Monday, December 12, 2011

USA Today Confidential | Issue 12.12.11

This forum is exclusively for news and comments about USA Today.

Today, Publisher Dave Hunke and General Manager Susie Ellwood are scheduled to update staff on the paper's progress. (Archives.)


  1. If the meeting is only to "update staff on the paper's progress," it'll be a damn short event.

  2. These people can say Happy New Year and make it sound like it was their idea. They'll use the entire hour.

  3. And have you read one of their e-mails? They've become good at making nothing sound like something.

  4. What a disappointment! When are they going to get rid of the overpaid Your Life dead weight

  5. So what was the big meeting about? Surprised there haven't been any comments about it.

  6. The meeting was basically an update on a lot of stuff that's been marching along in 2011 and will continue in 2012. Good news from Hunke was that advertising met not only its sales goal but something called a "stretch" goal for 2011. Micek talked about brand research and said they're looking for ways to make the 30th anniversary play out over some time instead of just a one-day thing.

    Buesse detailed his hiring and plans. He's aggressive and sounds like he knows what he's doing.

    Ellwood and Weiss gave a somewhat contrived reading of values to promote -- integrity being one of the ones mentioned with nary a trace of irony -- and dropped staff names in the process. They should know by now that actions speak far louder than words, and while things at USAT certainly seem to be on the uptick the way to keep building is NOT through gimmicky values statements. Respect your staff, cut out the tireless and endless meetings from your managers' calendars, and let the place get back to what it ought to be doing: creating a great brand every day.

    Also, not a single question was asked. That's most likely because the only guy with the cojones to ask tough questions, Robert Bianco, was not in the room.

  7. Come on folks, you know you're thinking what I'm thinking after reading 6:17's last paragraph. Thanks, I needed that

  8. I don't get the whole interigty values b.s. heaped on us today. Why not advance the ball for a change, instead of the latest "we're advancing the ball" crap Hunke has been dishing out for the past 18 months. These hypocrites want a buy in on integrity and values?

    Do your jobs. Boost circulation, Lee Jones. Save your Richard Gere story the country club. Susie, circulate among your employees and big advertisers. Hunke, just leave already. Joking about Robert Bianco not attending because he is actually doing his job was really classless. Nice of you to discourage any question you might give a straight answer on.

    Tom Buesse, I am pulling for you. I hope adding 25 employees, several highly paid, will help you reach your goals. I hope the rest of the paper can emulate a successful model.

    Rudd Davis. I am sorry, the staff does not have faith in you. I believe you have an entreprenurial spirit, but your talents do not match what USA Today needs. perhaps another magazine startup or reposition. I am sure Heather Frank can use your input at Weekend.

    We need to focus on the content. Getting it out faster and better. You can do all the marketing you want, but consumers want value, pop and thoughtfulness in the products they buy.

    Improve the content and delivery system and your wil certainly solve your advertisers' marketing solutiions.

  9. I for one like the ideas of Rudd Davis. Sue me.

  10. I am ashamed at myself for attending and not asking a question. I don't think it was fear -- delusional live theater performances just make me numb.

    I feel sorry for Susan Weiss, who has to put up with these people instead of focusing on editorial.

  11. David L Hunke is still at USA TODAY?

  12. How many times did Micek have to rehearse over and over and over what Banikarim scripted for her? I'll bet Hunke's paycheck she was up in the control room mouthing every word Micek stuttered out and then threw one of her famous fits for every time Micek missed a word.

  13. Next it will be a commitment to staff training.

  14. Speaking of thawing fits, where was Heather or any of her management team? Why weren't they up on stage? Susie heaped lots of faux praise.

  15. Hunke got a lot of snideness in a limited amount of time. He may not have a target departure date, but when he mentioned how demanding Gracia is, it telegraphed his expected demise.

  16. I always found it appalling when few people asked questions during staff meetings when I worked at USAT from 2000 to January 2008.

