Sunday, April 10, 2011

For ASNE, praising apple pie and golf outings

Former USA Today Editor Ken Paulson came out swinging in defense of journalism's version of mother and apple pie in his prepared remarks yesterday to the American Society of News Editors, after he was elected the professional association's 82nd president.

Opposing government's "increasingly zealous" efforts to punish those who leak information to the press? Check.

Educating the public about the importance of a free press? Check.

And, of course, the First Amendment. Check.

But the closest Paulson came to directly criticizing corporate strip mining of journalism was hardly close at all. "We need to . . . remind ourselves from time to time that our role and our responsibilities were handed to us by the American people in 1791,'' he said. "In that year of the First Amendment’s birth, newspapers were generally not published to make a buck."

Enter, Gannett.

No. 1 in stealth layoffs
Paulson's former employer for many years is almost certainly still the nation's single-biggest newspaper employer of journalists. And it continues leading the industry in assaulting newspaper newsrooms: the nearly 100 it runs in the U.S., Guam and the United Kingdom -- while simultaneously rewarding top executives for those cuts. Mass layoffs that were once publicly announced have been replaced by an ongoing series of undisclosed smaller cuts, but with the same long-term harm.

For example, only last week, according to one of my readers, Alabama's Montgomery Advertiser laid off a graphic artist and a photo editor. This is a state capital newspaper (circulation 33,189) that lists just 36 newsroom employees, a total that may not even reflect those two layoffs.

$35M in paychecks
GCI does not disclose the number of newspaper newsroom staff it employs worldwide. The only figure I've seen was about 5,000, and that was more than 10 years ago. Since then, from a peak of 53,400, the company has eliminated 20,800 jobs -- and 20,000 of those were jettisoned after Craig Dubow became CEO in 2005. Assuming those cuts were proportionally equal across departments, Dubow has whacked as many as 2,000 newsroom positions. Imagine the tragic impact that's had on the communities served by those newspapers.

Meanwhile, since he became CEO, his fellow members on the board of directors have paid him $35.4 million in cash and stock. That includes $8.8 million alone in mostly cash bonuses, company documents show.

Sun-spashed fun vs. reality
ASNE's four-day annual meeting was held in San Diego, Calif., where attendees were lucky if they paid only $249 a night at the conference hotel. At the conclusion of the event yesterday, the group invited attendees to a $195-per-person golf game:

"Here’s one way to get a little splash of California sun after the joint meetings of the American Society of News Editors and the Inter American Press Association: 18 holes of golf on the legendary Torrey Pines Golf Course!"

Paulson has run Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center in Nashville, Tenn., since a management shake-up cost him a job that paid more than $443,000 in 2009. Three days ago, a Gannett Blogger spoke far more forcefully than ASNE's new president about the cost of the industry's job cuts.

"In our mid-size, mid-America town," they wrote, "the power brokers and string pullers are operating without fear, no longer even bothering to hide out in back rooms, because they know the newspaper isn't watching out for the public interest and/or doesn't have the gumption to report facts that will upset the chamber of commerce and major advertisers. That's the truly shameful aspect of what Gannett and others have done to our communities and ultimately to our country."

Earlier: In other golf news, Dickey shares your financial hardship.


  1. This organization has become as relevant to what is going on today in the newspapers as the Veterans of Foreign Wars has on the modern battlefield. ASNE is composed today largely of retired newspaper execs. who have long since lost any authority over newspapers. Take a look at the list of sponsors, and you will see what I mean, from the museum replica store where you can buy a $7,000 reproduction bronze, or a tobacconist selling cigars to go along with your martinis. What a disgrace.

  2. I can't help but wonder if the stealth layoffs are a direct result of the success of Jim's efforts. After a couple of relatively open rounds of layoffs that were much discussed here, our Overlords in the Crystal Tower go to great lengths to keep their deeds secret.

    The amazing thing is that after two or three rounds of stealth layoffs they still haven't learned that the layoffs stay secret for about an hour before they hit this blog and set tongues wagging and fingers flying over keyboards.

  3. If Paulson runs ASNE like he did the Freedom Forum or USA Today, it is doomed.

  4. Lay off Paulson. He's immensely talented and certainly more genuine than most of the execs at Gannett HQ. He's a great choice to lead ASNE. They badly need someone like him right now.

  5. Paulson is a potentially smart guy and a good cheerleader, but more of a politician than an editor, though. Here's how he ran USA Today: "Oh, is the going about to get tough? ... I'm outta here."

  6. Paulson is to newspaper editing what Milli Vanilli was to live music.

  7. Nasty politician for sure who looks out for himself and his pet do you think he got the Freedom Forum job? He gets big bucks and laid off Newseum support people who made a pittance.

  8. Very mean to underlings, just like his patron, Big Al.


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