Fogler Departs, Crudification of Free Press To Accelerate

Big news in Vermont media: Jim Fogler is stepping down as president and publisher of the Burlington Free Press. And leaving the newspaper business entirely, for a rewarding and soul-enriching gig as a vice president at Party City, the national chain of party supply stores.

Those journalistic ethics should come in handy over there.

I have made my share of sport at Fogler’s expense in the past — if I recall correctly, I wrote that when Jim Fogler writes an optimistic column in the Freeploid, readers (and staff) run for cover. But if I were to guess, I’d say his departure is not good news for Vermont’s Largest Newspaper.

First, there are the circumstances. His resignation is announced on September 25, and his last day at the Freeploid will be October 1. That’s a nanosecond by the standards of executive turnover. I have no inside information whatsoever, but it does make me wonder if his departure was voluntary. Not that he was fired; but rather that they let him know that he’d be replaced, and gave him time to arrange a soft landing. He had spent 26 years with Gannett, after all, so perhaps a little consideration was in order.

The big change comes as Gannett’s newspapers are transitioning into a new era of newsroom organization. A few Gannett papers have already gotten the makeover, which has resulted in the following:

— More reporters, but fewer editors. A smaller newsroom staff overall. Get ready for an explosion in typos, bad writing, and bad grammar.

— Everyone has to reapply for newly redefined jobs. Presumably with lower pay and benefits.

— A dependence on “audience analytics,” i.e. covering stories because of reader interest (pageviews!) rather than importance.

— What appears to be a troubling degree of “synergy” between news and ad sales.

Expect Gannett to parachute in a corporate loyalist (after a, cough, “nationwide search”)  to institute the new regime at the Freeploid.

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