  17. So I bet you asked some dumb questions, Jim. Sort of like when you made a fool of yourself at the shareholders meeting.

  18. Actually, they completely misrepresented the "success" of the YourLife vertical. They said that its page views have gone from "zero to 5 million," since it "didn't exist" 18 months ago. That's false. They may have changed the name of the section, but USAT has had a BetterLife section (health, education, religion, etc) for decades. What kind of pageviews was BetterLife getting before it was verticalized? 8 million? 10 million? Instead of astronomical growth, is it possible that pageviews have actually fallen by half, and they just don't want to say? Do the senior executives really not see through this little numbers trick? Do they think we're too stupid to notice? Or do they just rely on us being too scared to mention it? Sad any way you slice it. If they can't bring themselves to be honest at a meeting touting transparency, why bring up the numbers at all?

  19. No thanks 10:58. Jim did his best at the time, being surrounded by G brass full of contempt. I'm sure you've never made a peep at a USAT or any other mtg.

  20. USAT staff only complain here where they are Anonymous. Put them in a meeting chirps

  21. 10:58 The last question I asked was at an October 2007 meeting led by the editor at the time, Ken Paulson.

    I asked whether a reorganization then underway would result in any job cuts. Paulson said no. In fact, he said, the paper planned to hire more people -- for the website.

    Then here's what happened; About three weeks later, Paulson called an unscheduled staff meeting to announce the paper was seeking 45 volunteers from editorial to take buyouts.

    So much for no job cuts.

    This told us that the paper's financial situation had deteriorated rapidly -- or, Publisher Craig Moon had kept his own news executives out of the loop.

  22. You would be way wrong, 11:26. And 12:05 nailed it. No one here dares to ask questions at those meetings.

  23. 11:06 Here are the actual numbers, according to Gannett's annual 10-K report to federal securities regulators.

    In its first month, November 2010, YourLife recorded 2.5 million pageviews.

    I'll leave it to others to decide whether a doubling in pageviews over 12 months marks a success -- especially after much, much effort and lots of promotions.

  24. If you want to see an example of how not to raise concerns at a meeting, just find the clip of Jim's appearance from spring 2009. It was still recoverable not too long ago.

    He also got paranoid and hired a personal bodyguard for that event. I suspect your donations paid for that, along with many other forms of Jimtertainment.

  25. 12:57 That was an occasion for another question I once asked -- one I put to then CEO-Craig Dubow: What happened to the $40,000 in Gannett Foundation money you earmarked as a donation to Western Carolina University?

    Dubow had dodged that question for five full months. With no place else to hide, he finally admitted the truth: The money had gone into the Craig and Denise Dubow Scholarship fund, one off-limits to virtually all Gannett employees' children.

    In other words, he was using money set aside for charity to puff up his own image. Worse still, under a contract Dubow signed with the school, scholarship recipients were required to send a thank-you card to the Dubows.

    Pointed questions can produce illuminating responses.

  26. That is a good but selective summary, Jim. I recall a lot of blunders on your part leading up to that.

    And I don't recall Dubow providing precisely the answer you mention here. In fact, the account on record says Gannett documented where that money went and you were just too (can't use the word or Jim will delete) to figure it out.

  27. 2:11 In fact, the account on record did no such thing.

    I know this because I obtained the relevant documents from the Gannett Foundation and from Western Carolina University back in late 2008 and early 2009.

    The foundation's IRS tax returns said only that a combined $40,000 had been donated to an "endowed scholarship" fund at Western Carolina University at Dubow's direction. It did not identify the scholarship fund by name, however.

    Under North Carolina's open-records law, I received all the public documents related to the donations. They showed only that Dubow and his wife had signed a contract with the school to establish a scholarship fund, and that the fund had received "support" from the Gannett Foundation.

    But that was as far as the records went. And university officials wouldn't answer any questions about the nature of that support.

