Archive for the ‘Little Rock’ Category

Friday’s massacre: Real change, or real retribution?

June 28, 2008

Companies facing a crisis shrink rapidly — first by eliminating front-line jobs (because there are so many), and only later chopping high-paid executives as management gets flattened. Sooner or later, that’s going to happen in Gannett, too.

But yesterday’s reorganization of the newspaper division sure doesn’t look like a flattening of management to me. If anything, this may be division chief Bob Dickey‘s way of vanquishing rivals for the job he inherited in February, from now-retired Sue Clark-Johnson. And as a Gannett Blog reader said last night, the timing of this announcement is worrisome: It comes just three days before the close of the second quarter — a period when earnings are likely to be just “awful.”

Under Dickey’s long-awaited reorganization, there are now four vs. five regional groups of uber-publishers reporting to him. In fact, Dickey (above) used the occasion to add two, new top positions to his division’s staff:

  • Evan Ray, 54, becomes senior vice president/finance and operations. He was chief financial officer of Phoenix Newspapers and group controller of the former Pacific Group. (I worked with Ray in Little Rock when I was business-news editor at The Arkansas Gazette, and he was vice president of finance.)
  • Michelle Krans, 46, becomes senior vice president/Strategy and Development. She had been publisher of The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, Calif., and vice president of the former Pacific Group.

Left behind in the dust: Denise “Poison” Ivey, 58, president of the Mid-South Group and publisher of The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. She leaves the company Jan. 1. Also: Babs “Dominatrix” Henry, 55, publisher of The Indianapolis Star and chief of the Interstate Group. She’s gone Aug. 1.

Of those two, Henry’s departure seemed especially welcome, based on the many comments on what might be called the Friday Afternoon Massacre. “This is the most joyous occasion for all of us in Indianapolis,” one of my readers said, in far more colorful language I won’t highlight here.

Henry (above) was certainly a Gannett lifer: She’d been with the company since 1974, when she started as a reporter at the Gazette-Journal in Reno, Nev.

So, what’s next?
Once you get past personal invective, think about the more important stuff: What does this reorganization mean for the future of Gannett’s most important and yet most troubled division — and for the company as a whole? “I have to imagine,” one reader said last night, “there is some strategic reason for doing this now, just before the end of Q2 and a couple weeks before the next earnings call — which has got to be awful, based on all indicators around the country.”

The comment continues: “All this ugly name-calling is wasted energy. I understand the impulse; I’ve worked for every kind of miserable Gannettoid you can name. But the whole industry is imploding because the money is draining away. Yes, the industry has been mostly complacent and technologically short-sighted for decades, but the audience has moved on and now it’s too late to save what used to be journalism.

“Brace yourself for a future where local news is a big collection of whatever the websites can scour up for free, with a little sprinkling of ‘investigative’ reporting as a fig leaf. Most of the customers are no longer willing to pay for more. No amount of hand-wringing or name-calling is going to change that.”

Earlier: In N.J. layoffs, fresh evidence of the new Gannett

Related: the Courier-Journal‘s story about Ivey; the Star‘s about Henry

Your thoughts, 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.

What I won’t be expecting at GCI’s annual meeting

April 24, 2008

[Stockholders in da house: Wal-Mart’s huge 2007 meeting]

The founder of the TCBY frozen yogurt chain once slammed me from the stage at the chain’s annual shareholders meeting in Little Rock. (He didn’t like a story I’d written about the company, published that morning in The Arkansas Gazette.) At another company, Arkansas Best Corp., shareholders were greeted at the door by an armed guard. (The company was battling a greenmailer).

Yet, the meeting I never attended (but always wanted to) is Wal-Mart’s spectacle, held every June at a mammoth sports arena in northwest Arkansas’s Fayetteville. It’s one of Corporate America’s biggest: Thousands attend, mostly employees bused in as a treat from across the country. Celebrities are often on stage with the CEO; last year (left), Jennifer Lopez sang.

I’m not expecting anything nearly as exciting when Gannett shareholders gather next Wednesday morning at the company’s headquarters in McLean, Va. I hear forecast attendance may be low. No surprise: Wal-Mart’s notwithstanding, annual meetings are typically highly-scripted, no-news events attended mostly by managers asked to fill seats, so the board of directors doesn’t face an empty room.

