Saturday, June 28, 2008

Friday's massacre: Real change, or real retribution?

Companies facing a crisis shrink rapidly -- first by eliminating front-line jobs (because there are so many), and only later chopping high-paid executives as management gets flattened. Sooner or later, that's going to happen in Gannett, too.

But yesterday's reorganization of the newspaper division sure doesn't look like a flattening of management to me. If anything, this may be division chief Bob Dickey's way of vanquishing rivals for the job he inherited in February, from now-retired Sue Clark-Johnson. And as a Gannett Blog reader said last night, the timing of this announcement is worrisome: It comes just three days before the close of the second quarter -- a period when earnings are likely to be just "awful."

Under Dickey's long-awaited reorganization, there are now four vs. five regional groups of uber-publishers reporting to him. In fact, Dickey (above) used the occasion to add two, new top positions to his division's staff:
  • Evan Ray, 54, becomes senior vice president/finance and operations. He was chief financial officer of Phoenix Newspapers and group controller of the former Pacific Group. (I worked with Ray in Little Rock when I was business-news editor at The Arkansas Gazette, and he was vice president of finance.)
  • Michelle Krans, 46, becomes senior vice president/Strategy and Development. She had been publisher of The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, Calif., and vice president of the former Pacific Group.
Left behind in the dust: Denise "Poison" Ivey, 58, president of the Mid-South Group and publisher of The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. She leaves the company Jan. 1. Also: Babs "Dominatrix'' Henry, 55, publisher of The Indianapolis Star and chief of the Interstate Group. She's gone Aug. 1.

Of those two, Henry's departure seemed especially welcome, based on the many comments on what might be called the Friday Afternoon Massacre. "This is the most joyous occasion for all of us in Indianapolis,'' one of my readers said, in far more colorful language I won't highlight here.

Henry (above) was certainly a Gannett lifer: She'd been with the company since 1974, when she started as a reporter at the Gazette-Journal in Reno, Nev.

So, what's next?
Once you get past personal invective, think about the more important stuff: What does this reorganization mean for the future of Gannett's most important and yet most troubled division -- and for the company as a whole? "I have to imagine," one reader said last night, "there is some strategic reason for doing this now, just before the end of Q2 and a couple weeks before the next earnings call -- which has got to be awful, based on all indicators around the country."

The comment continues: "All this ugly name-calling is wasted energy. I understand the impulse; I've worked for every kind of miserable Gannettoid you can name. But the whole industry is imploding because the money is draining away. Yes, the industry has been mostly complacent and technologically short-sighted for decades, but the audience has moved on and now it's too late to save what used to be journalism.

"Brace yourself for a future where local news is a big collection of whatever the websites can scour up for free, with a little sprinkling of 'investigative' reporting as a fig leaf. Most of the customers are no longer willing to pay for more. No amount of hand-wringing or name-calling is going to change that."

Earlier: In N.J. layoffs, fresh evidence of the new Gannett

Related: the Courier-Journal's story about Ivey; the Star's about Henry

Your thoughts, in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, use this link from a non-work computer; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.


  1. EVERYONE misses the point. It doesn't matter the body or the name in charge.
    Gannett is the newspaper version of the Stepford Wives. Intellect, integrity and independent thought were negitive qualities for managers to have.
    I worked with the "company" for 20 years. When it came to bosses, only the package was different. Inside, ALL had been brainwashed on their way up. The business of journalism, not the words and photos, was what became important to them.
    And now the company is self-destructing because there are no leaders capable of original, courageous thinking.
    So Rome is burning. And none of the robots in charge, the old or new, have a clue how to work a fire hose.

  2. I'm just curious ... what would ANY of you done differently in the last two decades as economic hard times fell on the newspaper industry?

    Everyone is quick to come on this blog and slam ANYONE who has worked as a Gannett senior-level manager. Some of you even slam mid-level managers whose primary job it is to try to implement company-mandated changes while also running newspapers and/or newsrooms.

    I have been in the daily newspaper business for 29 years, primarily at small to medium papers. I have wracked my small brain for years, trying to come up with ideas that could make a significant difference to our economic struggles. I haven't found one, but I am still in the trenches every day, hoping for a miracle.

    I don't blame anyone -- who can afford it -- for taking buyouts and/or bailing on the business. Some of us cannot afford that option and others remain committed to the business we still love.

    What does the reorgnization announced Friday mean? No idea. But I hope for the best.

  3. What could have been done differently? This may sound strange but I've always felt that newspapers should be something other than just a business. Gannett has polluted its own pond, placing money above all else.

