Daily Archives: December 10, 2014

Gannett: It’s worse than I thought

Yesterday I brought you cheery news of the Cincinnati Enquirer seeking an investigative reporter willing to tailor content to the 25-45 demographic (no more nursing home exposes), inject themselves into their stories, and work with an “advertising partner to grow and monetize” the audience. (Not the “readership,” that’s so 20th Century.) Since the Enky is part of the Gannett chain, it raised the question: are the Burlington Free Press reporters similarly for sale?

The ad was posted on journalism watchdog Jim Romenesko’s website, and he included an invitation for response from the Enquirer. He got one today.

And it’s even worse than the original ad.

Enquirer editor Carolyn Washburn’s reply began thusly:

I included this expectation [for the reporter to work with the ad side] in all beat job descriptions, though it’s less likely to be relevant in some than others. It’s less likely to be relevant for investigative than the health reporter, for example.

Oh, so it’s not just the investigative reporter who’s for sale — it’s all their reporters. Do the Free Press’ job listings also include such language?

Just workin' the beat.

Just workin’ the beat.

As for “health reporter,” well, that’s just rich. Is the health reporter matched up with, say, the local medical center or insurance carrier? Is the food reporter brought to you by Kroger (or Shaw’s)? Is the environment reporter sponsored by Entergy?

(Well, I guess I don’t have to worry about that one. The Free Press hasn’t had an environment reporter since Candace Page departed.)

Onward into Washburn’s ever-deepening pit of ethical doom.

…the idea is that our adv sales rep and our reporter are very often talking to the same people in an organization. So we want that sales rep and that reporter to know each other. They can share insights they are learning about the industry and that organization. An advertiser often has questions about news content and our content strategies. The sales rep doesn’t have to be the one to answer all that. We can sometimes make introductions for each other in the organization that may be helpful. They can go on “get to know you” or “what’s new” visits with each other. I’ve done some of these myself.

This is so bad in so many ways.

Journalistic convention used to dictate a “Chinese wall” between sales and content. No communication, no infiltration of commercial concerns into editorial decisions. Now, they want the sales rep and the reporter to work side by side. They want advertisers to directly contact reporters with “questions about news content.” They want sales reps and reporters to jointly visit advertisers.

Good God almighty.

After all that hot mess, Washburn appends some words designed to comfort her “news consumers.”

Of course, we will and must say no.  …When an advertiser wants us to do a story just because they’re an advertiser, we say no. We’ve told the staff that as we go forward and begin to build these relationships, that the most important thing is to raise questions if they are ever uncomfortable or uncertain. We’ll talk things through as things come up to be sure we do the right thing.

Okay, yeah. Reporters, who know their jobs are constantly under threat, should feel free to raise ethical questions with editors who are acting as shills for their corporate masters and encouraging advertisers to badger reporters about news stories.

And, when reporters build relationships with advertisers on their beat, it’s only natural to avoid antagonizing their newfound friends. (Especially when their next job after being laid off from Gannett may well be as a corporate shill, drawing much better pay than a humble reporter.)

How the hell is this not a setup for slanted, advertiser-friendly news coverage?

I don’t know if the Enquirer’s approach is shared by the Free Press. But as I said yesterday, given the lockstep nature of Gannett’s Newsroom of the Future rollout, there is every reason to believe that the Freeploid is turning its reporters into content whores right under our noses.

 

Just what we needed: another “grassroots” group

Oh boy, look what’s cluttering up my inbox.

 

VPRlogo

Yes indeed, it’s yet another grassroots “movement” consisting of a few dedicated people with enough money to set up a website.

The Vermont Political Revolution’s bugbear is money in politics, which is defined as “campaign contributions from special interests.” Their strategy…

… garnering voter pledges to only vote for candidates who pledge to not seek or accept campaign contributions from special interests; likewise, candidate active learning and commitment are reinforced by garnering candidate pledges to not seek or accept campaign contributions from special interests.

Which is nice but kinda misses the point. The biggest flood of money in politics is not going to candidates, but to closely-held SuperPACs and “nonprofits” with loose to nonexistent accountability standards.

