Archive for the ‘Little Rock’ Category

In latest job cuts, Gannett is still a layoff novice

November 25, 2008

I worked for Gannett newspapers more than 20 years in Little Rock, Boise, Louisville and (for USA Today) in San Francisco. But with the exception of the 700-employee layoff when GCI closed The Arkansas Gazette in 1991, I can’t recall ever hearing about layoffs in the company. Keep that lack of experience in mind as the big newspaper division layoff unfolds in earnest, Dec. 3.

Gannett always staffed lean. I don’t know whether the term “dark time” is used any more. But that meant leaving jobs unfilled (hence: dark, unoccupied offices) — jobs that could be offered up to avert a layoff. So, I’m not surprised to hear that top editor Ken Paulson told USA Today newsroom employees yesterday that he had never laid off anyone before. And he’s worked for Gannett — with sizable breaks — since the 1980s.

Barring a big change in the revenue and earnings trend, Gannett is likely to demand more layoffs in the future. How could it improve the process? Please post replies in the comments section, below. E-mail confidentially via gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

Earlier: We’re building a paper-by-paper list of layoffs and job cuts; just three papers are listed so far, however. Will yours be included?

NYT kills sports magazine; is USAT’s ‘OpenAir’ next?

November 18, 2008

The New York Times‘ quarterly Play magazine was more sports-focused than USA Today‘s nascent OpenAir (left), which is more about leading active lifestyles. Still, magazine launches are legendary for their high failure rates — and that’s during good times. No slouch in publishing, the NYT said yesterday that it closed Play less than three years after its February 2006 launch.

With the economy now in a tailspin, it’s hard to imagine any new magazine gaining much traction — and that assumes the publisher wields lots of experience, such as Time Inc., Hearst or Conde Nast.

USA Today, on the other hand, is a publisher with newspaper distribution channels. OpenAir, which just published its winter issue, is inserted in USAT. (Play also was an insert.) That’s probably a safer choice than trying to get a spot on already-crowded magazine sales racks, which requires doing business with independent distributors.

USA Today tried and failed to pull off rack distribution when it briefly published a consumer technology magazine in 2005, USA Today Now Personal Technology (left).

I guess USAT Publisher Craig Moon gets credit for trying different ideas. But I recall his aborted attempt to push one of Gannett’s papers into yellow pages telephone book publishing. That failed early 1990s effort at the now-shuttered Arkansas Gazette had to have cost Gannett hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Now, Moon’s at it again with OpenAir; its website optimistically lists four more publication dates through the end of 2009. Given the recession in advertising, how likely will we see any of them?

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.

Half-baked ideas: Why my cooking show soured

November 13, 2008

E.W. Scripps outperformed many newspaper stocks in recent years because the Rocky Mountain News publisher invested smartly in cable TV — including the very popular Food Network. But it turns out that producing the Cookin’ With Jim Show was a tough nut to crack.

I was holding The Dairy Hollow House Cookbook at the start of this episode. I bought a copy at that famous Ozarks bed-and-breakfast when I lived in Arkansas, from 1985-91.

Earlier: More Gannett Blog TV episodes on my YouTube channel

I just unearthed another Little Rock ‘mafioso’

October 4, 2008

He’s The Arkansas Gazette‘s former production chief, Austin Ryan, now vice president for production in the newspaper division.

Ryan is at least the 11th person who survived the Little Rock paper’s 1991 failure — then rose to prominence in Gannett: He was named Corporate Staffer of the Year in April. I call us the Little Rock mafia.

[Image: 1972’s The Godfather, Netflix]

Giving credit: What I gained from USA Today

September 24, 2008

It turns out that USAT‘s write-tight style works very well for blogging: Short posts, with impact high. Eye-catching art, and provocative headlines with reader-friendly terms — what, where, when, why, how, etc.

That’s a dividend from having worked at Gannett’s flagship for nearly eight years: My writing and self-editing skills really improved. Competing on the same national stories, I often packed as much information — or more — into less space, because I adhered to USA Today‘s famous, tight format. (Folks who don’t work in the newsroom may be surprised: It takes more work to write a complete, short story than it does to just dump all your information into a longer story, and force the reader to wade through it all.)

I helped heave a lot of multi-part/multi-day projects into papers in Little Rock, Boise, Louisville — and, in San Francisco, for USA Today. I worked closely with page designers and graphic artists, because I really like visuals (duh). Plus, if people don’t read my package on lax daycare regulation because it looked so gray and boring — well, my series has failed. With me looking over their shoulders, designers sometimes hesitated to suggest trimming my copy. I’d often push them to make even bigger cuts!

Earlier: My life, on Internet time

Got a blog to recommend? 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.

[today’s front page, Newseum]

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!

