Archive for the ‘This Just In’ Category

Reports: Detroit dailies to curtail home delivery

December 12, 2008

Here comes The New York Times, now reporting: “The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News are planning to stop home delivery most days of the week and print a pared-down version of their papers for newsstands on those days, according to people briefed on the plans. They will be the first major dailies in the country to take such drastic steps.”

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that Gannett hasn’t made a final decision. The paper cites a source it did not identify. “But the leading scenario set to be unveiled Tuesday would call for the Free Press and its partner paper, The Detroit News, to end home delivery on all but the most lucrative days — Thursday, Friday and Sunday,” the WSJ says. “On the other days, the publisher would sell single copies of an abbreviated print edition at newsstands and direct readers to the papers’ expanded digital editions.”

The changes are likely to result in significant job cuts, the story says. “Because the Detroit papers will continue to publish daily electronic versions, the cuts are expected to come mostly, if not entirely, from outside the newsroom, according to sources,” the WSJ says.

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Detroit to address reports of ‘significant changes’ Big print, circ shift rumored | Stock plunges 12%

December 11, 2008

Gannett’s Detroit operations early next week will address newly published accounts of a secret project, designed to save the city’s two struggling newspapers. Speculation is focused on a rumored plan to end home delivery of the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News for all but two or three days a week.

This would make the 300,000-circulation Free Press and the 177,000 News by far the biggest U.S. papers yet to drop, or effectively drop, a day’s publication, Editor & Publisher is now reporting. Such a switch, I wrote this morning, would represent an enormous gamble by Gannett and its partner, MediaNews Group, to stanch multimillion-dollar losses in a city whose economy is cratering around the auto industry crisis. Hanging in the balance are the jobs of perhaps 2,000 employees.

Wall Street investors weren’t happy: Gannett’s stock plunged 11.9% this afternoon, closing at $7.59 a share, down $1.02. Meanwhile, the widely watched S&P-500 index fell a smaller 2.9%.

Hunke: ‘Reposition’ for growth
In a memo regarding a plan reportedly named “Project Griffon,” CEO Dave Hunke said the Detroit Media Partnership has been “exploring various scenarios” to “ensure two strong newspaper voices in the community.” Gannett has controlled 95% of the partnership through a joint operating agreement, reorganized in 2005.

Hunke’s memo: “In the past 24 hours you have no doubt heard a lot of rumors and several news reports about significant changes at the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News. Clearly, over the past months we have been exploring various scenarios to reposition the companies for growth and to ensure two strong newspaper voices in the community. We plan to share details early next week with you, as well as with readers, advertisers, unions and the community. In the meantime, let’s continue to focus on doing the best job we can and on building the strongest relationships we can among ourselves and with our customers.”

Tuesday announcement?
Hunke’s memo follows my post this morning, speculating that an announcement on Project Griffon could come as early as Tuesday. Looks like this story has legs after all.

A tipster says the vice president of circulation also advised employees: “Just wanted to remind everyone that all inquiries from media should be directed to Susie Ellwoods office.” (Gannettland is an even smaller world than I thought: Ellwood and I worked together at The Arkansas Gazette in the late 1980s, when Craig Moon — now USA Today publisher — was the Little Rock paper’s chief executive. Of course, back then, she had a different surname.)

Earlier: Motown, Project Griffon — and that secret PM code

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: this morning’s Freep and News, Newseum]

Moodys: GCI partner MediaNews headed for default

December 11, 2008

That would add even more pressure on the unfolding Detroit drama, where MediaNews Group under CEO William Dean Singleton (left) owns 5% of the Detroit Media Partnership joint operating agency; Gannett owns the rest.

From trade journal Editor & Publisher‘s just-posted story: “Moodys Investors Services predicted Thursday that William Dean Singleton‘s MediaNews Group will soon be in at least technical default of its credit agreement — with a debt load that is nearly as staggering as the leverage that led Tribune Co. to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.”

MediaNews disagrees with Moodys, and rejects E&P‘s comparison to Tribune. Gannett and MediaNews are also tied together through the Texas-New Mexico Newspapers Partnership. Meanwhile, Gannett is partners with Tribune in two ventures: employment website CareerBuilder, and website entertainment chain Metromix.

Tip: Small papers drafting two new contingencies

December 11, 2008

An occasional correspondent just sent the following in an e-mail; as always, proceed with caution, because I haven’t corroborated any of this: “Publishers at Gannett’s ‘non-top 30’ dailies have been tasked with preparing two new contingency plans re: total operating expenses — a 2% reduction, and a 4% reduction. Implementation, if necessary, would take place in the first quarter of 2009.”

Gannett owns 85 U.S. dailies, so this latest demand from Corporate covers about 65% of the community newspaper division.

Can anyone confirm — and add 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.

Crain’s: Detroit ready to lay off up to 300 staffers

December 11, 2008

The business-news weekly says Gannett’s Detroit operations are expected to make job cuts of “possibly up to 300 staffers.” Crain’s does not source that information, however. It reports that Detroit Media Partnership CEO Dave Hunke said last month that staffing levels would be addressed as part a first-quarter strategic plan, “which is what next week’s announcement is expected to detail.”

Crain‘s says today that calls to Hunke’s office were referred to Leland Bassett, CEO of public-relations firm Bassett & Bassett in Detroit. “The Detroit Media Partnership is looking at everything right now. No decisions have been made,” he told Crain’s.

Detroit employs as many as 2,000 workers, making it one of Gannett’s single-biggest worksites. Any cuts there would follow nearly 2,000 newspaper jobs eliminated last week in GCI’s ongoing mass layoff.

