The Brave New World of Journalismism is Upon Us

Oh boy, here we go… apparently Executive Editor Michael Townsend now occupies the Burlington Free Press Chair in “Good News” Editorials, recently vacated by Jim “Party City” Fogler. Because there it is, the dawning of the thorough Gannettization of Vermont’s Largest Newspaper, under the ominous title “Free Press Resets for the Future.”

The piece begins with a lengthy humblebrag about a recent Dan D’Ambrosio story on IBM that Townsend labeled “epic,” “readable and educational.”

Epic, eh? Guess that puts Homer in his place.

We are Gannett. You will be assimilated.

We are Gannett. You will be assimilated.

Right off the top, I had a strong feeling I was wading through bullshit. There was the title, first of all. But also because it was such a lengthy “soft lede” as they say in the news biz that I figured Townsend was burying the bad stuff; and finally, because I’ve been watching the news about how Gannett newspapers are “resetting for the future.”

By forcing all their newsroom staff to re-apply for their jobs. By cutting total newsroom staff. By getting rid of the formerly rigorous editorial process and relying on reporters to crank out publication-ready copy. By promoting clickbait over serious journalism. And by tearing down the walls between news and sales.

At FreePressMedia, we, as the rest of our colleagues in the Gannett company, are resetting the structure of the newsroom to better enable us to focus on the information and the presentation that you tell us via choice are most important, including accountability journalism and topics that Vermonters are known to be passionate about, such as the environment, local food and the creative economy. These changes are significant for our operations to produce content more tuned to the digital experience.

Part of this resetting is developing a new operational structure to enable us to focus more on the local content that deeply interests readers. With systemic changes in the media business in recent years including changes in approach, format and staff size, we are redefining journalism jobs for the future and our vibrant website, BurlingtonFreePress.com. During the next several weeks, the staff will apply for these jobs with new expectations. We expect time for adaption to the change in structure.

Emphases mine.

“You tell us via choice” means “we’ll abandon journalistic principles and pursue the stories that generate the most pageviews.” See that list: “The environment, local food and the creative economy”? What’s missing?

Oh, how about politics and public policy? Health care, welfare, corrections, infrastructure, taxation, investigative journalism, to name a few. Even transparency, until now a Freeploid bugaboo.

“Redefining journalism jobs” means higher expectations for production, along with lower salaries and worse benefits.

And “staff will apply for these jobs” meaning, well, senior writers, you’re probably S.O.L. We want younger, cheaper staffers more comfortable with multimedia technology.

Yesterday’s retirement announcement by senior writer Sam Hemingway suddenly makes a whole lot of sense. He saw the writing on the digital wall.

I’d expect a bunch more to follow him out the door, voluntarily or otherwise.

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