Archive for the ‘Nashville’ Category

Tally hits 863 as Gannett’s mass layoff spreads; Second big wave to slam papers on Wednesday; Thousands more employees are still vulnerable

December 3, 2008

Gannett launched what is likely the biggest mass layoff in newspaper industry history yesterday, slashing 863 jobs by early this afternoon, in an increasingly desperate bid to return the troubled 102-year-old publisher to prosperity. The final tally could run into the thousands.

Many more layoffs are expected today and tomorrow across the 85-daily community newspaper division, plus USA Today and the Detroit Free Press.

As of 1:51 p.m. ET today, only 24 papers had been accounted for, based on published accounts and Gannett Blog reader reports. Some of the biggest worksites have not announced their plans, including The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., and The Des Moines Register, both with about 1,000. Corporate has said the cuts will number “significantly less” than 3,000.

Yesterday, in one of the first of scores of memos expected in coming days, Publisher Curtis Riddle of The News Journal in Wilmington, Del., told employees that the paper is cutting 44 jobs — about 7% of all. The reductions include 31 forced layoffs, his memo says.

Publishers started notifying employees early Tuesday. In Nashville, The Tennessean started its layoffs a day earlier than expected, Anonymous@1:21 p.m. said: “So far in the newsroom today, we’ve lost two managers and a copy editor.”

At the Asbury Park Press in Gannett’s especially troubled New Jersey group, Anonymous@12:41 p.m. wrote: “Art department was decimated at the APP. So far the count is 11 in the newsroom.” In Florida, Anonymous@11:10 a.m. said: “The Tallahassee Democrat is handing out walking papers as we speak. Merry Christmas.”

Third round of layoffs
Corporate announced plans for the layoff Oct. 28 — five weeks before they would take effect. Anxiety grew, sending employees hunting for advance word; by late last night, Gannett Blog had recorded about 20,000 visits and 65,000 page views for the day — more than four times normal. Readers also posted more than 750 comments.

“Good luck to all of you,” wrote Anonymous@12:20 p.m. “For those laid off, I hope you find something new — and better — quickly. For those who remain, keep your heads up and your eyes open for other opportunities.”

The job cuts come as papers nationwide complied with Corporate’s demand that they reduce employment by an average 10% in the 30,000-worker newspaper division. The retrenchment follows the loss of 1,100 newspaper jobs in September and August, and the company’s continued earnings erosion.

Under growing pressure, CEO Craig Dubow (left) and other top brass face Wall Street media stock analysts next week during a three-day conference that starts Monday. Yesterday, Gannett’s stock closed at $8.68 a share, up 6%. Still, shares have plunged 76% in the past year vs. a 43% decline in the widely watched S&P-500 Index.

The job reductions are being made through layoffs, attrition and other means. Many papers will notify employees over the next week. Severance benefits are a minimum of two weeks, and a maximum of 26, plus health insurance as long as severance benefits are in effect.

Earlier: Rochester, N.Y., memo is an example of how publishers are breaking the bad news.

We’re tallying layoffs and other job cuts, paper-by-paper. Please post your figures on our list, or in the comments section, below. Also please post any publisher’s memos, plus links to your paper’s stories about the cuts. You may also e-mail confidentially via gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com].

[Images: today’s front pages, 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.

As USAT spared cuts again, readers defend Moon

October 29, 2008

(Updated.) Gannett’s flagship once more escaped the ax, even as the company ordered its other 84 U.S. dailies to chop another 10% of jobs by early December.

You’ll recall that USA Today apparently didn’t give up any jobs during the big August layoff — prompting my speculation that Publisher Craig Moon (left) would need to sacrifice something in return. Guess what: I was totally wrong!

Now, rival publishers across the company, doing a lot of really shitty work in weeks ahead, are no doubt wondering: What’s Moon’s secret? (Maybe all those rumors about the nuclear option weren’t so crazy!)

Defending Moon, bashing Hopkins
In a new comment here, and on his own blog, Tim Chavez notes that USAT‘s circulation numbers “are up compared to other Gannett newspapers. And a primary reason why is publisher Craig Moon, who used to be publisher at The Tennessean. It was my privilege to work with Moon during his tenure at the Tennessean. I found him to be honest and a man of integrity. He was actually a better journalist interested in what readers wanted than the people in charge of the Tennessean newsroom.”

Another reader, commenting anonymously, says: “Jim has a personal vendetta against Moon and it shows time and time again on this blog. But I for one think the man is a good manager. And I have seen him fight for jobs and those of you who do not know him, believe me, he has saved a lot of jobs. So maybe Jim does not like him but that is personal. if Jim was honest with his readers, he would report in an unbiased way. Moon cares about his people, even though he does not always win the battles.”

Please post your replies in the comments section, below. E-mail via gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

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

Nashville: Was this the full-run front page?

October 8, 2008

I couldn’t help noticing the dramatic lack of text on the front page’s Obama-McCain debate coverage, when I ran across it in this morning’s Newseum database of Gannett papers. (Bigger, more readable view.) Was this the full-run edition — or an early one?

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.

Clarksville: 37 said laid off as printing shifts

October 8, 2008

The Leaf-Chronicle in Clarksville, Tenn., will move its printing to the nearby Tennessean, effective Nov. 30, Anonymous@1:55 p.m says — five weeks after area publishers’ jobs were combined in another money-saving consolidation move. The 37 Leaf-Chronicle production jobs eliminated are on top of nine others in “creative” (I believe that’s advertising production), the reader says. Laid-off workers got one week of severance pay per year worked, the reader says.

[Image: today’s front page, Newseum]

Metromix: As more sites launch, how’s the pace?