  4. Do you produce a newspaper to make money or do you make money to produce a newspaper?

    Corporate has always answered to the former, not the latter. It took out and took out of its businesses and put proportionately little back in. This worked OK in the good times, but once times turned bad, the response was to cut and cut, so the profit margins could stay about the same. We're into cannibalism now.

  5. All of these personnel changes are pointless, last-minute maneuverings akin to staff movements in the final months of the Stalin/Mao/Pol Pot regimes, take your pick. Gannett -- and any chain, for that matter -- is an anacronism. The business models of local media are destined to do better under local ownership. The days of distant corporations buying and running local media to funnel profits upstream to prop up a share price and subsidize a now-obsolete corporate hierarchy are over. Gannett directors need to live up to their fiduciary duty to shareholders by hiring an investment banking firm to contemplete their strategic options, which, IMHO, will ultimately result in the selloff of individual business units.

  6. The sexism on this blog really makes me sick. Attack decisions or policies, not the women themselves.

    Yes, I disagreed with some of the things that Clark-Johnson, Henry or Ivey did in their posts, but they are all top-notch executives who really "got it" about the changes in the industry and weren't afraid to take big bets. They listened to new ideas. I learned a lot from working in the company with them and admire them personally and professionally. We are all going to be a lot worse off for their departures.

  7. McClatchy is imploding, Tribune is ready to do the same. Dow Jones is gone, Knight-Ridder too. JRC is all but bankrupt and Lee's stock is so low JRC could buy it whole.

    Business stinks. Management looks as if it is attempting to do something.

    Some people are leaving, some are coming in. Who really cares? The important thing is that there will be new, fresh ideas (maybe).

    Ray needed a job, apparently, because his was gone. He's worked with Dickey before, so no surprise there. He has good ideas. Give him a chance to implement them.

    The industry has changed. It's not your old company. It's operating in a new environment. I can look at it, as an outsider now, cashing my retirement check and walking on the mountain here, but it sure is fun watching.

  8. Ivey and Henry were severe critics of the digital decisions of the corporation under Jack Williams, and I wonder if that dissatisfaction extends to the new digital regime under Chris Saridakis. But is sounds like they both might have felt dissed by Laura Hollingsworth's promotion to lead the Pac Group, which has been the company's premier group for years and is where Dickey and Sue Clark Johnson and Williams came from (along with others who made up the Reno connection). Both Ivey and Henry made lots of enemies all by themselves as a result of their pompous "drill-down" appearances at various locations a couple of years ago. It would be kind of disappointing to think that when financial times got tough for the ladies, they bail.

  9. So who will go to take Ivey and Babs pub jobs? Haven't they hired any and all qualified people into the recent pub jobs already? Look at the last 2 promotions (Roegner and Lindus). GCI is scraping the bottom of the peanut butter jar on these 2 so who is next? Discuss.

  10. Eliminating a group is hardly real change especially since it was just over three years ago when the company added the fifth one - on April Fool’s day in 2005. And, if Dubow and company implemented these changes, including two more divisional suits as a pre-emptive strike to squelch Wall Street’s reactions to poor second quarter results, then keep dreaming as this company is in more trouble than it realizes.

    Poor economic conditions have only exacerbated, and more openly exposed the depths of Gannett’s real problems – its self-interested leaders and culture of condoning/allowing employee abuse. Instead of high-fiving their way to the bank, Gannett’s leaders should have been implementing changes that smaller, more nimble peers were making years ago, moves that this company only now seems to be grasping.

  11. Why were the two Arizona papers and Honolulu kept out of the Pacific group? Granted, they are large - but so is Detroit. Are they up for sale?

  12. All the chains are economically imploding because they all were seduced by Gannett's "success." Just like everyone followed the same model for graphics, design and now the Internet. Gannett and the other chains turned this profession into one of followers, not leaders. It was safe if everyone did the same thing. That's why they're tanking together.

  13. LH in Des Moines is HOT! I wanna get me some of that!
    I let her be my leader in the west, north, east and south! Yum.

  14. Our paper still is clearing a net profit of at least 20%.

    I know these are difficult times and all, but 20% is still pretty damn good. The idea of smaller papers funneling money up the chain to be wasted on grandiose projects. That's the disease.

    Also, Sue Clark Johnson's ideas were off the mark. LIC is a waste. The concept is good. The way we went about implementing the concept was hilariously misguided.

    We're better off without SCJ. Period.

  15. LH is a delicious is all ways.

  16. What would I have done differently? I would have invested in the internet back in 1995. We actually had the opportunity to purchase Yahoo at $40/share (a zillion splits ago) but didn't because Sr. Management didn't think this internet "thing" was going anywhere.

