Archive for the ‘Widows and Orphans’ Category

Why it pays to be skeptical of what the boss says

November 28, 2008
“The board considers Gannett stock to be an excellent investment.”

— then-Chairman Doug McCorkindale in a Feb. 19, 2002, statement by the board of directors, announcing that current employees could finally sell Gannett shares in their 401(k) accounts. GCI closing price that day: $74.39. Shares continued to rise before peaking in early 2004. Closing price today: $8.71.

Calling all bean counters: What does this mean?

November 27, 2008

(Updated.) Christmas has come early, in the form of internal Gannett financial documents that someone just threw over the transom: the now-defunct Cost & Statistical Summary, complete with profit margins (uh-oh!) for individual newspapers.

Unfortunately, the two reports I’ve obtained are dated and incomplete. One report is for last year’s periods 1-9 — in other words, Jan. 1 through Sept. 30. The other is for all 12 periods of 2006. Also, I don’t have any figures for USA Today.

Still, both reports disclose prior-year figures, so you can see revenue, expense and profit trends at dozens of newspapers as they staggered into what has been a devastating 2008. One paper, for example, lost nearly $10 million in classified advertising alone during the first nine months of last year vs. the same period in 2006, the documents show.

Decoding the categories
Before I post any details, however, I need to understand some of the line-item categories. Here’s a screenshot of those under the “General” column; the full list of items appears at the bottom of this post.

My question concerns the third line, “News. Payroll % of News. Exp.” If the figure reported for, say, The Daily Bugle is 32.5, does that mean payroll was 32.5% of all expenses for the period in question? Also:

  • When and why did Corporate discontinue these reports?
  • Were these replaced with a new type of report?

Now, here’s a screenshot of all the line-items compiled for each newspaper. (I’ve split the column in two, so it takes up less room):

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.

Copyeditors’ delight: A site called Mr. Rewrite

November 27, 2008

This clever blog‘s description: Spelling, grammar and usage tips served with a dash of humor. (But shouldn’t that be: Spelling, grammar and usage tips — served with a dash of humor? Note: addition of em-dash.)

What I’m doing right now

November 27, 2008

10:07 p.m., San Francisco time: Photographing one of my two yellow bathtub ducks.

Threatening remarks, the F.B.I. — and your privacy

November 26, 2008

Guarding your privacy and security against prying eyes — especially Gannett’s — has always been my No. 1 concern, and it always will be. I do everything possible to make sure your comments, e-mail, and snail-mail stay confidential, and in my hands only.

But I draw a line at comments that are threatening to others — especially now, when there’s already enough anxiety at Gannett’s newspapers over a big layoff scheduled for next week.

I’m now going to tell you about a comment last week that totally crossed that line. It prompted an investigation over the weekend involving Corporate, the U.S. Justice Department, the F.B.I., and Internet giant Google, according to Gannett. The company said yesterday that the inquiry was resolved after it was determined the comment’s author did not pose a threat.

There’s probably a broader story here about blog publishing ethics, and new workplace management challenges posed by emerging Web technologies. But I’m just going to stick to the facts at hand for now. Although I was mostly a bystander, I’m privy to some details.

What happened
Last Wednesday at 11:02 a.m. ET, a reader posted a comment, anonymously, in response to my call for workers who had already been laid off; I wanted their advice, to share with current employees. Anonymous@11:02 a.m.‘s comment: “I brought a gun to work but decided not to use it.”

I did not know anything more about the author, including whether he or she was serious. It was one of more than 200 reader-posted comments that day. Indeed, I have no way of tracking or otherwise tracing any comment posted by anyone here. I do not have access to that information, nor do I want it.

But Google does have such access, because it owns the web-based Blogger software that millions of bloggers use worldwide — including me. And like many technology and telephone companies, Google will turn over to law enforcement authorities certain information only they can access — when presented with a subpoena. (Read Google’s privacy policy.)

To cut to the chase, after considering several options, I grew concerned enough to e-mail Gannett’s chief spokeswoman, Tara Connell on Saturday. I told her I needed to draw the company’s attention to a comment, which I included with my note. She replied quickly. In a follow-up e-mail, I told Connell I did not know anything more about the author.