Negative/positive: How you set this blog’s tone

September 12, 2008

[You yawned: My post on the Freep‘s good work drew no comments]

I was once asked to launch what amounted to a “positive news” business weekly, designed to lure advertisers and readers away from a competing independent publication in Little Rock, Ark. Craig Moon (left), now publisher of USA Today and one of Gannett’s highest-ranking executives, was my boss at the time, about 1990: Moon was publisher of The Arkansas Gazette, and he pushed the launch of the new Arkansas Inc. (He’s also one of my more high-profile critics, as last month’s USAT staff meeting made clear.)

Chock full of so-called positive stories, Arkansas Inc. failed miserably. The advertising department ginned up plenty of ads for the first issue. But the ad-sales folks quickly lost interest as readers fell off in droves. The lesson then and now: Edgy, hard-news coverage wins out over rah-rah “supportive” stories every time. Readers say they want positive news — but seldom buy or click when it’s offered.

It’s no different on this blog. I rely on thousands of employees to help me find examples of great work going on across the company. Most days, I get zilch. When I find compelling work on my own, the response is often the same. For example, I wrote last week about how the Detroit Free Press got results from its amazingly great work on shenanigans in the mayor’s office (screenshot, above). The response from readers here as I write this post: zip. Not a single comment.

Readers set this blog’s tone
I’m not complaining, so much as I’m explaining, because we’re going through another cycle of people expressing frustration that so much of what’s here is, well, negative. “I don’t come often because, frankly, I am a busy working journalist and I don’t have time or interest in reading a lot of griping,” Anonymous@8:28 p.m. said yesterday in a comment on this post. “Seems like a waste of time. . . . The blog would be better if it wasn’t blatant anti-management. Don’t get me wrong. I have my own issues with management; but, I also don’t think a ‘bitch’ site solves all that much in a company going through an industry paradigm shift.”

I’m not shirking my role; I’m ultimately responsible for everything that appears on this site. Still, the vast majority of its content is now thousands of comments from readers. And those comments often drive the content of my posts. If there were more comments that were pro-management, or neutral toward management, this blog would take on a different tone.

Corporate isn’t candid enough 
As I’ve said more than a few times in the past: There are 46,000 or so of you, and just one of me. I cannot patrol a company as big and far-flung as Gannett all on my own. I need your help. If you want a blog that relies less on what Corporate claims is “rumor mongering and sensationalism,” you will need to help me produce an alternative.

But keep this in mind: Corporate is only going to tell you so much; for the rest, journalists like me will need to ferret out the truth. CEO Craig Dubow (left) wasn’t advising you to limit your exposure to Gannett stock — as I did in December, when shares were trading at $35. (Shares closed yesterday at $17.76.) Corporate wasn’t the one telling you about the likelihood of a mass layoff; that was me, in early August — more than a week before the company acknowledged that it was cutting 1,000 jobs. And Corporate didn’t tell you about a pending reorganization of the newspaper division; that was me, here — three weeks before the company disclosed the news. And most of that came from readers of this blog.

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: a screenshot from the Freep‘s website on Sept. 4]

Nervous glances: Corporate, Craig Moon — and me

August 28, 2008

[Glass palace: Gannett and USA Today headquarters]

Hardly anyone talked about Corporate at USA Today during the nearly eight years I worked for the company’s flagship — a big change from the three smaller newspapers where I was a reporter and editor in Little Rock, Boise and Louisville, Ky. At the community papers, Corporate — and that’s what people called it — hung over us like a big, ominous cloud. Top executives back at Arlington, Va., and then McLean, Va., after the company relocated in 2001, liked to say they always deferred to “local control.”

But that was complete and total bullshit. In newsrooms at the smaller papers, the editor or publisher would make sudden, odd requests that we do something. When we asked why, the short answer would be: “Corporate.” No more questions allowed.

Polished granite vs. threadbare carpet
It was entirely different at USA Today. The paper shared a luxurious building with Gannett — but that was it. USAT wasn’t subject to the onerous rules forced on the smaller papers: We rarely worried about diversity and mainstreaming, programs designed to feature more minorities in news stories. The quality control programs — News 2000, then Real Life, Real News — didn’t apply to us. There was much more money for business travel. And if you worked at the main office in McLean, you were cosseted in a gleaming glass office complex with granite floors, acres of stainless-steel details, a nice cafeteria, on-site gym facilities, a softball field and other amenities. The newsrooms where I worked employed nearly 500 often well-paid reporters, editors, artists and others.

Contrast that with the Idaho Statesman when I arrived in late 1991. The dirty, threadbare carpeting in the dimly-lit newsroom was literally held down with duct tape. Desks and chairs were old and battered. The closest thing we had to a cafeteria was the dreary, windowless “breakroom” with vending machines. Staffing was razor-thin: As the business-news editor, I had virtually no support from the understaffed copy desk: I edited and wrote stories; laid out the section, and oversaw page production in the back shop. I routinely put in 10- and 11-hour days, and worked most weekends. I got no overtime or comp time, of course, because I was in management.

