Monday, November 3, 2014

I'm Sadly Watching Gannett Torture My Former Colleagues, Journalists And The Public

Gannett's rather ironic logo.  
UPDATE : Seven Days Newspaper has a little more inside info from the ridiculousness at Gannett,  here at the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press.

In the article, a reporter who unsuccessfully reapplied for a job recounts the experience.

It's infuriating.


Maybe I have survivor's guilt.

Gannett, the media company that has itself been in the news lately with its layoffs and, um, creative management, jettisoned me in August 2013.

It was part of their wave of layoffs. They're always laying off people, it seems.

I hate to say it, but they did me a favor, especially considering what I see going on at Gannett nowadays.  Still, watching Gannett corporate head honchos do what they're doing makes me sad.

Gannett management is acting like a train engineer having a major mental breakdown and causing a real train wreck. Their victims are its journalists, and the news consuming public.

Gannett has 82 daily newspapers across the country and more than 440 non-daily publications in 30 states and Guam, says the company Web site. 

It's no secret the journalism profession has changed incredibly and newspapers are suffering. Gannett can easily be forgiven for struggling with the changing industry and how to keep readers and its newspapers and Web sites relevant.

What's inexcusable is the incredibly boneheaded, cruel and self-defeating way they're going about it.

From what I hear, and to a lesser extent, from what I remember working there, they keep reducing resources and staff, forcing the remaining people to do more work with less time and fewer means to get the job done. Plus the employees have to pour more time into social media, the web and all the other bells and whistles meant to keep readers engaged.

Everyone there is stretched too thin. The result is a poorer quality newspaper and web site, which drives away readers, which reduces revenue, which goes on and on and turns the company's newspaper division into a death spiral.

They seem incredibly intent on driving away readers and revenue, rather than attract it.  I know here in Vermont, I hear over and over again that the Gannett-owned Burlington Free Press is not worth their time anymore.

Which is a total shame, because the remaining journalists at the Free Press are totally top notch. If they were given the opportunity to actually do their jobs, the articles in the Free Press would be totally ground breaking, engaging, important, and would change Vermont for the better, all the time, every day.

One of the more succinct reactions to Gannett's boneheadedness is from blogger Jeff Pearlman, who titled a recent post: "Dear Gannett: Fuck Yourself. Love, Jeff."

Pearlman captures Gannett's self-inflicted downward spiral perfectly:

"Gannett folks shrug, say it's a byproduct of the modern newspaper as a ghost. Yet who created that ghost? Who stripped down the products, then stripped them again and again? Wo ripped the hearts and souls out of newspapers? Who ended investigative reporting? Who did this to the newspaper business?

Answer: Gannett"

The layoffs, the cookie-cutter approach Gannett management applied to journalism, the internal bureaucracy. Gannett seems to manage via panic. They think quarter to quarter, to please the shareholders who demand profits each quarter.

What Gannett fails to do, in my opinion, is think long term, to position itself in a new media landscape over the long haul.  Which makes Gannett's self promotion as a media innovator puzzling.

Recently, things got so much worse.  I guess Gannett management had to drive home the fact that the industry has changed and Gannett employees must change with it. That part, I'm OK with.

But they are going about it by forcing employees to reapply for their own jobs. It's demoralizing, humiliating, stupid, a waste of time, and damages the paper and the community.

Why not retrain workers for today's realities? And you don't have to be kind about it. The employees that show they are in the game end up staying, and the ones that won't change and grow with the job leave?

I'd guarantee that almost all Gannett employees who are respected enough, and given enough resources, not to mention pay, would embrace all this re-training wholeheartedly.

But nope, they're forcing employees to reapply.

Here in Vermont, one reporter, Lynn Monty, was laid off because she declined to reapply for a position. She understandably found the process degrading and insulting.

I'm not worried about Monty. She's a talented and passionate journalist who will land on her feet. But Monty's exit captured the attention of such national media watchers as Jim Romenesko, which further helps blacken the reputation of Gannett as a soul crusher and a model of weird management incompetence.

Monty's experience has been repeated all up and down the Gannett chain.

At the Cincinnati Enquirer, several journalists left rather than reapply for these supposedly reconfigured jobs, says the Cincinnati Business Courier.  

"Veteran employees told the Courier they are heading for the door because they would rather take a buyout package than go through another round of upheaval and the indignity of reapplying for jobs at a company they've worked at for decades."

The Arizona Republic is going through the same thing, and the accounts of what's going on there, as they appeared in the Phoenix New Times is grim. 

Gannett is splitting its business into two, a newspaper division and one for its television and non-journalism Web sites. I wonder if this upheaval is a tortured way to spin the newspaper end of the business into something value-less? Something that can be jettisoned more easily?

Gannett is certainly jettisoning staff pretty easily.

Looking back, I think Gannett was right to get rid of me last year. You want to work for a company at which you care whether they succeed or not. Gannett has created an atmosphere where I don't think that employees care whether Gannett fails.

Face it. Morale stinks. More than stinks. It's not there anymore.

I was in that boat. Like most journalists, I cared about the quality of my work, and wanted to demonstrate that through my work. Gannett, with its cutbacks and lack of resources, wasn't letting me do that.

The management at the Burlington Free Press tried their best to support us journalists and turn out the best product we could given the constricted circumstances. I have to give the editors at the Free Press tons of credit for that.

But the corporate overlords at Gannett made things impossible.

I, too stopped caring whether Gannett succeeds. So it's good that I'm out of there.

Now I've cobbled together a couple jobs and am getting by. And most importantly, I care for both the quality of my work AND I care whether the companies I work for succeed and thrive.

It's too bad Gannett seems to care a lot about its shareholders, but doesn't care much about its employees.

More importantly, Gannett doesn't seem to care much about the communities it serves.

For that, Gannett unfortunately deserves its apparent slow, painful death. It's just sad they're taking so many good people down with the ship. 


  1. Well, Matt, just when you think it can't get any more ridiculous at the BFP, it, in fact, does. Veteran political reporters Nancy Remsen and Terri Hallenbeck have gotten the boot, too. Apparently their stories about state government and politics don't generate enough clicks, retweets and Facebook likes, so off they go. And while the both rightfully lament it now (you should read Terri's poignant Facebook post), they are free at last.

    And while it comes as no surprise for those of us who were there under the Gannett Reign of Terror (I was a Free Press staffer for a dozen years) it is a sad day for all Vermonters. We now know the Free Press is dead. You made several nautical allusions in your post above. The reality is that today the ship has finally run up onto the reef, it's hull split wide open with water pouring in. There are a few gulls circling in the sky above, and some flotsam and jetsam swirling in the current, but this isn't a search-and-resuce mission anymore. We're just recovering bodies.

    I grew up reading the Free Press and when I worked there, for a few years anyway, I felt like I had attained some level of professional success. But working at the BFP hardly seems like much of a goal anymore. It seems like punishment.

    It makes me sad, of course. Sad for friends like you who've had to deal with corporate bullshit. Sad for Vermonters who deserve better coverage, sad for Vermonters who have stories worth telling that will now be left unsaid.

  2. Thanks, Matt S., and good to hear you're chugging along, Matt C.