  17. So who's going to Indy and L'ville?
    I've heard rumblings that the new executive VP's (Evan and Michelle) will replace all the Community Newspaper VP's. Can't be any worse than the motley group they have got there now. Most are washed up do nothing-part timers anyway. Dickey doesn't even want any part of them either. That's why he will spend ALOT of time with Hono, Phx and that other paper in AZ. Whatever! This company is quite simply going to come crashing down. It's quite sad.
    PS LH is one hot mama. Love to gettin' with that!

  18. In response to: So who will go to take Ivey and Babs pub jobs? Haven't they hired any and all qualified people into the recent pub jobs already? Look at the last 2 promotions (Roegner and Lindus). GCI is scraping the bottom of the peanut butter jar on these 2 so who is next? Discuss.

    Here's what Indy and Louisville have to be aware of: A guy named Steve Silberman at the Palm Springs paper The Desert Sun. As one blogger said on here, Hershey and Ivey may have been bad, but whoever comes in might be worse. That would definitely mean Silberman! He's been in training to be a publisher, but already got turned down for the Fort Collins publisher job AND was just skipped over in his own backyard when a new publisher was named in Palm Springs on Friday. YIKES! If Silberman were to go to Indy or Louisville, they're doomed. He'll run all the good managers out as he has in Palm Springs and no one will get a fair shake. I saw a posting on another story that says he would sell his first born to kiss Dickey and Krans' ass. Watch out Indy and Louisville! We don't need that in Indy, and I sure would hate to see it in Louisville too!

  19. There are so many to be afraid of in our company. Very afraid of. I heard however that there were other candidates for the Fort Collins job that got passed over and are real stand up guys. Would love to see how they would have approached the job. More than likely differently than Roegner, who is good, but tends to approach things too systematically. The 2 others were Bob Rice, AD in Pensacola and Mike Burns, corporate Ad Director. Have worked with both and they are smart, talented, young and will more than likely leave the company due to lack of opportunity. It's a shame this company can't approach things differently. The same way isn't working anymore. Can't anyone see that?

  20. Thanks god I'm at a Newhouse paper. No layoffs...yet.

  21. So much to comment on....
    1. Dickey. Don't trust him. Trust me, you can't trust him. He's smart but it's all about the money.I think he was an ad director and still is for the most part. Some might say, and that's a bad thing? I say yes it is for a newsroom or a newspaper.
    2. Ivey. I was warned about her before I worked with her. She's only poison if you don't know what you're talking about, uninformed or in over your head. Otherwise, she is smart, all class. I'll bet she decided she didn't want to be a member at this Country Club anymore. Good for her. I know someone who was in Pensacola with her during Hurricane Ivan when the whole place was devastated. They say she was fantastic, completely supported the newsroom, not just then but all the time.
    3. Krans. If she can do anything about this whole mess, she will. I don't know anyone who has worked with her that wasn't impressed.
    4. Silberman. Of this whole bunch, he knows the most about real journalism, but he's a terrible manager. A good journalist but horrible absolutely horrible to work for. He tortures middle managers until they run screaming.

  22. 1:14 am Can't agree more with you on Dickey, Ivey and Silberman. Not so sure on Krans however. We shall see.
    I also have worked with Burns and Rice. Good guys, smart, honest, hard working. Not sure Rice has the brain needed to be a publisher or move beyond his current station. Burns has the personality, sense of humor and good managment to go all the way. I worked with him when he was an AD and did a great job for everyone; customers, employees and the company. He was a real a real change to what we usually got for AD's.
    We are in such a turmoil right now it scares the crap out of me. It's going to take an army of great managers and leaders to turn this around. Not sure if we have enough bench to get this going right.

  23. I am glad to see Dickey move so fast. These two, Henry and Ivey, were bad news for Gannett. We need to throw others too.
    Krans is pretty good, smart and all business.

    Hollingsworth is good too, but she has a big head already and she is quite uptight.

    Someone on this board mentioned that Hollingsworth is hot, but I would have to differ. Having worked with her, and with her personality, she could be Miss America, and I wouldn't tag her!

  24. Mike Burns a publisher? LOL!

    Mike is a stand-up guy, a hard worker and fulfills his role in this company commendably, but he's not organized enough to be a publisher. Nor is he savvy enough about today's digital marketplace. And to be honest, Mike deserves better than a publisher position in Gannett. (Though, Fort Collins is one of our company's choice sites.)

    Step back for a moment and think about this: Do we want another former Ad Director as publisher? Too many from Advertising have ascended to the role of publisher - because Gannett is all about the dollar - yet look where the company is now. Most of them couldn't even stay competitive in their own markets, and the result were cuts in other / as vital departments to make up for the revenue loss. (Too often the directive has been "no open positions in advertising" at the expense of all other departments.)