How it was resolved
I provided no further information to Gannett or to anyone else, nor was I asked to. Later, I learned the following, from a series of e-mails sent to me yesterday and earlier by Connell and by Gannett’s general counsel, Kurt Wimmer:

By Sunday, Wimmer had spoken to the Justice Department’s Computer Crime Division. That evening, Google had provided to authorities the author’s geography at the time the comment was posted. Yesterday, Connell told me in an e-mail: “Google and the FBI found the person who posted the gun item and determined he is not a threat.”

What readers are saying
Reaction so far has been all across the waterfront. “Jim, YOU SUCK!!!” said Anonymous@1:18 p.m. in a new comment. On the other hand, Anonymous@1:27 p.m. declared: “Kudos, Jim!”

I wish this had never happened. The vast majority of my readers are terrific, responsible, adult bloggers. But in this case, one person caused a lot of unnecessary anguish over the weekend and beyond. Please don’t ever do this again.

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.

Countdown: Just 40 days left, will Dubow deliver?

November 22, 2008

From CEO Craig Dubow’s annual letter to shareholders, Feb. 28, 2008: “Our executive team has great talent, intellect and belief in the power of Gannett. Our employees tell us they are ready to go. 2007 helped put all the pieces in place; 2008 will see it through. I assure you, you will see great progress.”

  • Gannett stock closing price Feb. 28: $30.23
  • Yesterday’s close: $6.32

Fresh evidence that online ads don’t pay the bills

November 21, 2008

Gannett Blog traffic is touching new daily highs, as worried newspaper workers hunt for the latest developments in the 10% workforce reduction now underway. Yet, just in case you wondered, I’m not getting rich off your misery. We racked up more than 12,000 page views yesterday alone. Total advertising sales? $15.32.

Reality check: Deflating the myth about Hopkins

November 20, 2008

Understandably, some of you are growing frustrated that I haven’t answered the No. 1 question on your minds: How many newspaper workers will be laid off at each of Gannett’s 84 community dailies — and when will those workers get told?

Gannett Blog has lost its ‘hear it here first edge,” a reader said in a comment this morning. “Seems to be just repackaged news/Gannetteer-type announcements and endless open reader/comment forums, which I guess serve some purpose. But where are the fact-based scoops?”

Time for a reality check:

  • Myth: Jim Hopkins has well-placed sources at Gannett’s uppermost management levels; that’s how he’s gotten so many “scoops” about what’s really happening in the company.
  • Reality: You are my sources. In August, I was the first to report widely that Gannett planned to eliminate 1,000 newspaper jobs. My source: a Maryland newspaper publisher’s memo to employees, forwarded to me by a Gannett Blog reader. Ditto for last month’s Bob Dickey memo, disclosing the latest round of layoffs. He didn’t send it to me; a blog reader did.

Now, I have, indeed, cultivated some good individual sources. That’s how you learned here first that the newspaper division’s top management was about to be reorganized. More recently, you were warned about the current layoffs well before the Dickey memo — if you read this post.

Most of what I do, however, is a lot of hum-drum information management. I monitor your thousands of comments for news. I watch for company regulatory filings and industry reports. I post that information, using everyday language so as many employees as possible understand the implications. Then I publish it on a public blog, where anyone can read it 24/7 — safe in the knowledge I’ll protect their privacy from management scrutiny.

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 Daily Times in Salisbury, Md., Newseum. A Gannett Blog reader there was my source for the news in August that GCI was about to eliminate 1,000 newspaper jobs]

Night owls: Signs you’re having trouble sleeping

November 19, 2008

Gannett Blog recorded 513 visits between midnight and 4 a.m. ET today, according to a new analysis by web analytics firm Site Meter.

[Photo: Ambien sleep-aid tablet, Walgreens]

Say goodbye to Corporate’s ‘Daily News Summary’

November 19, 2008

In a comment, a reader says: “Got word today that the Daily News Summary from Corporate — that useless compilation of grafs and links to media news — is being discontinued as of Friday. I guess it took them a while to discover Romenesko and Google News alerts.”