Saturday, April 16, 2011

Are we saving journalism -- or executives' salaries?

From Robert Niles' post yesterday for The Online Journalism Review at the Knight Digital Media Center:

I don't begrudge those who truly create value from sharing in the wealth that they create, but only in the fiscal fantasy land of Wall Street does cutting 40% of your work force "create value." No leadership in the newspaper industry today is worth the multi-million dollar pay deals that the leaders of Gannett and the New York Times Co. are pulling down. The customer revenue simply isn't there to support that.

Want to help save journalism? Do you really want to help save original reporting, by getting more money in the hands of reporters who need it?

Start reading more independent news sites - publications run by journalist/entrepreneurs, where the ad revenue (or foundation grant) goes to the reporters running the shop. Spend less time with traditional, corporate-owned media, where the money increasingly goes to wealthy executives.

Earlier: Knight Foundation hires innovations chief Michael Maness.


  1. As your blog shows in its smaller way, readers are willing to pay for content and effort. I happen to believe that GCI's current turmoil is caused by cutting back on the quality and content of newspapers, rather than the impact of new technology. The NYT isn't exactly flourishing, but it is putting out a product that is generally unique and prized enough by those that read it for some to contribute with a subscription. But look at USAT and you find precious little originality, and this from a paper founded on an idea of new, fresh and original presentation of news. Our community papers are similarly foundering.
    If they want to make a success, the board of directors has to find a way to rein in these scattershot but expensive adventures into marketing. No matter how you look at it or try to redefine it, these are newspapers putting out news. Diminish news and you diminish readership, Advertisers then follow and you are in the soup.

  2. NYTimes is in FAR WORSE financial condition than Gannett. That's a fact. They may not make it. Seriously. Gannett probably will.
    NYTimes product might be better and people do consider it the gold standard of what's left of good journalism in the U.S....but their finances are dire.

    The NYTimes column by David Carr on Gannett's executive compensation was skewed and a blatant personal attack on its biggest competitor, Gannett. No mention in Carr's article about the greed of NYTimes CEO, while they are almost bankrupt.

  3. Gannett will report Q1 earnings on Monday...the first of the newspaper cos to do so. NYTimes will be worse. No doubt about it.

  4. 3:46 What definitions are you possibly using? The NYT last quarter reported a good increase in revenues, from $616 million a year ago to $637 million this year. That's an increase at a time when Gannett reported a decline. Look at any figures you want in terms of readers, twitter, etc., and you see the NYT leading U.S. papers. It is facing real financial issues, but it is hardly in the dire straits that we are.

  5. Hey 3:46, were the executives at The New York Times stuffing their pockets while everyone else was being forced into furloughs?

    That was the act that damned Hunke, Dubow et al and earned them the undying contempt of virtually everyone who works for them.

  6. I'm the poster who has been pining for our own Steve Jobs and the poster who fantasized about Craig, Gracia and Bob returning their bonuses for Jennings Scholarships. Every Saturday, I catch up with Jim's site and see the progress that has been made, or not made, in restoring sanity to our company. While we're still crazy after all these years, I am pleased that other media and criticism outlets are honing in on our horribly timed and tin-earred bonuses to our top executives.

    Sadly, however, as much as we can hope, plot and pray for things to get better, the sad truth is that they will not. Our Quarter 1 earnings were horrible at almost every USCP site and now, as I type this, plans are afoot for the 3rd Quarter that will make "My Boss" look again like our sage and muse. Friends and colleagues, it's not going to get better for us; it is merely a question now of how much worse it will get and how fast will the new degrees of worse will arrive.

    Gannett will survive. It is changing and morphing into a new company. It is doing this by jettisoning the tired, proud and expensive values of public service in favor of expansion of the "Deal Chicken," yet another idea that is too little, too late. As much bitching we used to do here about Phil Currie, God how I wish him and his day were back again. Phil had a seat at the table, a voice in the mob and, while we can debate about this or that, a vision that encouraged good journalism. Sadly, even if you could bring Phil back in his prime, the body corporate is now so weak from cuts, low morale and lack of leadership that is would do little good. We are a shell of our former self and, in order to be born again in our new corporate vision, we must be even smaller than what we are.

