Tag Archives: Jim Fogler

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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Hey, Burlington Free Press: Meet your new boss!

Al Getler

The Burlington Free Press today announced the hiring of this man as its new President and Publisher.

No, this is not a joke. Do Not Adjust Your Set. Al Getler is a former newspaper executive who’s lately been seeking work as a “media consultant” (i.e. unemployed newspaper executive) and as a ventriloquist for hire. He mainly sells himself as talent for corporate events:

In addition to being a performer, Getler has worked for two Fortune 500 companies as an executive and knows what it takes to entertain all types of audiences while meeting the required standards of acceptability.

In other words, toothless comedy for corporate audiences. But hey, maybe he could bring a little fun to the lately-joyless Freeploid newsroom:

Looking for a unique idea for your next show or event? Have Al create a puppet character in the likeness of your CEO, your product, or that special person in your audience.

Oh, I’d pay to have him show up for his first day on the job with a Michael Townsend puppet. Can we make that happen, Al?

Aside from his services as an inoffensive mainstream humor provider, Getler also bills himself as a “marketing, management, and media” consultant, touting his “30 years of experience in the media, as a leader, executive running companies and as a serial entrepreneur.”

Is “serial entrepreneur” how you describe yourself if you’ve run multiple enterprises into the ground?

Somehow the Free Press’ story announcing Getler’s hiring doesn’t mention his current status as a self-employed ventriloquist/consultant. They say, circumspectly, that he “previously was group publisher of the North of Boston Media Group.” In fact, he lost that job almost two years ago.

The NoBMG includes the daily papers in Lawrence, Newburyport, Salem, and Gloucester, Massachusetts, plus some weekly papers and a few ad-friendly glossy magazines. Getler lost his gig in March 2013 when NoB’s out-of-state ownership imposed some big staff cuts.

According to ace Boston media watchdog Dan Kennedy, the Eagle-Tribune had a long and distinguished reputation as an independent weekly. That changed, however, with its corporate acquisition in 2005. Since then, it’s been cut, cut, cut, and cut again.

Getler was hired in 2007, and imposed quite a few of those cuts before feeling the blade himself. In 2008, for instance, he slashed “at least 52 jobs” at NoBMG, which got him this plaudit:

“This was a CYA situation,” one Eagle Tribune employee told The Valley Patriot. “Al Getler is trying to save his own job because his management of this newspaper has cost us millions and the only way he could show the company [in Alabama] that we could be financially viable was to immediately cut jobs to balance the books to meet the company’s financial goals.”

Hmm. Maybe he’ll fit right in at Gannett’s Incredible Shrinking Freeploid. At the very least, he’ll Bring the Funny in ways that Michael Townsend could only do by butchering his Twitter feed.

And there’s a bit of thematic consistency here. The man Getler is actually replacing is Jim Fogler, who left the Freeploid last year to take a job with Party City. Hey, balloons, noisemakers, and puppets! It practically screams “quality journalism,” does it not?

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.

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.

Extreme Makeover, Freeploid Edition

Gannett is taking the inevitable next step in its pursuit of profit: spinning off its newspaper business, formerly the heart and soul (such as it was) of the corporation. The publishing arm will start with a clean slate, unlike some other spinoffs that loaded corporate debt onto the new entity; but it also strips away whatever fiscal protection was offered by Gannett’s moneymaking broadcast properties.

For readers of the Burlington Free Press wondering what its future will look like, I suggest media coverage of its sister paper, the Tennesseean. The Nashville daily is being transformed into a “beta” newsroom, a new-world model for affiliated papers to follow. The topline looks good: The Tennesseean promises a larger reporting staff and more local journalism.

But the attic is full of spiders, and if I were a senior Freeploid employee, I’d be preparing to be “future endeavored” into a lousy job market. The best summary, with plenty of links, comes from the Poynter Institute. And it includes such gems as:

— The newsroom will, indeed, have more reporters — but fewer others, including far fewer editors. The total staff will shrink from the current 89 to 76. That’s a 15% cut.

Every newsroom staffer will have to reapply for new jobs and no one is guaranteed a new gig. Out goes seniority! I bet those redefined jobs will offer lower pay and lousier bennies. Also, senior staff had better be as up-to-date with the digital world as your average twenty-something J-school grad, or they’ll be out on their ears. With, according to Nashville Public Radio, “a small severance package.” Lovely.

— The lack of editors will put the onus on reporters to produce “publication-ready copy” because there won’t be enough editors to give stories a second look. Expect a lot more typos, bad grammar, and stories rushed to publication.

Every reporter I know has seen stories ripped to shreds by unskilled, or agenda-driven editors. But there’s a reason that traditional journalism demands mediation between writing and publication: it’s the quality control. It is, literally, the most significant difference between traditional media and the likes of Yours Truly. I write what I know and feel, based on experience, and I can post anything I want to. The editorial system breeds a certain level of professionalism, which is why the Freeploid can expect to be paid for its content and I cannot. (I’d like to be, hint hint, but I can’t expect it.)

“Audience analytics” will rule the roost. Executive Editor Stefanie Murray, the Tennesseean’s own Jim Fogler, says “We’re going to use research as the guide to make decisions and not the journalist’s gut.” Wonderful; we’ll be setting our journalistic priorities based on pageviews and reader surveys. Er, I mean “audience surveys,” because “reader” is so 20th Century.

I realize that newspapers face a difficult future. Their old sources of advertising are drying up, and digital ads don’t fill the gap. Unless you’ve got something else going for you, like donor support (VPR, VtDigger) or a healthy, ad-rich print operation (Seven Days), you’re dependent on ad revenue. (The traditional paper got at least two-thirds of its revenue from ads, not readers.) The Tennesseean is one more experiment in creating a sustainable future. But the minions of Gannett are furiously lipsticking this pig — presenting the “new” Tennesseean as a model of intensive, community-oriented journalism. It’s not. It’s another effort at slashing costs to maintain profit margins.

The Freeploid has a whole lot of experienced senior staffers who work very hard. Their experience can lend context and depth to their reporting. If the Tennesseean’s “beta” test goes well, in terms of profitability, expect the winds of change to blow strong through the Freeps’ offices in the near future.