If you focus solely on campaign contributions, you get the false equivalency of left and right: Republicans have corporations and the mega-rich, Democrats have unions and George Soros. Indeed, conservatives claim that Democrats outdrew Republicans in campaign contributions in the 2014 cycle, and they may be right. But that’s because the Karl Roves of the world operate outside the bounds of parties and candidates, and rich people like the Kochs largely do the same. Their money doesn’t count as “campaign contributions.” And with all that money being spent “independently” for conservative causes, a Democrat refusing special interest contributions is basically going into a gunfight with a butter knife.

The VPR (not to be confused with, um, VPR, or theVPO for that matter) is Vermont-based, but aims to become a national organization wielding vast influence by attracting voters and candidates to its banner. Which, ha. This never works.

Especially when the organizers are virtual unknowns.

The president of The VPR is Dr. Daniel Freilich, last seen in these parts in 2010, staging a massively unsuccessful primary challenge to Sen. Patrick Leahy. He lost 89-11. The most memorable aspect of his campaign was a Web-only commercial (“I’m on a cow. HYAAA!”) spoofing the then-popular Old Spice Guy ads. (I miss that guy.)

For liberals, it’s hard to find fault with Freilich’s 2010 platform; he called for, among other things, universal health insurance, a more progressive tax system, and improvements in the environment and public health. And he also, as it happens, used the phrase “A Vermont Political Revolution” in his campaign, so he obviously believes in recycling.

So Dr. Dan seems to be a well-intentioned guy with a thing for lost political causes. First, challenging St. Patrick, and now launching a nationwide “grassroots movement.” The VPR’s homepage features a large national map, promising a 50-state reach; but so far, they’ve received a total of five “voter pledges,” four from Vermont and one from New Hampshire, and no “candidate pledges.”

It’s also launched a very limited database — grandly dubbed “an analysis and report” — seemingly designed to shame candidates into complying with its “no special interests” pledge. Each candidate in the 2014 Vermont campaign is listed, and two questions are answered for each: Did they accept special interest contributions (according to their campaign finance filings), and did they pledge not to?

Any candidate who accepted such contributions is highlighted in bright red. Subtle. (Also hard to read.)

That’s the extent of the “analysis.”

The VPR seems to be a noble, if somewhat mis-targeted, effort. But I have two fundamental problems with it:

— It claims to be a “grassroots movement” when it consists of a bare handful of people with a preset agenda.

— The track record of such efforts is dismal to say the least.

I’m sure we’ll continue to get emails from The VPR, and I’m sure that the audible “ping” of an arriving email is about all we’ll ever hear from them.

Oh Gannett, don’t take your love to town

Ah, the newsroom of the future, now in the process of assimilating Gannett newsrooms nationwide. Here’s another sign of the Borg Empire on the march, in the form of a job posting from the Cincinnati Enquirer, a Gannett property. 

Enquirer ad

Hoo boy.

Let’s bypass the thing about tailoring hard news coverage to a certain demographic and making a reporter become part of the story, and get right to the part that has Ben Bradlee turning over in his grave:

An investigative reporter who’ll be expected to “work with your advertising partner to grow and monetize the audience.”

In other words, “willing to put on high-gloss lipstick and red stilettos and loiter under a streetlamp.” Also, “willing to think of readers as saleable commodities.”

Well, at least they’re being subtle about it.

The Enquirer is going to hire an investigative reporter with an “advertising partner.” Really.

This soul-killing trend has not, as far as we know, reached the lakeview headquarters of Vermont’s Shrinkingest Newspaper. But judging by the aggressive rollout of Gannett’s new media strategies, it’s only a matter of time before the Burlington Free Press advertises for a content whore. Er, “investigative reporter.”

On the other hand, if the Freeploid already has someone on staff fulfilling these duties, we wouldn’t know about it. We only know about the Enquirer’s content whoring because they’re advertising for it.

Y’know, if this is the future of old-fashioned print journalism in the digital age, I suggest the legacy media just go ahead and die, and open up market space for new entities with some integrity.

And if I find out the Free Press is monetizing me, I will cancel my subscription so fast it’ll make Mikey Pom-Poms’ head spin.