Curley’s mysterious exit
USA Today started getting dragged into Corporate’s fold around 2003, when Publisher Tom Curley (left) — a likely successor to then-CEO Doug McCorkindale — bolted Gannett to become CEO of the Associated Press. (We were never told why, of course, but it appeared to follow a clash between the two executives.)

Craig Moon, publisher of The Tennessean in Nashville, replaced Curley. USAT staff began worrying that Moon would manage the newspaper more like one of Gannett’s 84 smaller titles: The budget would be reined in. Worker productivity demands would rise. In other words, USA Today would start carrying more of the load.

None of that surprised me. I had worked for Moon (left) once before, when he was publisher of The Arkansas Gazette for about two years, ending in early 1991, not long before Gannett shut down the paper amid a bruising newspaper war with a cross-town rival. By then, Moon had been promoted to Nashville, already on the road to Corporate.

I didn’t see Moon again for another 14 years years. By then, he’d been USAT publisher for about a year, and was making a surprise visit to the San Francisco bureau, where I worked as a business-news reporter. We had exchanged a few e-mails during the previous months about his impending choice for a new top editor, after Karen Jurgensen got bounced during the Jack Kelley scandal. I urged Moon to consider one editor in particular for the opening — someone other than the Tennessean‘s Mark Silverman; the rumor mill had placed Silverman on Moon’s short list. (Moon eventually hired Ken Paulson — but not before offering the job to someone else, I was told.)

Moon’s nervous look
On that day when Moon visited San Francisco, I don’t think he remembered that I worked in the office there. I buzzed him inside, then re-introduced himself. Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed like an uncomfortable look crossed his face, as in: Uh-oh: A Little Rock survivor. I wonder what Hopkins remembers?

(Confidential to everyone: I remember everything. Maybe that explains some of the antics at yesterday’s USA Today staff meeting? Or, maybe he’s still pissed off about this.)

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: headquarters, Kohn Pedersen Fox Architects; today’s USAT front page, Newseum]

Gannett starts issuing pink slips: 600 jobs at stake; employees tally historic losses; blog updates all day

August 18, 2008

In one of the industry’s biggest mass layoffs, Gannett today begins notifying as many as 600 newspaper employees nationwide that they’re losing their jobs — just as thousands of other newly unemployed newspaper workers flood an already strained economy.

The layoffs, confirmed on Thursday, are on top of 400 other newspaper jobs GCI is simultaneously eliminating through attrition, as the faltering top publisher races to shore up profits amid plunging advertising revenues and a slumping stock price. “We are all in the same boat,” one employee says. “Let’s help each other get through this.”

The combined 1,000 lost jobs are 3% of the community newspaper division‘s total employment. That division employs more than 30,000 in the U.S., or about 65% of Gannett’s global workforce. The division’s 84 papers include titles such as the 250-employee Town Talk in Alexandria, La., which is laying off three workers, and The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., cutting loose 15 of more than 1,000 employees.

Today caps four days of anxious waiting for 600 workers, who get the bad news this morning, and in days ahead. They will receive severance of one week’s pay for each year of service, capped at 52 weeks, plus medical coverage for the length of their severance period, according to Corporate’s layoff instructions to publishers.

Adding to worker worries, Corporate warned that these layoffs may not be the last. “If advertising and circulation revenues continue to decline, further payroll reductions may be necessary,” the company instructed publishers to tell employees.

Gannett flagship USA Today, the nation’s No. 1 circulation newspaper, has so far avoided cuts in this round. But employees aren’t off the hook: Publisher Craig Moon has scheduled a companywide staff meeting for Aug. 27 — prompting speculation that he’ll announce layoffs or more buyout offers.

This week’s layoffs rival the mass dismissal nearly 17 years ago of about 700 Gannett employees at The Arkansas Gazette. GCI closed that paper amid up to $30 million in annual losses during a bruising newspaper war it lost in Little Rock.

More on Gannett Blog

  • Roll call grows: Based on more than 150 contributions through the weekend, readers are tallying paper-by-paper layoffs.
  • USA Today in spotlight: Pressure builds on Publisher Craig Moon to sacrifice jobs or make other cuts in time for an Aug. 27 staff meeting.
  • Advice for laid-off: Employees who left in layoffs or buyouts over the past year tell you what to do now. “Good luck, and God bless to all,” says an ex-operating committee member.
  • Stricken expressions: Employees describe the mood in dozens of workplaces. (I’ll send the post link to a board of directors member who monitors this blog.)
  • Shrinking numbers: Pegged at 46,100 at the start of the year, GCI’s workforce now faces a record annual decline in its size.
  • Investors react: How will the stock perform when trading resumes at 9:30 a.m. ET today? Shares closed Friday at $20.65 — up 14.6% for the week, clobbering the S&P-500 Index.
News tips, publisher’s memos, other reaction: 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.

[Image: today’s Town Talk front page, 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]