarion Ledger (above) are furiously fighting today. The chief difference now and then may only be the magnitude of those risks.

These passages are often referred to as legal boilerplate, text meant solely to comply with regulations. In other words, it’s the Legal Department justifying its existence. “You’ve probably read a thousand of these things and you know perfectly well how they work,” a reader says in a comment, below. “You also know that companies really don’t use these statements as a basis for forming a business strategy. Companies list every threat, real or imagined, on these forms — in large part to help protect them legally.”

I disagree. This is part of a federal regulatory filing, required to be truthful and accurate. Investors use these statements to weigh the risk of buying stock — and investors use them to sue companies when things go south.

Now, judge for yourself:

Aug. 12, 1998

In a 10-Q, the company says “potential risks and uncertainties which could adversely affect the company’s ability to obtain these results” include:
  • increased consolidation among major retailers or other events which may adversely affect business operations of major customers and depress the level of local and national advertising
  • an economic downturn in some or all of the company’s principal newspaper or television markets leading to decreased circulation or local or national advertising
  • a decline in general newspaper readership patterns as a result of competitive alternative media or other factors
  • an increase in newsprint or syndication programming costs over the levels anticipated
  • labor disputes which may cause revenue declines or increased labor costs
  • acquisitions of new businesses or dispositions of existing businesses
  • a decline in viewership of major networks and local news programming
  • rapid technological changes and frequent new product introductions prevalent in electronic publishing

Aug. 1, 2008
In the new 10-Q, the company lists these risks:

  • increased consolidation among major retailers or other events which may adversely affect business operations of major customers and depress the level of local and national advertising
  • a further economic downturn in some or all of the company’s principal publishing or broadcasting markets leading to decreased circulation or local, national or classified advertising
  • a decline in general publishing readership and/or advertiser patterns as a result of competitive alternative media or other factors
  • an increase in newsprint or syndication programming costs over the levels anticipated
  • labor disputes which may cause revenue declines or increased labor costs
  • acquisitions of new businesses or dispositions of existing businesses
  • a decline in viewership of major networks and local news programming
  • rapid technological changes and frequent new product introductions prevalent in electronic publishing
  • an increase in interest rates
  • a weakening in the Sterling to U.S. dollar exchange rate
  • volatility in financial and credit markets which could affect the value of retirement plan assets and the company’s ability to raise funds through debt or equity issuance
  • changes in the regulatory environment
  • an other than temporary decline in operating results and enterprise value that could lead to further non-cash goodwill, other intangible asset or property, plant and equipment impairment charges
  • general economic, political and business conditions

[Image: today’s Clarion-Ledger, Newseum. The paper in Jackson, Miss., yesterday laid off 20 workers — 5% of its workforce — after Publisher Larry Whitaker cited problems Gannett has wrestled with for years: “the unstable market, higher fuel costs, big spikes in newsprint costs, and a challenging advertising climate]

Clarion-Ledger cuts 20 jobs; all reportedly laid off

August 1, 2008

Updated at 5:42 a.m. ET, Aug. 2. Announcing the cutback today, Publisher Larry Whitaker said fewer employees would have to do more work at the newspaper, known for its courageous civil rights reporting. The Clarion-Ledger will trim 20 jobs and continue freezing an unspecified number of open positions — a total 5% of the workforce, Whitaker said in a letter.

He didn’t identify the departments losing employees, or describe severance terms. But a Gannett Blog reader says these were all layoffs. “No buyouts,” the tipster says.

Another reader wrote: “The cuts today in Jackson involved three from the newsroom. One of the ones cut had been here more than 10 years, another had been here more than 20 years. Within the last week, two people resigned, so I’m sure that lessened the impact on the newsroom. We’re free-falling now.”

Whitaker blamed the pullback on a shrinking local economy. “In nearly every advertising segment, our customers are reporting difficult times for their businesses. They are cutting back on print and online advertising, which has a direct impact on our business.”

His letter continues: “I realize how hard this may sound. The employees who will no longer be with us are good people and fine employees who have served the company well,” his letter said. “The decision to eliminate these jobs was very difficult; but, we can no longer operate with the same number of people while our business gets smaller in this down economy.”

Speeding up the line
Whitaker told those surviving the 5% cut: “Am I saying that we will have to do the same or more with less? Unfortunately, the straight answer to that question is yes. Having fewer people, however, should not be a reason to offer poor customer service or shirk our public service journalism responsibility. In fact, it is imperative that we do the opposite.”

Clarion-Ledger at a glance
Publisher: Larry Whitaker

Executive Editor: Ronnie Agnew

Founded: 1837

Joined Gannett: 1982

Employees: 490
Circulation: 84,955 daily; 96,843 Sunday

Earlier: The paper is home to ace reporter Jerry Mitchell, famous for bringing Ku Klux Klan members to justice, long after others gave up.

Related: My Gannett Blog Style Committee post sparked an unexpected round of comments on a different topic: rumors of wide Gannett layoffs. Join the debate, and read my response, here.

Cutbacks at your Gannett workplace? Please post your replies in the comments section, below. You may send memos and e-mails to gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]. See Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

[Sources: circulation data, 2007 Annual Report; today’s Clarion-Ledger, Newseum]

Sixteen years later, Little Rock mafia rises in GCI

July 11, 2008

Updated on Oct. 4. With the promotion of Kate Marymont (left) to a top News Department job in April, the number of former Arkansas Gazette employees in influential Gannett positions has grown even more. That’s ironic, of course, because many suits at Corporate would just as soon forget that bitter Little Rock chapter. About 700 employees lost their jobs in 1991, when GCI pulled the plug on the paper — likely the single-biggest job loss in Gannett’s 102-year history. (Yes, Virginia: newspapers really do fail.)

CEO Al Neuharth bought the Pulitzer Prize-winning daily in 1986 at a deep discount, during his victory lap as he was leaving Gannett. Five years later, in October 1991, GCI closed the Gazette when its annual losses approached $30 million in a bruising newspaper war with the crosstown Arkansas Democrat. The Gazette‘s assets were sold to what is now the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. (Only three months ago, Editor & Publisher named the Democrat‘s Walter E. Hussman Jr. as the trade publication’s Publisher of the Year.)

Marymont was the Gazette‘s metro editor. Other Little Rock survivors still tied to Gannett include former finance vice president Evan Ray, just promoted to senior vice president/finance and operations amid last month’s Friday Afternoon Massacre; USA Today Publisher Craig Moon, who was the Gazette‘s publisher (and frequent jogger*); Susie Ellwood, then marketing director, and now general manager of the joint operating agency publishing the Detroit Free Press; former production director Austin Ryan, now vice president/production in the newspaper division; former Managing Editor David Petty, now publisher of The News-Star in Monroe, La.; the advertising department’s Larry Whitaker, now publisher of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., and the finance department’s Joe Williams, now the Clarion-Ledger‘s finance director; former state editor Bob Stover, now executive editor at Florida Today; and former copy desk chief Jill Fredel, now assistant managing editor at The News Journal in Wilmington, Del. (And me: I was the Gazette‘s business news editor, before leaving for Boise, then Louisville and San Francisco, where I finished my Gannett career at USA Today.)

I’ll bet I’m missing other Little Rock alumni. To e-mail confidentially, use this link from a non-work computer; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

Related: a Gazette oral history, featuring an “I know nothing” interview (.pdf!) with Neuharth, in May 2000

[* “jogger” is an extremely obscure-but-pertinent reference; image: my Gazette employee ID photo, taken in October 1987]