Thursday, March 27, 2008

Connell asserts 'false and misleading statements'

I received an e-mail from Tara Connell, Executive Director of the Gannett Foundation, raising objections to my post this morning, about a Gannett program allowing top executives to earmark foundation money for their favorite charities. She asked for a correction. I declined her request, for reasons I cited in my response. I offered to publish her objections. She agreed.

First, Connell's e-mail -- followed by my response:

Jim -- Your March 26 blog about the Gannett Foundation contains several false and misleading statements.

As I told you in response to your questions before you published your blog, the program allowing Gannett executives to recommend grants to the Gannett Foundation is administered in accordance with the guidelines for the GannettMatch program, NOT the guidelines that apply to third-party grants. The GannettMatch guidelines are available on the Foundation website. All Gannett employees may have their gifts matched under the GannettMatch guidelines. In addition, senior Gannett executives may request that the Foundation make non-matching grants up to a specified dollar limit provided the grants otherwise comply with the GannettMatch guidelines.

  • You said: "For example, at Dubow's direction, the foundation gave $40,000 to the University of Texas at Austin, where he graduated. The money went mostly for endowed scholarships. The community grants guidelines for everyone else, on the foundation's website, do not list Texas as an eligible state." (emphasis added) The GannettMatch guidelines do not list Texas as an eligible state because ALL states are eligible. The GannettMatch guidelines allow grants to "Tax-exempt degree-granting two- and four-year colleges, universities, graduate or professional schools, engineering or technical institutions and public and private preschools, elementary and secondary schools in the United States and its territories." You imply that a grant to the University of Texas is improper because you erroneously refer to the guidelines that apply to third-party grants, which do generally focus on communities where Gannett does business.
  • You said: "At the request of Chief Financial Officer Gracia Martore, the foundation gave $45,000 to private Wellesley College near Boston, where she graduated. Gannett owns no papers or stations in Massachusetts." (emphasis added) You imply that a gift to a school located in Massachusetts is improper. Again, the fact that Wellesley College is located in Massachusetts is irrelevant, as gifts to colleges throughout the US are permitted under the GannettMatch guidelines. You made the same mistake in your discussion of grants to other schools recommended by John Curley, Doug McCorkindale, Cecil Walker and Richard Clapp.
  • You said: "The school's [Wellesley College] website doesn't show a journalism department, or any journalism classes." You imply that if Wellesley doesn't offer a journalism class that makes it ineligible for a Gannett Foundation gift because you erroneously refer to the guidelines that apply to third-party grants, which do consider grants to journalism education and training projects as part of our media grants program. There is no such requirement under GannettMatch guidelines.
  • You said: "Also at Martore's direction, the foundation gave $5,000 for "general support" to the exclusive Potomac School in McLean, Va., near Gannett's headquarters. The foundation's guidelines for the general public say it will not support elementary or secondary schools, except for special programs." Again, you imply that a gift to a private secondary school is improper because you erroneously refer to the guidelines that apply to third-party grants. As already noted, the GannettMatch guidelines allow grants to private secondary schools.
  • You said: "$30,000 to Young Life Williamson in Franklin, Tenn., at the behest of USA Today Publisher Craig Moon, who has long ties to the state. Young Life's website says "every Young Life gathering or event is intended to give kids the chance to experience God's love and to consider the relevance of Jesus Christ for their lives." The foundation's public guidelines prohibit gifts to "programs or initiatives where the primary purpose is the promotion of religious doctrine or tenets." Again, you refer to the wrong guidelines. The GannettMatch guidelines state "Gifts to sectarian organizations may be matched at the Foundation's discretion, if the organization uses the funds primarily to benefit the community. For example, gifts to a church soup kitchen that serves the general public will be considered for matching, while gifts to a church building fund will not."

Your repeated comparison of these specific gifts to the Foundation's third-party grant guidelines rather than the GannettMatch guidelines suggests that these gifts were improper and did not comply with the Foundation's own guidelines, which is false and misleading. This is particularly disturbing since I specifically called your attention to the distinction between the GannettMatch guidelines and those that apply to third-party guidelines to avoid any possible confusion.

I ask that you immediately publish a correction.

P.S. As I told her, the Foundation gave around $33 million in charitble giving, community grants and matching gifts during 2004-2006, not the $18 million you reported.

How I responded


I never said the executive-led grants are subject to the guidelines that apply to the public. In fact, that's the entire point of what I wrote: These executives have access to a charity program with guidelines that are far more liberal than those applying to the general public, and to average employees. That is a fact.

I noted that you compared the executive-led program to GannettMatch. But as I also noted -- and as you repeat [in your e-mail raising objections] -- the executive program does not require any money from the executives themselves, unlike the program for average employees. That is a fact.

Finally, my references to the third-party guidelines in the items about Dubow, Martore, Curley, etc., are not erroneous. Those guidelines exist, and are a fact. Once again, I included them to demonstrate to my readers that the guidelines for the general public are more restrictive.

