Thursday, October 27, 2011

Exhibit A in why Corporate's P.R. policy has failed

In an interview with National Public Radio's Terry Gross broadcast today, New York Times media correspondent David Carr freely admits that his column Monday about CEO Craig Dubow's $37.1 million exit payout was "mean," and notes that he didn't bother calling Corporate for comment before the piece was published.

Why? Last spring, Carr says he spent four days trying to get Corporate to comment for an earlier column on GCI executive bonuses. Instead, Corporate called Sunday night just before his deadline to say it wouldn't have any comment, according to Carr.

"And I just said, 'Really? You're a newspaper company. You're a publicly held company. These bonuses are a matter of public record. And you have nothing to say about them?'" he told Gross. "And I just found that appalling."

In fact, in the column he does quote a "spokeswoman" pointing out that 70% of executive compensation is noncash and dependent on future performance.

The P.R. foot dragging, though, affected the tone of Monday's column, he told Gross. "I think some of that was sort of reflected in the fact that A) I didn't bother to call them and that B) I was angry after I'd written about their last set of bonuses, that they were clearly living a life beyond consequences and they just stepped up again and gave this guy a huge bag of money going out the door."

Carr also tells Gross, host of her widely followed Fresh Air show, that he was surprised at the huge response he got from the column, including on Twitter. "This thing is rolling over and over again, being re-tweeted thousand of times," he says.

Connecting GCI to the Occupy Wall Street movement, he says regular folks are sick of the "trashing of great American institutions."

Gross commands a large, global audience, according to her website: "Each week, nearly 4.5 million people listen to the show's intimate conversations broadcast on more than 450 NPR stations across the country, as well as in Europe on the World Radio Network."

The part about Carr's Monday column starts at about minute 12:20:


  1. I've spent more than 25 years working as a journalist, mostly covering business. And I've never seen a company improve its public image by refusing to talk to a reporter -- or a blogger -- or by waiting until the last minute to provide little information.

    We can debate whether it was appropriate for Carr to let his emotions influence his column -- which is, in the end, an opinion vehicle.

    But in this case, there's a clear connection between Corporate's dealings with him last spring, and the devastating column published three days ago.

    And it's worth noting that Carr's column appeared the day the board of directors began a two-day meeting. I wonder what newly elected Chairman Marjorie Magner thought?

  2. Jim, good points about Carr letting his emotions run free.

    But what an amazing lack of savvy among people who would like us to think they're the brightest lights in the room.

    They're really just the most ruthless.

  3. As somebody who regularly covers the media industry, getting newspaper publishers and newspaper companies to comment about anything can be a truly frustrating experience. Newspapers are as paranoid about talking to the press as the most secretive company or agency. Amusing in an ironic way.....

  4. Jim, I wish you got 10% of Carr's traffic. But you can take pride in your reporting on this issue. It wouldn't have become part of the public discourse without you -- I'm convinced of that.

  5. Well Jim, I am still waiting for some, any documentation about the $16mm Carr spoke about It's ficticious. I would think you, as a business writer, would correct. I clicked on the documents you wrote earlier on the topic, and they didn't add up. Just as the going away price for Dubois was a hellova lot different that the $37 million being written.

  6. And if Gannett did comment, wouldn't it just be a bunch of lies anyway? We all know how this company works. I worked at a rather prominent Gannett property for years, and I swear the managers in that place took lessons on how to lie and actually believe their own lies. The only managers who weren't always drinking the Kool-Aid were the lower level ones -- mostly seasoned line editors in the newsroom who didn't know how to b.s. anyone. Just wasn't in their DNA. Of course, those were among the first people to get laid off once the recession started. Gannett/USA Today have been a disgrace to journalism for years. Shameful business practices. Shameful treatment of their own people. And disgusting acts that counter everything that is supposed to be honorable about reporting the news.

  7. 6:27 I never reported the $16 million figure cited by Carr.

    If you have a beef with his column, shouldn't you take it directly to him?

    You say you "clicked on the documents you wrote earlier on the topic, and they didn't add up." I do not understand that sentence; which documents? What doesn't add up?

    As to a different value for Dubow's $37.1 million retirement and disability payout, I can only refer you to the most recent proxy report, which details that figure on Pages 45-47.

    This is a report that Corporate itself prepared for federal securities regulators. If you believe Corporate made an error, and can provide evidence, perhaps you should take that up with investor relations' Jeffrey Heinz or with Gracia Martore herself.

    I would be interested in your evidence, too.

    I believe Martore signed off on that proxy report, knowing the penalties set out under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for filing false documents.

    And just a friendly correction: His name is spelled Dubow -- not Dubois.

    (Although Dubow also was dependent, clearly, on the kindness of strange shareholders.)

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  9. Jim, how much or how little does corporate say to you? Does it respond to your questions?

  10. 8:28 Generally, Corporate and I don't communicate.

    That's been true since 2008, when the top publicist at the time, Tara Connell, told Columbia Journalism Review that Corporate would no longer "participate" in discussions here.