Another shoe drops: Marymont takes Currie’s job

December 10, 2008

Gannett has finally gotten around to making the announcement, just moments ago, that you read about long ago, here.

Cincy: News hole slashed; at least 30 said laid off

December 10, 2008

The amount of Cincinnati Enquirer space allotted for content other than ads — the “news hole” — will be reduced by six pages on Sundays and a combined 30 pages across other weekdays beginning the week of Dec. 28, top editor Tom Callinan told CityBeat in a story out today.

Callinan also acknowledged that his paper didn’t publish details of a recent layoff at the paper — even though many smaller Gannett papers mustered the resources to disclose their own plans. CityBeat, citing sources it doesn’t identify, says “at least 30 people — including 13 in the newsroom — were let go.”

CityBeat‘s figure would bring jobs cut in Gannett’s latest layoff to a total of 1,934, based on Gannett Blog reader reports for 68 of 85 newspapers.

Callinan says the news hole reduction “most likely will be accomplished by eliminating the newspaper’s separate Life section, once known as Tempo, and folding it into the Local News section. The Enquirer already eliminated its stand-alone Business section last year as part of cost-cutting moves.”

[Image: today’s front page, Newseum]

GCI girds for ’09 newspaper job losses in ‘low teens’

December 10, 2008

CEO Craig Dubow told a Wall Street media conference today that Gannett is prepared to cut more jobs next year, following the recent mass layoff in the troubled newspaper division.

Yet, in a new statement that sounds more definitive, the company says it assumes “headcount” will fall next year in the following business segments, by these percentage amounts:

  • U.S. papers (excluding USA Today): down in the “low teens.”
  • USAT: down in the “mid single digits.”
  • U.K. division Newsquest: down in the “mid teens.”
  • TV division: down in the “mid to high single digits.”

The statement doesn’t say how these reductions would occur: whether by more layoffs, attrition or other means. The recent layoff targeted 10% of the newspaper workforce.

Debating GCI’s intentions
Some readers challenge my interpretation of the statement, and the remarks by Dubow (left).

“Did Dubow say there would be ADDITIONAL job cuts in the ‘low teens’ in 2009?” asks Anonymous@2:12 p.m. “I took a look at the Gannett statement and I think they are saying that the number of employees working in that division at the end of 2009 will be 12%, 13%, 14% (‘low teens’) less than in 2008. Given there have been three or four rounds of cuts in 2008 at most newspapers, I think this really says they are NOT projecting additional job cuts in 2009. The 2008 cuts plus retirements/attrition will probably add up to ‘low teens’ that’s mentioned.”

Dubow: ‘Sizing to revenue’
I suspect Gannett was already planning to reduce newspaper employment again next year — on top of what happened this year — before the economy deep-dived. Now, with a full-on recession, it’s hard to see any other choice. Remember what Dubow told the conference earlier:

“We are always going to size to the revenue that is there,” he said, adding that decisions will be made market-by-market. “We’re going to have to see where and how the economy reacts next year.”

The Associated Press has now moved a story.

Chief Financial Officer Gracia Martore (left) said holiday-related advertising sales are key to what happens next. “The next three weeks are crucial to our results,” she told the conference. In the first two months of the current quarter, she said, total revenue is down about 14% from a year ago.

Their remarks came on the third and final day of the 36th annual media week conference in New York City. I listened to the Webcast (replay here; scroll to Gannett link), but didn’t live-blog quite like I did last year. UBS investment bank was the sponsor.

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.

Connell: CareerBuilder, other tax breaks ‘common’

December 9, 2008

The notion that Gannett used a tax break to create jobs in one city, while simultaneously eliminating jobs elsewhere is misleading, company spokeswoman Tara Connell told Dow Jones Newswires this afternoon. “It’s common business practice when enlarging or moving a corporate headquarters or consolidating business units to get a tax break and change headcount in one place while building it in another,” the news service quotes Connell saying.

Connell responded to Dow Jones’s questions after the service followed my reports that leading employment website CareerBuilder had laid off more than 300 employees — and possibly as many as 400 — at its Chicago headquarters on Friday. Those cuts came just two months after the company got a $2.9 million tax break from the city of Chicago to enlarge its headquarters there. Majority-owned by Gannett, CareerBuilder had promised to add 185 jobs as part of the expansion.

Connell and other Gannett officials rarely communicate with Gannett Blog. Now, call me crazy, but isn’t Connell — a former USA Today managing editor — confirming what I wrote? The distinction she seems to be drawing is that everyone does this, so it’s misleading for me to suggest this is news. (Trust me: Anytime a publicist tells a reporter that something “isn’t news” — it almost always is.)

‘No information’ about layoffs
Asked today about any layoffs, a CareerBuilder spokesperson told Dow Jones: “I have no information.”

The Dow Jones stories are not online, so I cannot link to them. CareerBuilder has not returned my calls seeking more information. I’m also still waiting for a response from Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development; it granted the tax giveaway in early October. With these layoffs, however, it’s unclear whether CareerBuilder has lost the tax break. The company had threatened to leave Chicago without the public money.

As I noted yesterday, this is at least the second time a Gannett business has won a tax break for creating jobs in one city, while reducing jobs elsewhere.

A tale of two rooms
How Friday’s mass layoff went down, according to recruitment blog Cheezhead: “Certain groups were alerted via e-mail at 12:50 p.m. CT that at 1 p.m. they were to go to a conference. Those going to one room were safe, while those in the other were cut.”

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.

GCI sets April 28 for annual shareholder meeting

December 9, 2008

Stockholders of record on March 2, 2009, will be notified of the 10 a.m. ET meeting at Gannett headquarters in McLean, Va., the company said today.