    A refresher:
    --- Remember, Bob's vision for USCP has always been "Consolidation, Standardization and Outsourcing." To his credit, that's what he promised to publishers when he took the job and he's stayed true to that.
    --- Consolidation: Smaller community sites collapsing into larger metro sisters; elimination of publisher jobs for cheaper GM jobs; creation of the Design Studios, the Toning Centers, the Advertising Design Centers; group-level leadership in sales, custom solutions and digital; Yahoo!
    --- Standardization: USA Today nation/world pages; creation of the design studios; a "world-class sales organization" that has standard compensation for reps; standard font packages; a standard computer platform for content generation; the new website design standard; the new mobile site standard; ContentOne.
    --- Outsourcing: Outsourcing press work to larger Gannett sites or outside companies; using 2AdPro as a relief valve for the advertising design folks; the partnership with Yahoo! to get greater digital reach; increased use of free- and freelance-content in place of paid local reporting assets when possible.

    Again, as I have pointed out in previous posts, we clamored for change and now, we have it. We are changing. But we are changing into a company that many of us will find no longer reflects the values and purpose that we signed up for when Mary Kay and Kate brought us aboard. It's change-or-leave time. And, to be frank, you may be willing to change and still eliminated anyway, since the lifeboat that is the New Gannett doesn't have enough seats.

    Again, all of this might be worth it if we had our Steve Jobs, a servant-leader who causes the tide to rise and lift all of our boats. Craig isn't that for us, but don't weep for him: He has a comfy job, access to Gannett jets for personal use, a bonus plan that pays him more for each job he cuts and the furloughs he puts into place, a nice Gannett Foundation kitty for him to give money to his favorite chartities, options and stock gifts, a great salary and, oh yes, a $23 million golden parachute that deploys if he leaves the company for almost any reason.

  7. 6:21's reference, I believe, is to the newspaper employee recruiters Mary Kay Blake and Kate Kennedy.

  8. 6:21 I agree with you on the changing nature of this company, but I don't see the Deal Chicken as a savior. My prediction is that a year from now, the chicken will as dead or life support as Metromix or Moms. The game plan for survival seems to be a proliferation of these sites, plagiarized from successful opposition leaders in their categories.
    Gannett might survive in a much-diminished form, but I don't think these newspapers will. More cuts, which seem destined by poor results to be unveiled Monday, only means making dailies into weeklies, and finding a lesser grade of tissue paper that can hold print.
    Furthermore, the extravagant wages and bonuses paid executives are certain also to increase, meaning they will be draining resources from a ever shallower pool of revenues. Eventually, even this board of corporate-friendly members will notice that the money the execs are draining are coming at the expense of shareholders, some of whom remember the 40-cent dividend they used to get. That day of reckoning is coming and I don't know what comes after it.

  9. 3:46 less than a year ago this report was issued on NYTimes.
    I'm not sure where they stand now but it can't be good.

    Source:BusinessInsider: As expected, the New York Times's business operations began burning cash this quarter (until now, they had remained cash-flow positive). The company has recently made several wise moves that have postponed the date at which it will run out of cash. But the situation is still critical.

    At the current rate of cash consumption, assuming no one-time expenses (highly unlikely), we estimate that the company will max out its current borrowing capacity in 4 quarters. At that point, it will owe about $1.2 billion in debt. This estimate does not include any payments on the company's $600+ million pension and benefit obligation, of which $181 million is due next year.

    The bottom line: The New York Times Company remains on the brink of insolvency. There are also at least $1.5 billion of claims ahead of common shareholders of the company's assets should it file for bankruptcy. ...

  10. Finances aside, the Times has something USA Today will never have; a commitment to quality journalism. It starts with reporters and editors who are actually competent. Not lip service from the publisher, who tells his assignment editors its OUR job to improve newsroom morale.

    The big transformation at the paper is a huge mess. The Times cleans our clock as a newspaper and website operation because its staffed by people who know what news is and know how to present it in a way that appeals to readers and advertisers. USA Today wants to be a web player. Too bad the staff is a bunch of pretenders and lightweights.