    How about tapping talent in other disciplines, or bringing in some fresh ideas from outside Gannett, maybe even outside the industry with a proven record of competing in today's marketplace.

    Ultimately, until Gannett accepts the fact 20% to 30% profits are a fond memory, it won't matter who's publisher, where ... the the cuts and erosion of this company (and this industry) will continue.

  25. Y'all peeps are funny. The pile-ons are hilarious and your take on the promos are just short of knee-slappingly churlish. Most of you sound just like most of those who inhabit union-shop papers, management "DEVILISHLY" bad and rank-and-file "ANGELICLY" good.
    This ain't a Gannett problem, it is an INDUSTRY problem. We'll shrink, probably get split-up, likely be smaller, more compact, less chainy, but we will survive, in some fashion. And the thing is, even if newspapers had heeded the Internet call 15 years or so ago, likely this would have happened anyway. The biz model isn't there now, what make any of you think it would have been there then?
    So quit cher bitchin', get yer resume's updated, and find another suitable host for your complaining ways. Nobody holds a gun to your head to stay where you are. If y'all don't like it, go somewhere else.

  26. AD's make some of the best publishers. Look at our top publishers today. They have an understanding of the business side, not just the ad department. Honestly, if the revenue side isn't working, nothing else will either. Good ad's can make great advocates for all departments at the local property. When it comes down to it, isn't everything we do sales related?
    I've worked with Mike Burns on digital projects for the company and found he has a real sales and marketing grasp of the digital business. Organized? Not sure what that's about. I do agree that he deserves better than becoming another publisher charged with cutting more and more resources. Doesn't sound like it would be much fun.

  27. Regarding Indy and Louisville, those operations might be too large for a rookie publisher, even if he/she has been a stellar ad director or finance exec.

    The new hires there will more likely come from the roster of existing publishers in the company. Just a hunch, but Steve Brandt in Greenville hasn't been mentioned lately.

  28. I'm curious as to who will replace Barbara Henry as the Group President. Any rumors or scoop on that?

  29. Randy Hammer back to Louisville?

  30. MC Hammer to Louisville? George Burns to Cincinati. Mrs. Butterworth to Pittsburgh. Does it really matter?

    Change, for change sake, will not help the problem.

    Branch Rickey as head of newspapers is a great choice. Okay, so he has an ad background, but that doesn't mean he doesn't know his way around a copy desk. He's smart and will do his best. But his best, in this environment, isn't automatically a win. There are too many things going against things.

    Bottom line. This mess will take some work. It makes no sense to blame him or her, it just doesn't matter. What happens down the road does. Does GeeSeaEye find new businesses? Can it cut expenses while investing in things that will grow?

    Can we stop complaining about each and everything anyone does and start pushing toward making things happen that will break the spell?

    This is not your father's Old Mobile.

  31. Rice? No way is he pub material.

  32. Hammer back in Louisville? Please no. Tel him to high-tail it back to P'cola and help us. Please.

  33. You leave my Mike Burns alone!
    He is the best!

  34. Dickey=Great guy, smart man, good publisher.
    Ivey=Great woman, smart business person.
    Krans=Smart woman, good AD, decent publisher
    Silberman=Extremely poor editor, good journalist, horrific manager, great ass kisser

  35. AP has a story about the industry problems ...

  36. I've got to agree with the later comments on Hollingsworth. Nauseatingly full of herself. I wouldn't touch her with a 10 foot pole (or a six foot german).

  37. Gannett needs to continue to mix it up. Let's keep bringing in new blood into the newspapers. There is a certain amount of revenue loss that can't be stopped but a fresh perspective will do each of these newspapers that get new leadership some good.

    I hate to disappoint everyone but the talent problems are from top to bottom. Some newspapers it's uppermanagement and in others it is very poor front line talent. So everyone reading this blog who works for Gannett could do themselves a favor and embrace picking up the skills they have been lagging to acquire the past 5 years or more.

    The Gannett company is in the best position of any newspaper company to survive this downturn and hopefully find a place in the new media landscape to begin an uphill climb again.

    People are the number one reason we win or lose. And from what I see there are a bunch of folks that stopped improving themselves years ago. Let's start with the folks in ad sales and the info center who need to learn how to compete for revenue and traffic.