    It was only when I searched the university's website that I found a reference to the Dubows' fund. With that in hand, I was able to pose the question that Dubow ultimately answered.

    At the time, the fund was called the Craig A. and Denise W. Dubow Endowed Scholarship Fund. The university described it this way:

    "Craig and Denise Dubow have established an endowed fund to provide scholarship support for deserving students at Western Carolina University. This scholarship provides support for full time undergraduate students from Jackson, Macon, and Transylvania counties who demonstrate financial need and maintain a B average."

    Since then, the school has revised the description. It now reads as follows; most critically, the new description now makes clear that money came from the foundation -- a fact that wasn't disclosed by Gannett or the school four years ago. Here's the new text:

    "Craig and Denise Dubow.This fund providse scholarship support for deserving students at Western Carolina University. This scholarship provides support for full time undergraduate students from Jackson, Macon, and Transylvania counties who demonstrate financial need and maintain a B average. The Gannett Foundation has contributed to this fund."

    Finally, it's worth noting that the Dubow-directed donations came under an executive grant program that Corporate had not disclosed to federal securities regulators in its executive compensation reports. Corporate only began making those disclosures after I questioned them.

    Now, 2:11, if you have an "account on record" that tells a different story, I'd be happy to see it.

  28. If USAT made it's stretch financial goals then why did they fire their top sales people a month ago? It doesn't seem to make sense to fire those folks, if they are beating their ad goals, does it?


    "Mr. Dickey’s decision to do this was made long before Mr. Hopkins wrote about this event in his blog, so the implication that Mr. Hopkins pressured him to do this is patently incorrect."

    Back to Dubow: Your own blog entry from December 2008 -- well before the meeting -- shows this information. So all you accomplished was getting Dubow to say yes to what was already documented. Also, the company said that information was in its financial reports.

    Based on the example at the top and this information, I think we (people who can think) can draw a conclusion.

  30. 5:21 - saved a boatload of commission. Nobody likes a loser but even fewer, evidently, like to pay winners.

  31. 8:02 - but, I think they'd be entitled to their commission, no matter what, since those sales were already made. So, I am still puzzled about why the sales and marketing teams were gutted, if USAT is doing so well in advertising revenue. Can anyone provide some insight?

  32. As Lee Jones said at yesterday's meeting, though they were valued people, some did not have the "skill sets" needed, presumably in the new digital ad world.

    Not endorsing what he said, but that was how he handled that.

  33. USAT ad sales surpassed goals and yet top people were fired? Good luck meeting goals next year when all the new hires will be in marketing, people with no connection to top advertisers and only focused on their own egos.

    Lori Erdos was the most deeply seeded sales person on Madison Avenue. Nobody comes close to her relationships and now we have a huge gap, since they fired her.
    Gannett continues the trend: do a great job and get fired. How motivating.

  34. Despite the fact that we all learned nothing new yesterday, we did get the latest envogue jargon from management: "ladders up". I heard it at least 6-7 times as both a noun and a verb. So the meeting wasn't a total loss.

  35. 7:07 is now changing the subject, and is referring to Bob Dickey's playing in the Bob Hope Classic golf tournament, an event where amateurs paid up to $25,000 to play with a golf prof.

    This was in January 2009, just days after Dickey had announced a new round of furloughs and threatened to shut down the Tucson Citizen. "We all will be sharing the financial hardship,'' he claimed.

    At the time, I asked the company's top publicist whether Gannett had paid Dickey's entry fee. Tara Connell's response:

    "Bob wrote a personal check to repay the newspaper so he can participate in the events."

    In other words:

    1. Yes, Dickey played in the tournament, even as he claimed hard times for all.

    2. The company paid his entry fee.

    3. After I wrote about the event, Connell said Dickey had repaid the company.

    My readers are smart folks, so I'll leave it to them to decide which sequence of events they want to accept.

