Friday, March 27, 2009

Urgent: GCI 'suits' said in Tucson newsroom clash; 'Pretty ugly meeting that left everyone furious'

Updated at 3:15 p.m. ET: Adds fresh allegations that one of Corporate's representatives has been stationed at the newsroom to vet all news coverage about any pending sale of the newspaper; top Editor Jennifer Boice said reasserting her control of news report. Plus: News Department Vice President Kate Marymont's possible furlough, leaving the newsroom vulnerable.

I'm following an unfolding drama in what may be the final days of Arizona's oldest daily, the Tucson Citizen -- one a reliable tipster says began late Wednesday afternoon, with the unannounced and unwelcome arrival of two Corporate managers from McLean, Va.

Tensions were boiling already, over the limited reprieve Gannett extended March 17 to the paper's 60 newsroom-only employees. That was when two 11th-hour bidders emerged near the date GCI had threatened to shutter the 139-year-old afternoon paper: March 21.

News staffer speaks up
Soon after their 5 p.m. arrival Wednesday, my tipster says, Corporate's representatives called an employee meeting, even though perhaps just one-quarter of the staff was present. One Citizen staffer -- a woman -- asked why more notice was not given, so more employees could attend the meeting. One of the Corporate managers "dodged" that question, my tipster says.

The questioning persisted, my tipster says, and a sharp exchange followed, where one manager "tried to interrupt her, and when he couldn't, he yelled at her. That made the natives restless. It was a pretty ugly meeting that left everyone furious."

Things may have grown worse as the evening wore on, my tipster says, relating a story about Corporate meddling in news coverage about Gannett itself -- a story worthy of comment from Gannett's chief publicist Tara Connell. I wrote her with details early this morning. As I update this post, she has not acknowledged my e-mail.

Also worrisome: News Department Vice President Kate Marymont sent an auto-reply to my note this morning, suggesting she's on furlough, so is unreachable. Why is this going down when Marymont's off?

Editor said re-asserting authority
It appears at least one of the Corporate managers will remain on-site for the duration, my tipster says, "most likely to babysit us all while the prospective buyers are in town. If she continues to interfere with the news, there's talk of a revolt, likely the blue flu, but I think that's all big talk, considering all that severance that'd be at risk."

That has led some Citizen staff to think the manager is there to make sure nothing unflattering to Gannett appears in print during the coming -- and perhaps, final -- days. I'm told Citizen top editor Jennifer Boice today reasserted her authority over the news report.

The Citizen is in a joint operating agreement with Lee Enterprises' Arizona Daily Star. The JOA handles circulation and other business functions. Gannett and Lee maintain separate, competing newsrooms. Gannett is offering to sell only the money-losing Citizen's name and customer list, with little else. It's not selling its stake in the JOA, including its profit stream. Those profits apparently would be more profitable with the Citizen gone.

Related: Newspaper division chief Bob Dickey delivers bad news to Citizen employees -- then heads to Palm Springs, Calif., for that now-infamous golf tournament

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 rail, upper right.

34 comments:

  1. Who were the corporate managers that were there from Gannett?

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  2. Who would be stupid enough to buy the paper without the stake in the JOA?

    And does Gannett lose the stake in the JOA if it shutters The Citizen?

    My heart goes out to you folks working in the trenches there.

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  3. Wow... this should serve as an example for the future for Gannett employees.

    There will be "corp goons" or the "truth police" hoovering around in newsrooms before they close to ensure that pesky soon-to-be-out-of-work workers don't put something in the paper embarrassing.

    Wow! Do you guys work for a great company, or what????

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  4. I heard that people nearly came to blows.

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  5. This is just tragic, there are so many good people at the Citizen who have been treated horribly. Tucson Newspapers, the JOA, already has a horrible reputation on how it treats people, and now this to add to their low standing in the community. They haven't even told them if today is their last day yet! Anyone in Tucson have an update?

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  6. I agree with 8:43 a.m.: Who were the managers?

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  7. In the interest of fairness to one Corporate manager in particular, I've asked Tara Connell about this incident. I provided Connell the name of one of the Corporate managers; I'm withholding that name from the blog for now. Here is part of the note I sent:

    Yesterday in Tucson, [Corporate manager] asked for changes to a reporter's column, that -- based on the version I heard -- were designed to prevent unflattering news about Gannett from getting into the newspaper. As a result of the exchange between [Corporate manager] and the reporter, I'm told, the column got spiked.

    I also have been told that [Corporate manager] arrived at the paper yesterday (Wednesday), and that [Corporate manager is viewed by the newsroom as having been sent by Corporate to make sure no one gets out of line.

    There are always many sides to a story, of course. And I've only heard one -- from a reliable source.

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  8. Common sense. There's already been a few things critical of Gannett. This is Gannett's publication. It's just like a top editor reading a farewell column somebody writes when maybe only lower-level editors would usually read that work. Tense and ugly meeting, but I understand monitoring the work closely.

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  9. Jim: Can you get that column and leak it? It'd get read by more than it would've originally.