Gannett requires an admission ticket, available for qualified stockholders through investor relations, at 703-854-6960. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s an 11th-hour surge of ticket requests from USA Today and other employees at McLean. (Hint, hint; nudge, nudge: It would be nice to have some company in what would otherwise be a cavernous room.)

[Photos: Wal-Mart]

Quotable: Neuharth on post-retirement GCI role

April 7, 2008
“Since April 1, 1989, I have not had any involvement in any decisions, large or small, at the Gannett Co.”

— Retired CEO Al Neuharth, in (.pdf!) a May 2000 interview with the University of Arkansas oral history project.

Here’s one of journalism’s toughest assignments

April 4, 2008

It’s covering anything to do with the boss. I had the thankless job of editing stories about The Arkansas Gazette‘s circulation reports when the Little Rock paper was in a fierce newspaper war 20 years ago. (USA Today Publisher Craig Moon was the Gazette‘s publisher at the time; he held the job about two years before Gannett closed the paper in October 1991, amid annual losses as high as $30 million.)

At USA Today, I wrote about high turnover on the board of directors of telecom giant Global Crossing, after its spectacular collapse into bankruptcy, in 2002. Doug McCorkindale, Gannett CEO when I wrote the story, had been one of Global’s directors, so I asked him for a comment. He would not return my calls. (It wasn’t just me; McCorky wouldn’t talk to any journalists about the subject). Ultimately, it took the intervention of top USA Today editors to get him to confirm what I knew to be true. (Department of Hmmmm: Curiously, I can’t find the story anywhere on USA Today‘s website. There is this one, however.)

With that as background, I can only imagine the number of USA Today editors who sweated over the following paragraph in this morning’s story about the pricey and controversial Newseum, opening in a week: “The Newseum, developed and funded by the independent and non-partisan Freedom Forum, has a number of ties to USA Today, including a common founder, Al Neuharth. Newseum president Peter Prichard, Newseum executive director Joe Urschel, USA Today Editor Ken Paulson and a number of Newseum executives have worked for both organizations.”

Could editors have had any of this in mind?

[Image: this morning’s USA Today, Newseum]

Hot Off the Press: The News-Press

April 4, 2008

This is today’s Fort Myers News-Press; click on the image for a bigger view. Let the tea leaf reading begin! I suspect Gannett’s top editors have been scouring the Florida paper’s website during the past 24 hours, looking for clues about Editor Kate Marymont‘s likes and dislikes. Gannett announced yesterday that Marymont had been promoted to an influential position at Corporate, where she’ll help oversee all 84 newsrooms at the community dailies. Marymont’s replacement in Fort Myers hasn’t been announced.

Among the Fort Myers alumni: USA Today Publisher Craig Moon, who was publisher of the News-Press, before taking that same job at the eventually-shuttered Arkansas Gazette. Marymont (left) was the Gazette‘s metro editor, and I was its business news editor. (Gannett is so incestuous, isn’t it?)

The News-Press at a glance:

  • Publisher: Carol Hudler
  • Founded: 1884
  • Joined Gannett: 1971
  • Employees: 650
  • Circulation: 84,081, daily; 101,153, Sunday

[Image: Newseum]

What I think about the Newspaper Guild & Co.

February 27, 2008

I’ve never belonged to the guild, or to any other organized labor group. There were no unions in the newsrooms at The Pine Bluff Commercial, The Arkansas Gazette, The Idaho Statesman, The Courier-Journal or at USA Today — newspapers where I spent my first news career.

But there was a Newspaper Guild chapter at Rhode Island’s biggest daily, The Providence Journal, where my mother worked from 1960 to 1982 as an editor and reporter. I briefly walked a picket line when the guild led the newsroom in an early 1970s strike. I know this mostly because of a photo of me (left), walking the line when I was 15, with absurdly long hair, red suspenders, and looking skinny as a rail.

I don’t know why I was there except that my mother was active in the guild at least during that strike, and wanted to take my picture. I don’t recall the strike ending well for anyone, which gets to the point of this post.