    There are exceptions, mostly around occasional concerns about the health and safety of employees. As well, we exchange a few e-mails annually about the Gannett Foundation.

    That's it.

    In the more than two years Robin Pence was in charge of publicity, we didn't have a single conversation.

    I always hope things will change. And perhaps they will under whoever follows Pence.

  11. I agree with 6:27. I can't find Carr's $16m figure (hence the "doesn't add up"). So besides being whiny (corporate doesn't call me until late...waaaaaaah!), he also can't add. Way to make a big glaring error while hammering Gannett over quality!

  12. That's right, whiny journalists. Just rage, rage against the dying of the light.

  13. Well, I can tell you this: David Carr can just FORGET about ever applying for a job at a Gannett newspaper!

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  15. There's a reason Gannett never said anything to Carr: they have no credible way to defend themselves. The only people they can spew bs to with impunity are the ones counting on them for a paycheck.

  16. Let me get this straight:
    1. Debow takes charge of Gannett.
    2. Runs it's stock and employees into the gutter.
    3. Leaves with 37+ million in bouns for doing just that.
    4. Carr and Jim report the facts about this.
    5. Carr and Jim are jerks?????
    1+1+1+1+1= 3?

    I would say that people should celebrate Jim and Carr and be mad as hell with Debow and board. Am I crazy?

  17. I guess I'm old-fashioned but I still think Carr should have called Gannett fir a comment. And I'm disappointed The New York Times didn't make him call.

    There are plenty of sources and spokesmen and government officials who refuse to comment. That doesn't mean you don't try.

    This is not to take away from Carr's story, or analysis. But journalism is journalism. Get a comment. Or a no comment.

  18. This is all true but you are still crazy

  19. If you believe for a moment this isn't all about ruthlessness, then look at who is still standing. Only the ruthless. Crotchfelt. Washburn. Dig as deep as you want. The good guys all went home by choice or by invitation some time ago.

  20. 6:27- Dubois? Really? You'd think as much as you're getting paid to post here that you'd get his name right.....

  21. Jim, the Gannett PR person (Pence or Connell) have no power in deciding who and what can be said to the press.. It's clearly coming from the C-suite. I would imagine Dubow. Which went with total silence. Let's see if Gracia is more transparent.

  22. 12:13, clearly you are unaware of the big picture.

    Jim relies on rumors and gossip. The money figures reported here are inaccurate, and that has been explained again and again. Sorry you missed that.

  23. 12:13: you're not crazy, nor wrong to feel what you feel (rage at the company over excessive pay, layoffs). But journalism, at its highest levels (isn't NYT supposed to be the best?) is supposed to be VERY precise.

    So while it doesn't change that Dubow (is it so hard to spell his name correctly?) got paid too much, the details matter. Because if you don't fuss over the details, and let your argument be purely emotional, how do I know which of your "facts" are correct? That's my issue with Carr (I think he made a math error to get to $16M), and with Jim in this case.

    So your nos. 1 and 2 are valid. But no. 3: just not precise to say it's a $37M bonus. The number includes stuff like pension (a full third of the $37M), which the guy has built up over 30+ years. So how do you figure out how much of it he "earned" v. how much was due to inflated salary? Most employees have pension/401k right? Almost 20 percent is in stock options that are largely worthless. An additional 20 percent is in monthly disability payments. If he croaks tomorrow, how much of that will he get? These are all very complicated factors that determine what the payout ultimately will be. It will be years, maybe decades, before we know.

    So Jim finds the number that the company is required to publish by the SEC, $37M. Think about two things here, things that neither Carr nor Jim explained. This is a number derived by a formula created by the SEC to show what potential liability the company faces. It's not designed to show what someone gets paid. It's designed to guess at how much (worst case scenario) that a company may OWE. And the difference matters. And here's the kicker: This is a formula created by a government agency. And we all know that formulas created by the government have a high degree of accuracy, right? Hello?

    Jim and Carr asked exactly how many questions about these numbers when they did their reporting? Hell, they both admitted to being pissed at corporate so both committed the j-school mistake of failing to pick up the phone. Would they have gotten answers? Who knows? They didn't even try.

    In short: I respect journalists who do a ton of work, really dig into details, who produce a very precise report, and it leads to damning evidence. Each could have done that here. Neither did. I have little respect for talking heads who take a single number or "fact", scream FIRE, whip up the masses into a frenzy, and brush off criticism of their "reporting", essentially saying that they are mostly correct.

    Isn't half-assed what both always hammer Gannett for?

  24. Did you forget to add Martore, 12:13am?

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  26. The only sad part of Mr.Carr's interview.
    Is the fact that they discussed about the Gannett story for only about 21/2 mins. The rest was more of his personnel life. I don't listen to the news much... But I feel that the focus was derailed. I hope that that is not an indication that this will be "swept under the rug".
    I apoligized for the typographical errors and grammer.

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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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