    Keep in mind, Gannett has every right to this.

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  10. Given how willingly we often use the names of our corporate idiots, why are you so careful this time? Without ascribing to them any particular activity while there, you should be able to at least say who they were. My guess - low level corporate staffers possibly from accounting.

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  11. seems like a little slip to post it online would be easy enough, eh? :)

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  12. 3:21: These are not "low-level" Corporate staff; that's part of the problem.

    Also, I believe I need only one paragraph in particular from a certain column -- if it should become handy.

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  13. Plenty of room, under every story to post a few facts online.
    Become a registered member of Tucson's paper, and let her rip.
    Especially those who are laid-off, and read this blog. No fear of repercussions.

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  14. What, is there another Palm Springs golf event forthcoming?

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  15. Strikes me that Tucson employees have nothing to lose. They are out of a job with GCI regardless of which way this goes, so they can just fight back against these corporate goons and tell them what they think of their interference. That could get you fired, but that is about to happen anyway.

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  16. So, what's the deal? Gannett said they will keep the paper open until March 27.

    Well, today is March 27, so what's going to happen? Will this apper be sold or shut down?

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  17. Screw fighting back. The journalists should just leave. Just get up and walk out the door. I realize this isn't very realistic for the ones who have families, etc., but it's the only way to send a message to the corporate goons. Otherwise, you're at their mercy.

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  18. 4:04 pm: You do not understand: They are afraid to speak up too much because they could be fired outright -- and lose their severance pay.

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  19. Who cares if Kate Marymont is on furlough? Have you read her latest bulletin on this week's NewsWatch? She's going to protect journalism within Gannett by organizing more damned contests!! If that's her idea of leadership, let her take a permanent furlough!

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  20. This is not helping the paper at all, that's what the bigwigs just don't get.

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  21. Might anybody entertain the possibility that disgruntled employees might not be objective and that it is prudent to monitor what goes in the paper, considering the unfortunate situation in Tucson?

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  22. This is the text of the letter that Jennifer Boice sent to all staffers the following day:

    A number of people were not at yesterday's impromptu meeting. Ann Clark,
    news executive at Gannett, and Bob Oliver, vp of HR at gannett, arrived and
    we had a meeting in which they gave us the information they had.

    The potential buyers of the citizen have been invited to visit the newsroom
    next week. Don't know who and if any of the buyers will take Gannett up on
    that invitation.

    Ann will be here into at least next week. She is in Cara's old office and is
    available to talk with people, so feel free to drop in.

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  23. Oliver now thats a real genius!!!

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  24. To all you haters Bob Oliver is a great guy period, end of discussion.

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  25. Ann Clark,news executive at Gannett, and Bob Oliver, vp of HR at gannett....

    Gosh, they couldn't sent anybody but these two?????

    Why even attend the meeting - these two are the poster people of "I do not care about you" and rude to boot.

    This is getting better and better - and the saga continues.

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  26. RE: Anonymous said...
    To all you haters Bob Oliver is a great guy period, end of discussion.

    3/27/2009 6:53 PM

    Great guy? Hardly. He's the one who lost his cool at the meeting and shouted at one of the Citizen reporters as if she were a child. That doesn't sound like a great guy to me. The dude needs anger management training.

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  27. Do Clark and Oliver play golf? On the same field? Same luxury hotel?

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  28. Bob Oliver is not only a great guy, he started his career as a journalist. He has spent more time "in the field" any other single corporate staffer and most corporate staffers combined.

    I know that many people reading this blog know Bob and that he is the last guy you would EVER see lose his cool. I'm sure that the folks in the Tucson newsroom, who have been spending their time putting their names on furniture and on stuff in the Archives for the last month, pushed him pretty hard for him to lose his cool. IF that is in fact what happened.

    Bob is an old school newsguy and it is shameful that no journalists who read this blog -- especially from Jersey -- are coming to his defense. Really fucking shameful.

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  29. Bob's a loser who can't bring himself to make eye contact, much less talk to anyone.

    He's been slinking through our newsroom with nary a word. Why the fuck is he even here? And the other?
    Hah!

    They can both fuck off back to whatever corporate hole they were pulled out of.

    Verification word: lamescoc

    Yup.

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  30. @ 2:26 a.m. --

    We'll take your comments with the understanding that you must be deeply disappointed that you will not be able to loot the building.

    You've done such a wonderful job creating the situation there in Tucson.

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  31. 11:12 thats an ethics issue and should be investigated. Call the number 1-800-234-4206 and report it.

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  32. What a loser. The guy has never set foot our of McClean and now he's taking the corporate jet to Tucson. Big jerk.

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  33. @ 6:56 am

    We've already looted the building of anything worth taking.
    And really, tell me how a paranoid schizo like Oliver is going to stop anyone from doing anything, since all he did was hide in an HR burrow and he's already run away.

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  34. Citizen people cannot loot the building because there is nothing there worth taking except for the "assets" that are up for sale -- old computers.

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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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