October 1, 2008

[Rochester: a recent screenshot of its Metromix site]

Gannett and Tribune Co. announced an important partnership in October 2007 under which the two publishing giants would roll out a collection of entertainment websites called Metromix, aimed at 21-to-34 year-olds with “significant” disposable income. The goal was to spread the sites to more than 40 other markets — including the nation’s top 30 — by the end of this year; most of those new sites presumably would be where Gannett publishes papers or owns TV stations.

Now, nearly a year later, I’m wondering how the rollout is going — and what sort of impact it’s having on GCI papers that already have started their site. The Indianapolis Star, for example, is getting closer to replacing its award-winning Indy.com entertainment site with Metromix. The paper, now advertising for a new editor of digital content, said Monday that the new version would become the Star‘s “lifestyle channel,” according to a post by Indy.com’s Joey Fingers.

“Sex & Relationships, Money, Work, Tech & Gadgets, More Style and Fashion, and some other freaky little things,” Fingers wrote. “We will still be handling the local entertainment coverage, don’t worry. We just get to pull in their national content, their iPhone app, their Facebook Widget and so much more of their wholesome goodness.”

As Indy prepares to join the Metromix chain, I notice the sites are now in 26 markets — up from five when the Gannett-Tribune partnership was signed. Across Gannett, they’re now in Cincinnati; Des Moines, Detroit, Honolulu, Louisville, Nashville, Reno, Rochester, and Springfield, Mo.

To reach the year-end goal, of course, GCI and Tribune will have to launch in 14 more markets at a time when Gannett has fewer newspaper workers than it did when the two companies hooked up. That’s gotta be a further strain on editorial and ad sales staff, no?

One of Tribune Co.’s papers — the Chicago Tribune — started what is now Metromix, a collection of short stories and event listings focused on nightclubs, restaurants, TV listings and other stuff do do. When the partnership was announced, Metromix was already in New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Orlando, South Florida and other markets where Tribune Co. owned papers.

Like Gannett’s “moms” sites, and the growing number of new “pets” websites, Metromix aims to create a uniform collection of niche sites where ad sales staff can sell both local and national advertising. The national ads presumably would be made easier to sell because of the sites’ uniform design across all markets. (For the same reason, Gannett’s papers have now adopted identical G04 website templates.)

Existing worksites with Metromix: What’s the impact been since you launched? Other sites: When are you scheduled to Metromix? 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 Star front page, Newseum]

Calling Miss Manners: Awkward going-away parties

September 25, 2008

[Sheet cake: infamous Wal-Mart version]

Let’s get real: We don’t love all our departing co-workers equally. For example, some of us think we’re God’s gift to Gannett; others hold a different view. This mismatch only gets worse in the case of bigger and more influential colleagues: i.e., the boss. “Why exactly are we throwing a party for this guy?” a reader wrote recently in a comment, about a suddenly departing USA Today editor. “If he has a small posse of peeps he’s close to, they can go have drinks or whatever.”

Yet, as thousands of colleagues leave, we go through the motions — even when the honoree isn’t so, well, honored. An e-mail flashes across department computer screens: “Cake in five minutes in conference room to say goodbye to __________ ,” the note says — adding, a bit hopefully: “I’m sure we all want a nice send-off.”

Next, some poor wretch assigned to the task rolls out the dreaded carrot cake and napkins (plastic utensils budget was cut). Assistant managers look up, then drag themselves to the center of the room. Others s-l-o-w-l-y join in, forming rag-tag circle. Honoree (example: inset, left) stands gamely in the middle. Resigned glances all around. A moment of praise that seems to take until next Wednesday to deliver. An awkward pause, followed by a flutter of faint clapping. Cake in hand, race back to desk to meet a deadline.

(Confidential to Nashville: I’ve just described The Courier-Journal newsroom’s 1997 going-away party for top editor Mark Silverman. Contrary to legend, however, we didn’t dance a conga line through the room when his transfer was announced. Silverman’s exit came only a year after Corporate sent him to Louisville to bring the anti-Gannett faction to heel. We know how well that worked!)

TO: G. Martore

FROM: C. Montgomery Burns
RE: New profit center suggestion!

How about consolidating all going-away party work to a new National Shared Cake-Baking and Employee Recognition Center of Excellence — in Indianapolis?! Synergistic win-wins: More taxpayer freebies!! Plus: Other downsizing companies can outsource parties to GCI!!!

Witnessed a memorable going-away party? Details, please, 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: more going-away cakes; inset: No. 1 least favorite co-worker, C. Montgomery Burns]

In Tenn., a variation on ad-production offshoring

September 18, 2008

Advertising production work for seven Tennessee newspapers is being consolidated at one of them — The Tennessean in Nashville — even as Gannett ships more of that work companywide to India, under a contract with 2AdPro.

The switch later this month involves 22 positions; nine jobs will be eliminated, Tennessean Publisher Ellen Leifeld told employees in a memo. (Ad production is the task of creating the display ads that appear online and in print.)

The other papers are at Clarksville, Jackson, Murfreesboro, Gallatin, Dickson and Franklin. “Designers at those newspapers will be given the opportunity to apply for these 22 positions,” the memo says. “We will still have at least one person remain at each of the respective newspapers to coordinate the flow of ad material from the newspaper, to Nashville and back to the newspaper. Overall, this change will result in the elimination of nine positions.”

Leifeld’s note continues: “Centralizing our design services will allow us to make the best use of the skills we have at all locations, as well as standardize procedures and improve work flow. Additional benefits include better sharing of technology and a more effective proofing system, which directly benefits our customers.”

For months now, Gannett has been moving ad-production work to India under a contract with 2AdPro of Los Angeles. That offshoring has resulted in the elimination of scores of jobs across the company.

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.

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]