Friday, August 12, 2011

Mail | In our newsroom, 'we don't want to fail, but the structure of our company sets us up to do so'

After USA Today's staff meeting yesterday, Anonymous@10:23 a.m. concluded that "the majority of unhappy folks work in the newsroom. This is no slam. I wonder what you want?" 

Responding, Anonymous@5:37 p.m. says: "I don't work for USAT, so I can't address the morale in that newsroom. But, I can address what's going on in mine." Following is the rest of their comment:

We can't do the job we're supposed to be doing with the staffing we have. We are wholly unable to watchdog and be the eyes and ears of the community that depends on us for news and information because we don't have enough bodies in the room.

We are journalists, we are "the press." We are members of the only profession important enough to be protected by name in the U.S. Constitution. When there are insufficient numbers of us to keep on top of everyday developments in our municipalities, we fail at our jobs. We don't want to fail, but the structure of our company sets us up to do so.

We miss stories. Then, we're pilloried by the higher-ups for not catching wind of what's happening in East Bumble until it's long over when it's been West Bumble we were told is the affluent "key community" we need to devote our resources and time to.

'At war with Eastasia'
Down is up and up is down and we have always been at war with Eastasia. It's News 2000; Real Life, Real News; First Five Graphs; Moments of Life; Tight and Bright; Charticles; and "fewer words means more readers."

We aren't given the tools to do our jobs. They want us to be digital Jesus, but won't give us smart phones, or iPads or the tools to be fully mobile journalists. You want me to Tweet? Great. I'll Tweet, I'll Facebook all over the place . . . but I'll be damned if I'm going to buy my own iPhone and pay my own damn data fees to increase your bottom line. These are tools as important now as pens and paper, yet you won't provide them to us.

We haven't gotten raises in three years. We get unpaid furloughs while the upper echelons of management get multi-million dollar bonuses. We sit next to the empty chairs of our laid-off colleagues and the tombstone piles of notebooks and press releases and FOIL'd documents littering their empty desks.

'A culture of fear'
Our cavernous cubicle farms echo with emptiness, especially when a managing editor pops out from their hole to holler "Channel 6 has this story, why the hell don't we? Get it up on the web NOW!" Then, all the minor editors eyes light with panic when they frantically seek a victim to blame for the miss.

It's a culture of fear, of derision and blame.

We don't have enough copy editors. You're lucky if your work gets a single read before it's posted online and set for print. But, God forbid you made a stupid typo . . . because Christ knows, every single one of those will show up as a ding in your evaluation.

The more I write here, the more my bile rises. I have to stop.

This is just a superficial scratch at the surface of what's wrong.

You ask what is it we want?

Not what we've got.

Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write jimhopkins[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the rail, upper right.


  1. IDEA: Clean up your office! There, wasn't that easy?

  2. Amen. News is all our readers want.

    Invest in it Gannett....everything else will follow.
    Any platform can support great news.

  3. This reader makes me want to be a journalist!

    He/She should be the Gannett news Czar.

  4. This writer nails it. Not much different at USA Today.

    Hunke, Dubow, Martore, the new VPs -- let's hope you read this.

  5. Bravo! I'm in advertising and this makes me very proud to be associated with this kind of professionalism. I left Gannett 3 years ago after almost 20 years and I thank God very day to be away from that toxic environment. Working in community newspapers and loving it!

  6. true at my old site. I am one of the lucky ones who got out. I was a shooter and we could not catch a break. Director of photography laid off in 09 then our senior staffer got cut the day after putting in 18 hours of election coverage in 10. Three state photo of the year awards in two years and about 15 other awards and my equipment could not be repaired when it broke because of budget. The staffer left is using his on gear since everything left is broken down. it's not the local leadership they tried their best and are damn good people. The people that are left are all lifetime journalist and do not know anything but the paper and know the writing is on the wall but are helpless they do a good job but thats not going to save us. We could have award winning articles everyday but no one would know because the damn contract carriers don't deliver the product and don't care... They have left the nt31s to die........

    Recovering Nt31 photojournalist

  7. Bravo. This perfectly sums up the sad state of journalism today.

  8. This is exactly the atmosphere that pervades the newsroom of my Gannett site. If the Crystal Palace wants to "fix" our papers this should be mandatory reading.

  9. "Bravo. This perfectly sums up the sad state of journalism today."

    You're right. The person who wrote that should not be in journalism today. It's packed with cliches and backtracking. I especially like how the person bemoans not having enough copy editors. It wasn't long ago this site was playing "kick the can" with those people and claiming they serve no purpose.

