Tag Archives: Gannett

A Gloomy Day for Vermont Newspapers

There were two pieces of bad news on the state’s media front today — one substantive, the other more symbolic.

The latter is the departure of Rob Mitchell from the Rutland Herald and Barre Montpelier Times Argus. The former is the fully-consummated merger of Burlington Free Press owner Gannett with GateHouse, forming the largest (by far) newspaper chain in the country. The combined entity, now saddled with $1.8 billion in debt and facing continued declines in circulation and ad revenue, is set to go on a cost-cutting spree that could eliminate more than 10 percent of its workforce.

Mitchell had continued to serve as general manager of the papers after their 2016 sale to Pennsylvania-based Sample Newspapers. His resignation marks the end of more than 80 years of Mitchell family involvement in the two papers.

If he’s being in any way forced out by the new owners, he’d doubtless keep that to himself. He did say that “I started to realize that I wasn’t growing in this role anymore,” which could be taken to mean that he didn’t see a future under outside ownership.

The Mitchells’ tenure wasn’t perfect, but they were at least local owners answerable to their own communities. Sample, whose properties include a few dailies and a lot of weeklies and free shoppers, has no such ties. So far, its tenure has not seen noticeable cuts — but neither has there been any tangible sign of strengthening the Herald and Times Argus, which have been bare-bones operations for years.

The Gannett/GateHouse deal creates a true industry monster that will control 18 percent of America’s dailies. Ken Doctor, news industry analyst who writes the Newsonomics column for the Nieman Foundation, expects that one in eight G/G employees will be out of a job by the end of 2020. And that’s on top of a fresh round of layoffs expected to come even before the GateHouse bloodletting begins.

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Exit the Puppet Master

Looks like someone’s gotten the ziggy at Free Press Media. Opening sentence of a story on the Free Press website:

Former Free Press Media President Jim Fogler is returning to his previous role, replacing Al Getler in the top job at the Burlington media company and newspaper.

The bulk of the article recaps Fogler’s career and describes what a great fit he is for the job. Getler, meanwhile? We do not speak of him. The only other reference to the apparently former president and publisher is this:

Getler was hired as president of Free Press Media in January 2015.

Oh well. Easy come, easy go. At least Al will have his ventriloquist sideline to fall back on.

GetlerVentriloquistNo, really. Here’s a screenshot from his sizzle reel.


That’s the stuff. Sad to say, you can see his mouth move when his puppets “speak.”

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Gannett is determined to wring every last goddamned nickel out of its dying business model

There are times when I wonder if the Burlington Free Press and its corporate overlord have flipped their mission statement. Times when it seems like they’re trying to KILL the newspaper business by driving away their customer base.

The latest time came recently, when I received a postcard from Barbara Smith, VP of Customer Obstruction Service, notifying me of A New Enhancement to My Gannett Experience.

Oh Lord, I thought. What fresh hell is this?

Two things. First, the Freeploid is launching “an exclusive, special Sunday premium section on popular local topics four times a year.” Yeah, I’ll bet they’re on advertiser-friendly subjects like Food, Tourism, Skiing, Buy Local, and stuff like that. I doubt there will be any additional journalism on offer.

The bad news? “The subscription rate will be an additional $1 for each of these exclusive, special Sunday premium sections.”

Yaaaay! I’ll be paying extra for ad-friendly “content” just like I’m currently paying for recycled USA TODAY “content” in every freakin’ paper.

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Who needs institutional memory?

Well, as was foreshadowed in this space, two mainstays at the Burlington Free Press are accepting Gannett’s early-retirement offer. As of October 31, Mikes Townsend and Donoghue will no longer grace the masthead or the pages of Vermont’s Shrinkingest Newspaper.

On their own, these departures won’t spell doom for the Freeploid. But look at what’s happened over the last couple of years: the paper has dumped almost all of its experienced news staff, leaving us to the tender mercies of twenty- and thirty-somethings who are (1) short on experience, and (2) in many cases, still finding their way around Vermont.

Count ‘em up: Terri Hallenbeck, Nancy Remsen, Sam Hemingway, Tim Johnson, Matt Sutkoski, Candace Page, Lynn Monty, now Townsend and Donoghue. (Apologies if I missed anyone, which I probably did.) That’s a lot of institutional memory, especially on the hard-news side of things. The remaining olds, to use the term very loosely, are mostly doing features: Brent Hallenbeck, Joel Banner Baird, Sally Pollak. Dan D’Ambrosio is kind of a hybrid: he does some good work, but he also does some client-servicing in the business pages.

(Here’s an interesting note: if there’s a staff listing on the Free Press’ website, I sure as hell can’t find it. Used to be very accessible. Now, if it exists, it’s well-hidden. Too embarrassing?)

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Adventures in voluntary buyouts: Volunteer, or you will be volunteered

Remember when Gannett announced a new round of early retirement incentives aimed at cutting the numbers of senior (i.e. high-cost) staff? Well, the deadline is almost upon us. And apparently, not enough Gannetteers are volunteering.

The offer, for those just joining us, was open to staffers 55 or older, or who had at least 15 years’ seniority in the company. Employees with 25 years or more seniority would get two weeks’ pay per year of service (capped at 52 weeks’ pay); those with 15 to 25 years seniority would get 1.5 weeks’ pay per year. Vermont’s Gannett outlet, the Burlington Free Press, has some notable Olds on its masthead, including Mike Donoghue, Michael Townsend, and Aki Soga, who would presumably qualify for the gilded plank.

Last week, Gannett’s Chief People Officer (I kid you not; that’s his actual title) David Harmon sent a letter to all staff, reminding them that the deadline for this offer is Monday, October 12. And delivering some unsubtle hints that so far, enthusiasm for the offer has been less fulsome than expected.

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Soylent Green is old journalists

Uh-oh. The soft, rustling footfalls of Death can once again be heard in the open-plan offices of Gannett newspapers, including the Burlington Free Press. Gannett CEO Bob Dickey issued this memo earlier today:

I wanted to let you know that today we are offering eligible, long-term Gannett employees within certain business segments and departments of our company the opportunity to take advantage of an early retirement program.

The employees who are receiving the offer all satisfy the criteria of being 55 years of age or older with at least 15 years of service as of October 12, 2015.

That’s right, boys and girls: it may be less than one year since Gannett launched the (Mostly Empty) Newsroom Of The Future, but it’s already time for another round of cost-cutting!

Er, pardon me: “providing the company flexibility to reinvest” and “better align our structure to become a next generation media company.”

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Gannett chief preps golden parachute

Everything is awesome… when you've just made four million smackeroos.

Everything is awesome… when you’ve just made four million smackeroos.

Gracia Martore, CEO of Gannett, last seen disgracing herself in an unbelievably wrong-headed music video, must really believe in the future of her company.

Because she just unloaded more than 80% of her stock holdings in Gannett. American Banking & Market News reports that Martore sold 123,560 shares of stock in the Burlington Free Press’ parent company, leaving a mere 30,034 shares in her portfolio.

Her take? $4,312,244.

How many reporters would that buy?

Her stock dump comes just before the planned split of Gannett’s newspaper and TV/digital divisions. Gannett will retain the troubled publishing businesses, while new entity TEGNA will get all the broadcasting and digital stuff.

The spinoff is expected to take effect by the middle of this year, which is… hmm… checking my calendar… a mere six weeks away.

And where do you think the price of Gannett stock is going to go, after all its goodies are under a new corporate umbrella? I think we know how Gracia Martore would answer that question.