Sunday, September 16, 2012

Mail | 'The ostensibly lighthearted "balls" e-mail is one of the most shocking displays of sexism that I have encountered in my decades in the industry'

Anonymous@11:19 a.m. just posted the following comment directed to CEO Gracia Martore's attention:

Dear Gracia,

I am a former USA Today employee. I left of my own accord three years ago, and continue to work in the industry. My current employer does business with Gannett, so I do not feel comfortable sending a complaint by postal mail or posting here under my own name. I am confident, however, that this message will reach you via Gannett’s public relations staff.

Maryam Banikarim's endorsement and retransmission of the ostensibly lighthearted "balls" e-mail is one of the most shocking displays of sexism that I have encountered in my decades in the industry. Imagine that a male employee had sent an e-mail using a different metaphor, likening the new logo to "jugs," "melons," or "tits." What would be the company’s reaction? Swift and certain, I would hope.

The original memo, while in poor taste, was a communication solely between its author and recipient. In that case, only the recipient was in a position to judge whether the message comprised harassment. Now, however, your CMO's poor judgment opens Gannett to both ridicule in the trade press (which is occurring already) and claims by current employees of a hostile work environment.

As someone who does business with Gannett, I personally feel uncomfortable knowing that the highest levels of corporate management not only condone but participate in the distribution of such questionable communication. If my current manager had not asked me to put aside my feelings for the sake of our company’s relationship with Gannett, I would be filing a formal complaint with Gannett’s legal staff and the EEOC.

Banikarim should apologize
Based on my time at Gannett, I believe that a rank-and-file employee who had distributed such a memo would find herself terminated with cause. Are Gannett’s corporate officers held to lesser standards than those whom they manage? I hope not.

Ms. Banikarim should issue a public apology to all whom her actions offended and submit her resignation immediately. Having her continue in her position will raise serious questions about equitable treatment of Gannett employees who deal in sexual innuendo. As a current shareholder, I do not like the risk that possibility poses to my investment.

As always, other views are encouraged. 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. Just when you think the comments on this site could not possibly get stupider, somehow they do.

  2. Are you somehow trying to dismiss the negative comments so as to take the attention off of yourself, Maryam?

  3. The emphasis being put on the balls memo is as disproportionate as is the praise for redesigns that ultimately will make no difference for the future of USA TODAY or its web site. The balls memo may be silly, but to push a case that it constitutes sexual harassment is ludicrous. That nonsense is as bad as thinking that colored freakin balls with graphics in them is some kind of breakthrough. Kramer's TV interview was a joke. God knows how small and small-minded this company can get and still survive.

  4. @11.19. Are you for real? Take a walk outside and give your head a shake!!! You need to get a life sunshine.

    New design looks great.

  5. I manage a small department of men and women who work and play together because we truly enjoy each other's company and occasionally a ribald story is referenced within the team.

    To a person, they were shocked that the Cool Balls memo had gone out from corporate. Not that we wouldn't say something similar internally - but we know our sensibilities and how far we can take trash talk amongst ourselves.

    It's obviously NOT just a matter of someone being too sensitive if the memo has gotten more press than the interesting new design. The decision to send this email out - and the subsequent failure of management to walk it back and apologize - are clear signals that professionalism is lacking at the highest levels of Gannett.

    The entire line about 'cleverness' should be applied to the entire episode.

  6. The balls memo was in incredible poor taste and should not have been sent. End of story. Any of you who think it was OK are part of the problem.
    Maryam should be severely reprimanded and be ordered to issue a public, written apology.
    And she should also write a document that explains what it is she does to help this company make money, because I have no clue what she does -- besides send those stupid on the road bullshit emails and, now, a ridiculously embarrassing email filled with sexual innuendo.

  7. I think what bothers me more is her complete lack of judgement. On the day you reveal a new logo/brand - you decide it would be the BEST time to go for a "balls" joke? YOU are the steward of the brand - and you have now linked it to a sophmoric pun.
    Now granted - how many people will really know (or care) - but lordy, it lacks judgement from a person called a "CMO" Makes you question everything she tinks is good for the company.

  8. I'd be surprised if she stuck around more than a year. Her heavy lifting is done, the paper has been repackaged for advertisers and received buzz it hasn't received in years.
    Leave now and you can say you left the company better positioned...
    Leave two years from now and you're criticized for spending a lot of money with no results to show for it.


    A famous quote, used often by Henry Kissenger: the politics (at Harvard) are so small because the stakes are so small. (paraphrase)

    This is small AND stupid. Anyone with a decent command of what used to be passable South Dakota high school English (NYC-Mtkg mutts exempt, obviously) could have easily come up with something more clever than B*LLS.

    Big Al did it, every day, for the record. "Men, women: we're different." Not "Vi-jay-jays, B*LLS: we're different."

    Small, common and low. And BTW, no one with $$$$$ cares enough to advertise, IMHO.

    The GCI death-spiral continues.

  10. I too was blown away after reading the Balls memo...coupled with the incredibly bad redesign it is another sign of the end of USAT print edition...I'm not a doom and bloomer but there comes a point where it is just embarrassing.

  11. I agree the balls memo was in incredibly poor taste and should not have been sent out. What kind of "professional" is someone who would send that out to all Gannett employees??? Not only was I offended but other employees at our site were appalled and disgusted.

  12. BlueBallsBanikarim should apologize to the entire staff, pack her boxes and be escorted off the property for good.

  13. Maryam Banikarim has disgraced all of us and made us nothing more than a bad joke. All our work, 30 years of an acknowledged brand, and she shoots the whole thing to hell with her tasteless stupidity. Just get out.

  14. DUMB

    If they paid more than $5 for the new logo -- they got taken for an NYC ride.

    Dull, IMHO. And dull don't $ell.

  15. Hate to say I told you so, but I've said numerous times on this blog that this 30th anniversary would expose many people here. Sometimes I hate being right.

  16. Gannett's management reminds me of "The Producers." It's as if they are trying hard to sink the ship so the top dogs can steal the investment money, but can't quite get that final nail in the coffin.

  17. What does this woman do for an encore? If she sticks around, which she undoubtedly will because she is Martore's hip young BFF, I shudder to think what she may feel empowered to do next.

  18. You all should read the comments on Romenesko's Facebook wall. Hilarious! Two of the best:

    "I'm worried about the next memo about the tight news hole."

    "I was going to interview for a job at USA Today, but now I'm afraid to ask about the compensation 'package.'"

    According to Romenesko, "[The memo] was leaked to me, but after it was posted I got an email from Maryam Banikarim, the chief marketing officer who distributed it to Gannett employees. She wrote me: 'I hope you agree that when someone does that kind of inspired memo we should share it.' I responded: 'Agree!'"

    I foresee a bright future at Gannett for Blue Balls Banikarim. Sky's the limit. Blue sky, of course.

  19. Her stupidity, arrogance, and lack of any leadership skills are the real problem folks.

  20. The real problem is anonymous posters who in the year 2012 actually address anonymous others as "folks".

  21. You'd prefer what?

  22. The real problem is anonymous posters who in the year 2012 actually put the period of a sentence outside the ending quote.

  23. 8:15 How about a question ending in a quoted word?

    Would it be "folks?" Or "folks"?


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."

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.