    Only irrelevant and obsolete staffers would think this garbage says something. This is more proof the people who bitch here are generally the older, useless workers who have not kept up with the times.

    No wonder Gannett is failing -- still too much bitter, dead wood. Where's the ax? Back to chopping.

  10. 12:41 Who said copy editors are useless? They're the last chance to catch factual errors. I can't imagine publishing a quality newspaper or website without them.

  11. Jim, go back to the thread from a couple of weeks ago that talked about rearranging newsrooms. I think it was in regard to the design studios.

    Your archiving system is awful, so it will be tough to find the specific thread. But it wasn't that long ago.

    Also, I know the many stupids who inhabit this blog will claim that thread never existed if it cannot be produced this second. Sorry, but I am not going to waste time sifting through Kim's disorganized haystack to find that needle.

  12. 1:46 p.m., Who's Kim?

    I guess you are correct. Who needs copy editors. ...

  13. 12:41 Bitter Bob....why do you even come here at all? If you want to be in the dialogue, have something worth saying.

    Not everyone who is down on Gannett is old. I'm in my 30's, a female, a working mom, attended journalism school. I find a lot of Gannett policies and lack of leadership at the top to be very frustrating.

    I'm trying to be hopeful. I do my part. But don't assume everyone who is disillusioned with Gannett is some old dude from the old days.

  14. 1:46 Sorry about the archiving. This is the downside of using free blogging software.

    In any case, I can search comment threads via my personal, non-public Gmail archive. I believe the thread you are remembering starts here.

  15. Also: Sometimes you can unearth comments by using the "Search Gannett Blog, etc." box toward the bottom of the green sidebar, on the right. But this, too, is imperfect.

    Note: Search results appear at the top of the homepage.

  16. No, Jim. Wrong thread. Again, it's the one with people saying copy editors serve no purpose. I thought using those words would make that clear, but I guess not.

    2:01: You're an idiot. What you said is completely worthless. You must be one of the perpetual whiners. I guarantee no one has any interest in what you have to say.

    The Kim joke is old but still valuable.

  17. This is so right on that I thought the person writing HAD to work in my newsroom - except I don't think that's actually the case. I guess it this is all just endemic in Gannett newsrooms.

  18. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


    That was the thread in question, Jim. It looks like a lot of mediocre, bitter writers who probably got dinged often decided to tee off on copy editors and say they have little responsibility.

    That's what happens when newsrooms hire bad writers with bad attitudes. Not only do the bad writers not improve, but they also wreck the conditions of the newsroom.

    Of course, then they get laid off and post at Gannett Blog. Most of the people here are the obsolete, bitter, aging relics who can't understand why the world changed around them. Why didn't everything stay the same?

  20. Ah, to be a professional copy editor. Couldnt make it as a reporter, not going anywhere now. You have no clue what it is like to report and write on deadline. But, hey, it is easy to sit on your lard ass and judge.

  21. 8:54 -- wrong. But then, you're a bitter, obsolete cog.

    You must be one of the writers who got dinged a lot for turning in bad copy. Sucks to be you.

  22. Stop fighting! You're both pretty.

    True, a lot has changed in the business, but good writing and good editing will always stay the same. And don't forget, whether we're copy editors or writers, we're playing for the same team.

  23. What is with the bitter poster who keeps calling journalists obsolete? Seriously, we all work on the same team.

    Back to the poster: you are spot on.
    Newsrooms are not getting all the tools we need.
    All readers want is NEWS. And not a day late.

  24. The poster is spot on -- in his own underpants.

    The people who embrace this idea as something new and wonderful are the older, rusted-out pieces who should have been escorted out some time ago.

  25. Sorry, 8:54, I'm a professional copy editor. By choice. I have kids, and I like having my hours set, rather than getting a call at 6 a.m. to rush out to cover a fire and having to worry about having someone watch my kids during that time.

    I've written plenty of things on deadline, even when I was a Gannett copy editor, because there were no reporters around to write the 4-inch brief in 15 minutes. They were laid off. I've also had a blank page 45 minutes before deadline that I've had to read the stories, which I wouldn't even know the exact length of, design, write the stories and captions and make that page look good. All the while dealing with phone calls from editors wondering why some minor breaking news from across the country wasn't posted on our web site. So yeah, copy editors know what it's like on deadline. Get off your high horse.

    What the original poster that Jim put on here is exactly right. Instead of blaming your co-workers, blame upper management for putting you in this spot to begin with through their own greed and selfishness.

  26. 3:39 here, I mean write the headlines and captions, not the stories.


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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