I haven’t seen much recent progress by any labor group working on behalf of Gannett employees. Maybe labor has just gotten that bad, or Gannett has just gotten that good at driving them away. Whatever the cause, it seems clear that traditional employee organizing worked better when the newspaper industry moved slowly.

But that’s over. Technology and speed now rule. That’s why I cranked up Gannett Blog, after leaving USA Today last month. Blogging is another way to organize workers to meet safely, while informing each other as Gannett braces for a restructuring. My role is to be the host, encouraging a lively conversation. (Think of Perle Mesta — with a mustache. Well, maybe not!)

I wish there were more blogs about individual Gannett newspapers. We could link together into a very powerful network. But I understand that many of you are afraid, or simply too tired at the end of an ever-lengthening workday. But I keep hoping.

Use this link to e-mail feedback, tips, snarky letters, etc. See Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the sidebar, upper right. Or leave a note in the comments section, below.

[Image: my original USA Today employee ID badge and press card. It was made on my first day at work: May 1, 2000.]

Quotable: ‘Some papers aren’t going to make it’

February 7, 2008

That’s Philadelphia Inquirier Publisher Brian Tierney, who led an investor group that bought the company from McClatchy less than two years ago, The New York Times says today, in a story about the newspaper industry’s accelerating decline. “The next few years are transitional, and I think some papers aren’t going to make it,” Tierney says.

Of course, newspaper profits remain healthy, “but they are dropping fast,” the NYT says. Gannett’s newspaper division had a 21% profit margin last year, but the dollar amount of its profits fell 10%.

Think newspapers can’t fail? You should have been with me in 1991, when Gannett shuttered the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock, throwing 700 of us out of work in a recession.

My life, on Internet time

January 11, 2008

[March 2007: The Golden Gate Bridge, from the Presidio]

I started Gannett Blog anonymously here in San Francisco in October 2006, with plans to launch it in a bigger way after I left USA Today. (My name and mug shot didn’t appear on the blog until today.) Two months ago, I wrote for maybe eight readers — on a good day. Then breaking news, and Jim Romenesko, suddenly showed up.

On Nov. 8, Gannett’s biggest shareholder, money manager Brandes Investment Partners, disclosed in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing that it had nearly doubled its stake in the company. I posted my quick take that evening. Reuters moved a story of its own. Then Romenesko linked to me, and my traffic surged. Ahead of schedule, I was off and running. Now, two months later, more than 1,000 Gannett employees visit me two or more times each week. I’ve appreciated your willingness to share information with me so far, sometimes at a risk to your jobs. And I’m sorry it’s taken until now to introduce myself.

Write, if you get a chance, through this link for e-mail. I’m gannettblog on Google Talk (which I prefer) and on AIM. You can visit me on my YouTube channel. I’m on Flickr. And Facebook, under my own name.

But first, a quick word to my colleagues . . .

Don’t faint, USA Today staffers!
You won’t find any dirt here on office politics, personalities or any of the other interesting stuff I’ve run across since starting at USA Today in 2000. In fact, everything I posted on the 43 USA Today buyouts was based on published reports or tips from Gannett Blog readers — even though I was one of the 43! You won’t find any inside dirt about the paper after today, either. This isn’t that kind of blog.

So, what kind of blog is it?
For a quick overview, read About Gannett Blog. One of my most popular features is Executive Suite. For my take on Gannett’s well-paid top brass and their strategic plan, check out the band plays on. Gannett stock talk? Oy, vey! I’ve done casual surveys on reader demographics. Don’t miss snarky Commentz Korner. I’ve noted cool and not-so-cool stuff in Hot Off the Press. And I showcase photography in Cutlines Only. I got teary-eyed writing about USA Today buyouts in a note that struck a cord: It’s my most-read post.

About Me
I’m nearly 51. I grew up in Providence, R.I., where I graduated from Brown University. I love newspapers, and so does my family. My parents met as reporters at the Hartford Courant in 1954. An uncle was a newspaper reporter. And my sister works in the business today.

[September 1985: Pine Bluff, Ark. I was 28 years old.]

I started my career 22 years ago as an apprentice reporter at the Pine Bluff Commercial — at the time, a wonderful, family owned Pulitzer Prize-winning paper in a small Southeast Arkansas city. Two years later, I joined Gannett at the late, great Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock, a paper I wrote about here.