    Connell's version of the events would have been far more convincing if she'd provided evidence -- a cashed check, for example -- showing when Dickey actually repaid the company.

    Finally, as to the Gannett Foundation money in the Dubows' scholarship fund, 7:07 writes: "The company said that information was in its financial reports."

    First off, just because a company says something doesn't make it true. Any good journalist knows to be skeptical when it comes to corporate communications.

    And to repeat, despite what you claim, the company's own tax report for the foundation's 2007 year says only that it gave $20,000 to Western Carolina for an "endowed scholarship. Recommended by C. Dubow." It says nothing about the Dubow scholarship fund.

    But don't take my word: Go to, and check the report for yourself, if you like: Page 31.

    Also, contrary to what you write, my 2008 post on this embarrassing incident only suggested that Dubow had piped a combined $40,000 to his namesake scholarship fund; I didn't have enough evidence at the time to report that more concretely.

    Indeed, I gave him the benefit of the doubt, writing: "The Dubows probably established and funded the scholarships on their own, using their own money."

    That, of course, was not the case -- as Dubow was forced to admit.

    This made me practically laugh out loud: "All you accomplished was getting Dubow to say yes."

    The expression on Dubow's face at that precise moment showed his admission was anything but routine.

  36. Jim, keep up the good work. One day the few corporate defenders on this blog will too be laid off and realize this blog actually serves a purpose. It provides a source of information for the thousands of workers who care about what management does with executive perks, pay, bonuses, all while laying off employees.

    Repeat. Recycle.

  37. 7:07 you just motivated me to put my money in the mail to Jim.

  38. Jim you can rewrite history all you want but your appearance at the shareholders meeting was embarrassing. You are a persons that should always remain behind a keyboard. Even your most passionate supporters cringed. While you did a superb job with the Freedom Forum story nothing else has come close. This is a blog where malcontents trip over themselves to be first to post a memo from a supervisor or speculate how stupid a specic manager is or the entire management team in general is. A non manager is never a poor performer but anyone with a title is. I come here for few grins and on occasion to laugh out loud at certain posts. But One thing is certain, no one ever heard of you until you started the blog. You're site isn't profitable so you can't claim success there. Just keepin it real Jimbo

  39. 1:29 I'm sorry you're giving in so quickly. I've enjoyed the debate.

  40. 1:29 You have your head in the sand if you think only malcontents come here. Everyone reads the blog. Everyone. Jim, might be time to put your traffic numbers up again.

    Mainstream media read the blog and source it often. They are certainly not the "malcontent". And that includes the NYTimes.

    Someone has to have a voice for the workers. The cornerstone of democracy is an open press to keep the balance of power in check. that has always been the role of journalists. Gannett's watchdog is Jim. You don't have to like him or all that is published here but don't ever pretend the blog is irrelevant. It's not.

    20,000 laid off Gannett workers, and all who took furloughs, while the CEO and management team filled their pockets with cash is a disgrace to all workers. Even you.

  41. 1:08,
    Corporate knows very well that this site serves a purpose. That's exactly why they have people stalk the site and jump in whenever there's an opportunity. It's generally a pretty weak attempt, but they try.

    Keep the faith Jim.....your work is appreciated.

  42. No questions were asked at the end of the meeting not out of fear, but because the majority in the room didn't want to be insulted with the answer. More BS was not needed. Don't take our silence any other way.

  43. Malcontents 1:29 PM…talk about giving people grins and making them laughing out loud!

    Apparently, your either part of this company’s problems and or your access to what’s going on in it is greatly limited as many of the concerns, comments, etc. espoused here are highly valid and shared by others throughout Gannett, including in its upper ranks.

    Until this blog arrived there was little else people could do, short of risking their career, to expose it. And expose much of it many's hoping many still do.

  44. OK 1:29 we all know how you feel. Over and over and over. Maybe it's time for a nap? Or a new blog to bloviate at?

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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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