Thursday, April 07, 2011

Mail | 'String pullers are operating without fear'

Anonymous@12:35 a.m. writes:

I am most upset over how bean counters have taken over and gutted news operations, thus robbing communities of a crucial element of a successful democracy.

In our mid-size, mid-America town, 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.


  1. This really bothers me too. I've made peace with the fact that I will likely finish my career doing something other than journalism. But it's sad to think that I probably won't have much quality journalism to consume because companies like Gannett have decided that money is more important than telling the truth or serving society.

    Once upon a time there were companies that made money, yet adhered to reasonable journalistic values. Those days seem to be gone.

  2. Do you think Gannett will enter the history books for its defense of the First Amendment?

  3. Absolutely true in our community as well. First there was the decision that only "interesting" items from public meetings were worth printing. Let's face it, by the time something becomes "interesting," it is something that probably should have been seen by the public long before. A lot can happen in government when no one is looking. Then staff cuts made paying for hours of sitting at meetings unattractive to the bean counters. Then the appalling shrinkage of the paper caused many people to cancel their subscriptions. What do you get? An ignorant population and potentially costly or dangerous situation for the populace who used to trust newspapers to shed the light of day on government.

  4. It's not just what we are not serving up for readers, it is what we have replaced that coverage with stories that are easy to report, quick to report, and superficial. Take a look at USA Today, which has dramatically curtailed coverage of Washington and politics in favor of exclusives of who is winning or losing on Dancing with the Stars. What does Dancing with the Stars has any significance in the entire firmament of news?

  5. I was a "bean counter" with one of the properties. I don't think it's totally accurate to blame the people tabulating the financial viability of operations.

    Most of the company's "bean counters" are there to put the numbers together, to help quantify and assess various company activities.


    There are a couple of ways to build budgets; from the top down and from the bottom up. The bottom up method allows you to pull together all the various expenses you anticipate, add it all up, and review the list for accuracy and completeness, based on previous activity. If you have always needed $500 to ensure that a high school's sports get covered, you throw that into your budget. Then you look at your revenues and make sure they can support the expenses you feel you'll have, trimming expenses as needed.

    For the top down method, GMC has historical information showing the profitability of its various properties. It knows how much increase it wants to see, for the shareholders, and what each property has achieved in the past. So, they give the publisher a number and that's the number that property has to produce. Poor market conditions? Just cut something so the number can be met. Failure to meet the goals is not an option. This can sometimes be an opportunity to attempt innovations in how information is gathered, reassessing that $500 that had always been used for high school sports. Sometimes the innovations are imaginative and successful.

    With luck, most properties can continue to meet the numbers imposed on them by getting creative, but eventually this becomes impossible. So, we start on the personnel and reduce expenses that way.

    The journalists here will notice that there has been no mention of journalistic integrity. The company doesn't have a top leader who is also a journalist.
    If we did, journalists would have an advocate for risky projects that don't always have an immediately visible ROI.
    If we did, someone would be fighting for continued journalistic integrity, and pushing technological expenditures that allow safe reductions without compromising needed profitability.

    It's not fiscally responsible to operate a company at a loss, and you need "bean counters" monitoring that activity. However, the levels of "profitability" required to maintain the obscene bonuses the GMC is awarding itself, are immoral. What's the ROI on those?

  6. Disagree. Stories get covered.

    Just today, Greenbay front page features a story on yesterday's very tight statewide judge race - 200 vote difference out of 1.5 million - and the story comes from the LA Times.

    Local schmokel.

  7. Anonymous @ 7:17am said...
    "Let's face it, by the time something becomes "interesting," it is something that probably should have been seen by the public long before."

    I'm going to compare this statement with what's going on with the Fiesta Bowl story here in Arizona and Gannett. It has been said, more than once, that the Board of Directors of Gannett are nothing more than a rubber stamp for the CEO. So too, it appears, that the Board of Directors of the Fiesta Bowl were nothing more that a rubber stamp for John Junker, now ex-ceo of said bowl. Sound familiar? The publisher and ceo of the Arizona Republic has sat on this board since 2005... This begs the question! Why didn't we here about this story a long time ago?

    To answer this question I refer to a column which ran in yesterday's Arizona Republic written by founding directors of the Fiesta Bowl:

    "Individuals were placed on the board either as a reward for long-time volunteer service or because they were in positions where they were able to authorize corporate contributions from their companies."

    Ethics in journalism? Gannett taints everything it touches.

  8. 7:17 a.m. has it right. My local Gannett paper is no longer a player in public opinion. Why? Because the coverage was gutted and the price raised, leading more and more people to stop reading it. Although some may be peeking for free online!

    But basically, the paper's influence has diminished significantly. I doubt that most officials and pols care who the paper endorses or what it reports anymore. It's squeaking no roaring these days.

  9. Holy crap, 10:37! Of the two other stories on Green Bay's front page, one is from the Associated Press! How many reporters does that place have? Wonder why they didn't use the story by Gannett's Madison bureau writer, Ben Jones? A quick scan of Newseum pages show he did have the story.

  10. To be fair, the local GB story is covering protests of the draft. The CIVIL WAR draft.

    No. Shit.

  11. Meh. Journalists are over-rated. Jim has proven, specific content can be covered by a blog. The patch sites can do the job just as well. Editors are unnecessary.


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