My Arkansas Gazette experience in its final, sad months is one of the reasons I launched this blog. It was fall 1991, five years after Gannett had stumbled into Little Rock. The Gazette was by then losing $30 million or so a year in a bitter war with its cross-town rival, the Arkansas Democrat. The U.S. economy was sliding into recession. Rumors flew that Gannett was planning to sell us to the competition, or dump us into a joint-operating agreement. More than 700 employee families were desperate for information.

[October 1987: Little Rock. I was 30 years old.]

I had a personal crisis unfolding as well. My domestic partner, Danny Bryant, had just been diagnosed with AIDS. (I was fortunate to remain HIV-negative.) I was our only means of support, so knowing my future at the Gazette was vital.

As the paper’s business news editor, I managed some of the newsroom staffers reporting on the Gazette‘s demise. We called Gannett’s Corporate office, pleading for information, over and over. And again and again, we got this: No comment. “Gannett’s silence chilled me to the bone,” Max Brantley, one of the paper’s senior editors, said later.

In the end, Gannett closed the Arkansas Gazette — selling its name, presses and other assets to the competition. I managed to find work at The Idaho Statesman in Boise, owned by Gannett at the time. Danny (left) died there within a year. He was 37.

In 1996, I transferred to The Courier-Journal in Louisville, where I worked until early 2000 as an investigative reporter. I next took a business reporting job at USA Today in San Francisco. I left that job yesterday, ending my mostly happy 20 years with Gannett.

Drop me a line, courtesy of the First Amendment
Today, much of Gannett is experiencing the uncertainty we saw in Arkansas in the summer of 1991. But now, technology empowers the company’s nearly 50,000 employees to communicate in ways not possible 16 years ago. Start more blogs: I’d like to build a companywide network! Use this link to share ideas, tips, snarky comments. See my Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the sidebar, upper right. Or leave a note in the comments section, below. It’s crowdsourcing time!

Jim Hopkins
San Francisco
Jan. 11, 2008

[Images: I took that Golden Gate Bridge photo while biking across the Bay to Marin County; that was Danny during a visit to Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum around 1989]

Recalling a bitter chapter of Gannett’s history

December 12, 2007

Some of the toughest reporting on surging Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is now coming from long-time nemesis Max Brantley, once a top editor at a former Gannett newspaper many old hands at Corporate (hi, Craig Moon!) would just as soon forget.

Brantley (left), editor of the Arkansas Times news weekly in Little Rock, was a senior editor at the Arkansas Gazette, a daily that Gannett shut down in 1991 after buying it just five years before. The paper’s capitulation to its cross-town rival came amid $30 million in annual losses, and it ended one of the last great U.S. newspaper wars. More than 700 employees lost their jobs, likely the single-biggest such layoff in Gannett’s history.

The Gazette‘s closing silenced a newspaper with a sterling record of public-service journalism (stories just like Brantley’s Huckabee takedown last month in Salon.) The Gazette‘s failure illustrated Gannett’s inability to succeed in truly competitive markets — a precursor to the mess GCI now faces companywide as rivals surge on the Internet.

Moon (left), now publisher of USA Today and one of Gannett’s highest-paid executives, was the second of three publishers Gannett sent to Little Rock in a bid to salvage the paper. He couldn’t, and got kicked upstairs. For an eye-opening view of Gannett’s mismanagement of the Gazette, read this interview Brantley gave for an oral history project about the paper. (Former Gannett CEO Al Neuharth, who engineered the Gazette‘s purchase, could barely bring himself to answer questions during his interview for the project.)

[Top image: the Gazette in its 1950s heyday, when the Central High School desegregation crisis roiled Little Rock. For its coverage, the Gazette was awarded a Pulitzer Prize (left) for public service in 1958. The citation: “For demonstrating the highest qualities of civic leadership, journalistic responsibility and moral courage in the face of great public tension during the school integration crisis of 1957. The newspaper’s fearless and completely objective news coverage, plus its reasoned and moderate policy, did much to restore calmness and order to an overwrought community, reflecting great credit on its editors and its management.” Gannett sold that Pulitzer to the competition when it pulled the plug on the paper in October 1991.]