Wednesday, December 07, 2011

USAT | 'Blue ball' 3 fired 10 years ago this week

[Sculpture as installed on 11th floor of Gannett Tower] 

From a new post on Jim Romenesko's blog: 

"USA Today sports department staffers Karen Allen; Denise Tom, and Cheryl Phillips were fired 10 years ago this week," he says, "after scrawling 'Kilroy was here' with their fingers on a Lita Albuquerque sculpture near the offices of then-CEO Douglas McCorkindale."

Within the journalism industry, Romenesko logged lots of protests. Among them, Daryl Lease, then with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, sent Romenesko his "Top 10 back-up protests" in case a planned Christmas party boycott didn't sufficiently underscore staff disgust with the firings. The No. 1 back-up protest? Read Romenesko.

Earlier: Blue ball of death reportedly meets own demise.

Related: a short video of the blue ball.

[Photo: "Blue Ball of Death," by Flickr user ladygypsy]


  1. That incident was the symbolic beginning of the end for USAT as we all knew it back in the day. Not only did the overall karma of the place change after the blue ball firings, but it became clear that corporate was going to make a statement. It was not going to let USAT have the autonomy that actually drew a lot of talent to the paper. It was going to manage the flagship like every other property in the chain. And we all know what that means. USAT became more mean spirited and more aware of big brother next door. Managers no longer defended their troops, not like the used to.

    It amazed me that Gannett even had a blue ball. I mean what newspaper company spends money (six figures) so loosely on one piece of art? Well, a company that also fires a ton of employees and blames it all on the recession. What arrogance. What lies.

    What a heartless company this is. I've lost so many friends here. So many good folks with tons of talent and ethics...gone in the blink of an eye without even a "thank you for your service." Some have never recovered.

    USAT is dark place now. Oh, we all smile when we have to because we want to pretend that we still like it here, but there is a lot of pain and fear. The terrible events of the last 10 years won't be reversed in my lifetime. Too many bad things -- starting with the blue ball -- have taken the soul out of this building and destroyed what was once a pretty prideful place, where people worked extra hours because they believed in the product and their leaders. I doubt anyone feels that anymore. There is no trust. There are no good deeds. We know we're just shoveling the crap until someone with a title (that changes every six months) calls us into their office to tell us we're no longer needed.

  2. This came out just a year and a half after Thomson sold our papers to Gannett. We had thought we were joining a good newspaper company with big money for art ... and by extension, computers, presses, etc.

    Had I known then, what I know now....

  3. It was heartless and unnecessary. The trio was being playful, not vandals. They admitted their error immediately and offered to make things right.If I recall correctly, one of the three fired was a single mom with a young child. Well, all have moved on to much better things and the incident helped cement The Big G's image and reality of its leaders as being petty and small-minded. Then and now.

  4. And I thought 9/11 was the "big" anniversary this year. Guess I was wrong.

  5. 12:56,
    That might be the best thing I've read on this blog. So well written and so true of today's USAT. I would think it would make our current leadership sad to know how they have destroyed this once proud product, but I'm probably giving them too much credit. Many are too new to understand our history and the others just don't care. Either way, it's sad.

  6. 12:56 and 1:03 both make great points.

    I too was one of the people who "joined" Gannett when my Thomson paper was bought and I also had high hopes for the new company.

    Those hopes were dashed when I and all the other new editors were "invited" to Arlington in November, 2000 for the Grand Tour and numerous Q&A sessions.

    There we learned which of our folks were the biggest butt-kissers and just how little Gannett thought of these new smaller acquisitions in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio.

    One poor Louisiana editor made the terrible mistake of questioning a "group" project shoved down his throat and he got the riot act read him in front of all. We pretty much shut up after that and all nodded like the idiots we were being treated like.

    The "Great Blue Ball" massacre in 2001 just solidified in my mind what an terrible company Gannett was then and is now (even worse).

    My revelation was a blessing and I quit soon after. Thank God!

  7. Well written, 12:56; this really hit home, especially paragraph 3 because we've lost so many good, worthy people. When I think back about all the money that was poured and wasted into the creation and building of Crystal Palace, it's a downright disgrace. I've seen better artwork, sculptures, and neon lights that cost a fraction of this outrageous, ugly display. Management had "visions" that the move from Rosslyn would unite the corporate and USAT camps, but instead it divided them even more, and greed permeated the place. Ten years later it reminds me of a sinking ship with gloom and doom on the faces and minds of its passengers hanging on for dear life: it's pretty damn pitiful and nothing to be proud of.

  8. Tom Curley was the publisher responsible for canning the Blue Ball 3. Even with that over the top error in judgement, Curley proved to be far more interested in putting out a quality product than Moonie or Hunke.
    Ellwood? We can expect more cutting, more intrusion into editorial content and generally, more malaise. She'll basically do what Martore and Mariyam tell her to do.

    We should never have moved to Tyson's. Curley wanted it because it was a shorter commute to his Oakton mansion.McCorkindale wanted it to be closer to his Middleburg estaste. Their vision made USAT a cold, souless workplace.

    I have no faith that the current leadership team can make a dent in changing the culture here. Unless, of course, going younger, cheaper and dumbing down the product are their prime goals.

  9. Yep, this was an example of many I saw while there. 'The Devil Wears Prada' movie was Gannett and USAT; and likely still is. A soul-less move regarding these 3, while paying the top execs millions for poor leadership decisions. Like the wasteful spending December holiday parties in Rosslyn. How they'd like to have that $ today. Then again, it would just go to bonuses for a few.

    The Tyson's move: What can I say? Trust me, Rosslyn doesn't miss either ...


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