Tag Archives: Jim Romenesko

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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The Beatings Will Continue Until Everything Is Awesome

This came out a few days ago, but I can’t resist. It’s so great in such a terrible way.

Last week, the Gannett corporation (owner and strangulator of the Burlington Free Press) held a big event to announce the new name for its digital spinoff. The winner: TEGNA, said to be taken from letters in the word “Gannett.” The name was immediately and widely panned, but those initial reactions tend to come and go. The name is dumb, but it won’t hurt the company.

gannettNo, the bad part was the cringeworthy lip-sync performance of “Everything is Awesome” (from The Lego Movie) by top Gannett executives. If you haven’t seen it, please take two minutes out of your day. It’s just incredibly wonderful in its stupefying awfulness. And thank journalism watchdog Jim Romenesko for digging up the video and posting it online.

Okay, seen it? We’ll continue.

Everything about that is UN-awesome, from the tone-deaf messaging to the terrible performances. Oh, and misspelling “commission.”

But the topper?

Yup.

Well, at least the Free Press dumped its political reporters BEFORE the list came out

A big oopsie from the Montana province of the great Gannett Empire.

On Jan. 28, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza released a (deeply flawed and incomplete) list of the “best political reporters” in each of the 50 states. One of the four Big Sky nominees was John Adams of Gannett’s Great Falls Tribune.

Unfortunately for the Trib, only two days after the list came out, Adams declined to go through the mandatory re-interviewing process for all Gannett journalists. He balked because his position — capital bureau chief — was being eliminated, and he didn’t want any of the jobs on offer.

After serious thought and consideration I opted not to apply for any of the positions. I have been very happy in my role as the capital bureau chief for the Great Falls Tribune and would have liked to have continued in that role, but I did not feel any of the available openings in the Tribune’s new “newsroom of the future” were a good fit for me.

Bad timing, Tribbies. By contrast, our local Gannett House O’ News ‘N’ Stuff, the Burlington Free Press, had the sense to jettison its two best political reporters (Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen) a couple months before Cillizza posted his list. The Freeploid still suffered the lesser embarrassment of having Cillizza name Mike Donoghue and April Burbank as two of Vermont’s top four state political reporters, when Donoghue’s beat is only partly political and Burbank had been on the beat for less than two months.

Well, it ought to be an embarrassment, but the Freeploid is actually proud of its reporters’ “achievement.” But then, it long ago established its reputation as Vermont’s Most Shameless Newspaper Media Organization. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cillizza’s source wasn’t someone inside the Free Press and/or Gannett; he depended heavily on reader nominations for states he wasn’t familiar with, and he clearly hasn’t a clue about Vermont. It’s hard to imagine an objective reader nominating Burbank (Donoghue maybe, just on seniority) for the honor. Nothing wrong with Burbank, she hasn’t been covering state politics long enough.

 

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.

 

This could be bad. Really bad.

Today was Day One of the new regime at the Tennesseean, Nashville’s daily newspaper. If you’re wondering why this is relevant to a Vermont political blog, well, the T’n is part of the Gannett chain, and is the “beta” version of Gannett’s “newsroom of the future.” As in, Coming Soon to a Gannett Paper Near You, i.e. the Burlington Free Press.

(Sharp-eyed journalism observer Jim Romenesko pointed out today that this is the second time in eight years that Gannett has launched the “newsroom of the future.” Guess it didn’t take the first time.)

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 9.33.14 PMThe Tennesseean is still in the process of downsizing and downgrading its newsroom staff, but today’s was the first edition under Executive Editor Stefanie Murray, head cheerleader for the new N.O.T.F.  And there, on the front page, was a story about the Kroger supermarket chain, a major T’n advertiser, lowering prices in its stores. 

And this is news…… why?

But wait, there’s more. If you went to the T’n website today, the homepage was dominated by — mirabile dictu — an ad from Kroger touting its new low prices! Wow, wotta coincidence.

This screenshot only includes the top half of the print edition’s front page. (Full front page can be seen here.) Below the fold is an almost equally ghastly front-page “news” story about twerking as the new fitness craze. I kid you not.

Seems to be a very aggressive application of the T’n’s new commitment to “audience analytics” driven journalism. Give the peoples what they want, and the stupider the better.

Coming soon to a Freeploid near you.