  38. Dear previous anonymous,
    I did decide to improve myself. I left, Gannett and the business. I could not work with incompetent people and bad managers anymore. I agree that the problem is all through the ranks.
    But I still say it's a corporate issue at heart. I heard it even before I joined Gannett, I heard be careful all they care about is money and it's ruining journalism. I pooh-pooh this and embraced G and all it had to give. Loved it for awhile. Then when other papers and chains all had Web sites and hardly any Gannett papers did back in the mid 90s because, I was told, they had not figured out how to many money from it. They missed that boat then and all they've done since is try to play catch up. But now they have company, because nearly all newspapers are trying to catch up and finally see that the year is 2008. And it's not your grandmother's newspaper any more. I know, old news.
    Another reason I blame corporate? They don't listen to their employees, who are and have been miserable. Read this story in the latest TIME magazine.,9171,1818183,00.html

  39. Thanks for the lovely pep talk, anon @ 7:45. Too bad you don't offer a single, specific self-improvement skill that I am supposed to pick up to prosper in the digital utopia that will arise from the ashes of Gannett's newspapers.
    Being a solid editor and reporter is simply not enough anymore, I know. Those skill sets don't matter on the Web, where the insta-copy is too often raw and bloody and the so-called headlines completely lacking in imagination.
    So I should become a crack videographer and still photographer, too? A superstar of multimedia talents. And continue to report, write and edit quality stories.
    Maybe I can take a crack at Web design, also, or take on some simple Web monkey work for the hell of it.
    Gannett's problem is not simply that the Web train left the company behind at the station a decade ago. It's main problem is a long-entrenched culture of mediocrity and greed.
    Mediocre newspapers operated on the cheap make for atrocious web sites. And Gannett has plenty of them: generic, dull, pathetic.
    The company is corrupt. There is no accountability. Quality and talent are not valued. It is going to get very ugly.
    Good luck to the survivors.

  40. Anon @10:45pm you totally missed the point! You look down at the online changes as something below you. In your post you show that you are out of touch of the new digital media world. You think serving a digital customer is just a bunch of crap and that is why the site and your newspaper fail. Spend a little bit more online and think about how you as a digital reader want to be engaged. Some of it is with speed. Some of it is with dramatically new storytelling skills. Some of it is the art of SEO.

    There is a not a clear direction to head but if you don't take the time to learn and all you do is think you already know it all that is precisely why the company is struggling.

  41. To 6/29@10:47, Steve Brandt is another who needs to join Henry and Ivey!

  42. Krans is great and refreshing to work with - although she is in WAY over her head on the digital front.

    Silberman is a waste. Even if they offer it to him, he'll take so long to decide, they'll pass him over. Slooowwwww decision maker, no original ideas, and out of touch with online concepts. He tries, but is a bust. Constantly blew deadlines on pilot site for web redesign due to lack of timely decision making.

  43. The comment about "cutting and cutting" certainly rings true. As far back as 1997 the field sites were under increasing pressure to chop "to the bone", so this has not been something to become an issue overnight.

  44. I've worked for Gannett advertising for over 20 years.
    The Management is atrocious. Instead of working out ways to combat the challenges of the "Internet Advertising" by working with their advertising staff and addressing their positions in this new media environment with new ideas. Tools that actually "Worked", accurate, timely pricing, not gouging. Logical, attainable goals as well as training things might be a bit different. Instead Management was "Out to Lunch" literally. Upper Management, regularly disappeared for the entire day if they felt like it. Returning with a new hair do after a relaxing day at the spa most likely paid for by Gannett. Or relaxing with cocktails and lunch during a spring day...and absolutely no shame or apologies...
    Sheer entitelment~
    Perhaps instead of working their workers ragged, with no reward (I have had an unnatainable bonus requirement for the last 2 years, expecting 25-40% increases over last year) Talk about knocking Moral!
    Also, if they cut thier CEO's huge, undeserving, compensation packages by 3% there would be no need for lay offs.
    This is really, really some crap...
    And I guarantee, the "Butt Kissers" loser management will keep thier positions...never fails!

  45. 9/14/2008 10:25 AM

    I agree anon. 9/12 5:38PM.
    GREED!!! Gannett is getting a little too greedy these days.
    I know it's about the bottom line, and a company should be in the business to make money. I also know you should probably have WORKING managers to direct the worker bees. So, that said, start from the top... get rid of deadhead upper management, replaced with working managers. This also pertains to Publishers with extravagant salaries, benefits, company paid apartments, for extended periods of time (possibly yrs), ridiculous company paid expense accounts, company vehicles (Cadillacs), etc... you want to save, make money, with out your capable/hard working, lower paid employees, you have nothing.
    Another thing to greatly reduce expenses is to have group publishers that may run more than one site vs one publisher per site. GET-R-DONE Gannett!!!

  46. I got a grant from the federal government for $12,000 in financial aid, see how you can get one also at


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