    As long as this operation is managed by incompetents and dictated by beancounters, things aren't ever going to get better.

    How many more vice presidents does this operation need? How many more GMs to run the silly Verticals that aren't drawing advertisers?

    Gannett managers can pat themselves on their well-paid backs all day. They can develop a self-serving branding campaign. They can talk all they want about revolutionizing the company. But it comes down to actual journalism.

    Craig & Co. have lost sight of that. Hunke says the Times is a world-class operation. He doesn't give a shit about his newroom and isn't interested in making it better. Why? Doesn't a better product attract more readers and advertisers? What am I missing?

    Can't wait for first quarter results on Monday and the spin management will put on it. We'll eventually be feeling the pain. They'll be thumbing through their car catalogs figuring out what their 2011 bonuses will get them.

  11. Hunke cares about you. He just has a weird way of showing it. He gives bonuses out. Just not to YOU. He talks about improving morale. But that's on YOU.
    Don't like it, that's YOUR problem.

  12. You mean the same Nary Kay Blake who is also helping run the Neuseum into the ground? Yeah let's go back to that kind of leadership, and you wonder how we got here and this dude wants to go back to the good old days. Dude there was no 24 hour cable, no Internet, no mobile. Get real will you!

  13. "How many more vice presidents does this operation need? How many more GMs to run the silly Verticals that aren't drawing advertisers?"

    All while the actual journalism operation is being starved. The movie editor, a longtime USAT employee, took a good look around and bailed for a government job last month, and now word has come down that no replacement will be hired.

    So yes, Hunke does care about you, as in "YOU'RE all in this together."

  14. 8:18 p.m. You are spot on. "But it comes down to actual journalism."

    I also am anxious to hear the first quarter results Monday, and the spin we'll be fed.

  15. So why won't Dubow, Martore, Dickey or Hunke acknowledge the correlation between revenue and strong journalistic credentials? It's because they no longer see journalists as a necessity for the business model. The Gannett of the fast-approaching-future will treat journalists as variable costs meaning we're not full-time employees but free-lancers or subcontractors who don't get benefits or need office space. Journalists will become fungible in this new world. Think of the millions they'll save and pocket with that approach. All the operational consolidations and secret transformation plans are intended to reshape the company with as few employees as possible.

    It's the news that sells the ads that generates the revenue. But because they believe content and the people who create it are easily substituted, these greedy, visionless, beancounting leaders will ultimately run this train off the rails.

    A news hero partnered with a technology genious could save this company.

  16. The comments about managements commitment to actual journalism are correct. They don't want experienced journalists, which are just overhead. Regarding the movie editor in life, it was a two person job. They couldn't staff it properly for years. That's why the last three movie editors left. Too bad they have editors throughout the building who have NO post transformation responsibilities. Just titles. Why can't they fill vacancies in life and news?

  17. Reshuffling editors to do actual work (even reporting ) is not the gannett way. Who would be left to pontificate at editor meetings?

  18. 8:18 I agree with everything you say, but would also add that these Verticles that are not producing advertising revenues did not come cost-free. They are generously staffed with people who, I would contend, are not productive in the traditional definitions used in newsrooms. Yes, I understand we are no longer a newsroom, and that new technology requires staff of skilled people. But I've often wondered: are we getting our money's worth from these additions. If not, when will we ever?

  19. When the cuts come (and I think they are coming big time), who do you think will be cut? Will it be the employees whose main job is reporting and writing stories, or will it be the employee whose main job involves the digital transition?

  20. 4:24. Some of the verticals, such as per fi, will be profitable and draw readers. Mindy fetterman actually is the right person to lead that one. The others, managed by heather franks aol flunkies, are already flailing.

  21. Who decided to give heather franks the run of the place? A gen manager for every vertical. Offices, too? This woman is as clueless as her bosses. Meaning shell go far even as she fails. Too bad she gets to hire managers when the rest of the operation loses actual journos.

  22. I hear all veeps and vertical managers got bonuses. What was the justification? Hunks, what was the justification for yours?


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