Also, I never said any of the Gannett Foundation's gifts to schools require that those schools offer journalism classes. In the case of Wellesley, I think it's interesting that the foundation gave $45,000 to a school that doesn't show much interest in journalism.

Having said all this, I would be delighted if you or Craig Dubow wrote a letter to me, for publication on my blog, stating any objections. As is my policy, I don't publish letters such as the one you wrote [above], unless I have permission to share them.


Note: In my response, I neglected to address Connell's assertion that the foundation "gave around $33 million in charitble giving, community grants and matching gifts during 2004-2006, not the $18 million you reported."

I have no idea where that $33 million comes from. I reported the total, $18 million, that appeared on the federal income tax returns.


  1. You know what is sad. Putting aside the issues raised here between two people. Most newspaper communities owned by big media companies just don't give a damn...and it shows at all levels.

    What do the people of Iowa City feel today? How about Wisconsin?
    How about Rockford being sold after 40 years of ownership? How about a news staff that shits on the bathroom floor to get attention...just to be paid properly for time worked!!!

    These concerns are old news. The local folk are tuned that is sad.

  2. Jim,

    Great reporting. As a former long-time Gannett employee, I did take advantage of GannettMatch whenever I made a qualifying charitable contribution.

    It never dawned on me that there could possibly be a separate class of people who could direct "match" funds without putting up any of their own money.

    My question: Did any of these self-important, self-aggrandizing executives ever make any donations of their own money that was matched? Or did they only use GannettMatch as their personal charity fund?

    Maybe Ms. Connell could tell us about that. Can we get the amount of actual executive contributions that were truly matched?

    John M. Simpson

  3. Jim,

    A further thought: As I re-call from my Gannett days, the GannettMatch limit for average employees was $5,000 a year.

    In Ms. Connell's response she writes, "senior Gannett executives may request that the Foundation make non-matching grants up to a specified dollar limit."

    Could you please ask her what the "specified dollar limit" is and where it is specified?

    Thank you.

    John M. Simpson

  4. John:

    I asked Tara Connell how much Gannett Foundation money was set aside for Gannett executives to dole out. She would not tell me.

  5. Here it is for everyone to see in all its glory. A company that is supposed to be built on the principles of telling the truth -- no matter how ugly it might be -- is now working overtime to distort the truth. It's an outrage that the company responded this way. Shame, shame.

    This is a prime example of how NOT to handle crisis communications.

  6. Crisis communications. If some, "some" newstaffs were and are over-worked, spread too thin, how will they deliver better quality news today? I'm from the former "advertising" side, but I don't see this resolution being addressed. And for the life of me, when centralization of news gets watered down to the point of bland newspapers, you become nothing more than the Journal Register Company. That company stock was down to 44 cents a share...and the company is about broke.

  7. As a Gannett stockholder, I never did see an answer to the possible Dept. of Labor complaint about Cherry Hill? Speaking of ducking the hard issues. Seems like the Gannett way.

  8. Just a friendly reminder: In your comments, please avoid personal attacks on Tara Connell. I just spiked one, and I'd rather not spike any more.

  9. This whole ordeal with Gannett executives essentially using the company's foundation as their own charitable piggy-bank for their charitable interests illustrates a much larger problem with this company. Since Craig Dubow has taken over he has pushed this idea of innovation. Something that this industry does not have a good track record of embracing. I've seen so many innovative ideas thrown out there to expand market share. Once the ideas are accepted (usually the local managers dismiss them at first), functional and making a reasonable clip of money, there is a stream of local executives racing to jump in and claim the successes as their own. The ultimate problem with the "new" Gannett is that you can't take folks who have worked in management roles and are used to the old way of doing things, tell them to innovate and expect innovative results. It's just not logical. In my opinion, the solution for Dubow's mission of an "innovative" Gannett to really work is fire most of the top level people in each market (many of whom are such idiots that they embarass the company on a daily baisis with their inane thought processes) and bring in fresh-thinking people who were not at the wheel of this sinking ship when it hit the "ice berg" 20 years ago. These people had their chance to be innovative 20 years ago when reports started to surface about the impending problems with declines in newspaper readership, etc. Did they... sadly, no. And now, they are trying to be innovators when most of them don't get what that really means.

  10. "And now, they are trying to be innovators when most of them don't get what that really means."

    Repeated for truth.

  11. Bravo John Simpson! As an ex-Gannettoid you can say out loud what those of us still working here can't. Tara was quite selective in her letter to Jim, somehow neglecting to note that there was no personal 'match' to the matching funds.
    At a time when the company is laying off, buying out, cutting coverage, these bosses should remember that charity begins at home.


Jim says: "Proceed with caution; this is a free-for-all comment zone. I try to correct or clarify incorrect information. But I can't catch everything. Please keep your posts focused on Gannett and media-related subjects. Note that I occasionally review comments in advance, to reject inappropriate ones. And I ignore hostile posters, and recommend you do, too."

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