The Torrents of Gannett


When you’re someone who observes politics for a living, one of the things that you get really good at is recognizing the irony in just about every situation you come across.

So when I tell you what happened in the world of journalism today, and specifically where it happened, you’ll see why I’ve brought up the word “irony” and what it has to do with the logo pictured above.

Gannett Newspapers Inc. laid off 700 people from its Community Newspapers division. According to the folks at Poynter.com, which is where folks like me go when they want to get the latest information about the stuff that’s going on in the corporate offices of media corporations, that’s 2 percent of the workforce in that division.

Considering that many of these folks work in small community newspapers where the staffs weren’t all that big in the first place, there’s about to be a whole lot of speed-up going on in a whole lot of places. I’ll explain what I mean by that in a minute.

If that wasn’t enough, some of the folks who did remain, folks who work in places like the Star-Gazette, Gannett’s first newspaper based in Elmira, N.Y., have been asked to take a pay cut of 5 percent. The same ask has been made of the folks in Binghamton and Ithaca, which are the two towns that you have to pass through in order to get to Elmira. Considering that these folks weren’t making much money in the first place, I can only imagine what a 5 percent pay cut is going to make their checks look like.

Now how do I know that they weren’t making a whole lot of money?

Because I was once one of them.

One of my first gigs in the business was working for the Star-Gazette. I didn’t even know where Elmira was until I had to go there for my job interview. I connected with them through the Unity 1994 Convention in Atlanta, the first convention I went to as a member of the National Association of Black Journalists. After the convention, I got a call from Charlie Nutt, the publisher of the newspaper, asking me to come in for an interview.

I got the job. And got very little money. But since the cost of living there was relatively low, it didn’t hurt…much. Let’s just say that this was the period in which I really began to appreciate my ability to make homemade vegetarian spaghetti sauce.

Layoffs are becoming the only thing that you can count on in the newspaper business anymore. There’s a website called Paper Cuts http://newspaperlayoffs.com/ that tracks them and according to that site 2,828 people were laid off in 2010 alone. Including the 700 from the Gannett bloodletting today, 928 folks have already lost their jobs in 2011, and it’s only June.

Heck, one of NABJ’s founders, Sandra Long, was laid off two weeks ago after spending 27 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer! They apparently cut her entire division. She barely got to say goodbye to her colleagues because, as it always seems to be when layoffs come these days, she was ushered out of the building.

Now don’t get me wrong. I get it. Businesses are in business to make money. That’s what they do. Them’s the rules. If a business doesn’t make money, to bankruptcy court it goes.

But there are some dynamics of business that I just don’t get. For example, here’s the truly ironic part of this whole mess, which was found at the top of the Poynter story….

“In March it was disclosed that Gannett CEO Craig Dubow received a $1.25 million cash bonus and had his salary doubled.”

You see, the 700 layoffs came after all of Gannett’s employees took furlough days (meaning days that they stayed at home and didn’t get paid for) to try and save the company money and thus their jobs.

They were rewarded with pink slips.

Dubow was rewarded with $9.4 million. (That’s double his $4.7 million salary.) Add the $1.25 million bonus, you get a dude who made over $10 million putting workers out on the street in boxes.

If you want to do the math and see how many jobs that translates into, go ahead. I’m far too angry to even try.

That’s because while I understand profit and loss, greed as a concept eludes me.

The reporters at these newspapers are still going to be expected to cover their communities, although there will be fewer of them. They’ll be expected to have things in on deadline despite having to make due with substandard equipment. They’ll be working harder and doing not only their work, but the work of the three or four colleagues they just lost. Meanwhile, the company will continue to make the kind of money that will allow them to pay one dude more than $10 million.

I mentioned the phrase “speed-up” earlier in this post. The paragraph above defines it. The phenomenon is detailed in a story in this month’s Mother Jones. The link is here: http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/06/speed-up-american-workers-long-hours

I wonder how many people this latest speedup will cause to burn out, leave the profession, and be replaced by, well, nobody…

Meanwhile, we as Americans are probably the least informed that we have ever been as a people. We don’t know what’s going on in our world. We barely know what’s going on in our country. And because we don’t have anyone providing us with the information, we have people clamoring to see President Obama’s birth certificate because they’ve been told he’s a “secret Muslim”, people who think teachers are devils who should live in a box down by the river and teach your kids for minimum wage, and most importantly, people who believe that Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann should be within two time zones of the “red button”.

And don’t get me started on what this lack of information has done to people of color. I recently listened to a radio broadcast from talk show host Neil Bortz that advocated shooting black men because they’re “thugs”. This is a direct consequence of the lack of coverage of neighborhoods of color brought on by layoffs of the magnitude of today’s Gannett bloodletting.

I don’t know the answer here. Sometimes it’s too depressing to even think about.

I do know, however, that the answer’s gotta be within my reach.

Too bad that doesn’t help the 700 jobless folks trying to figure things out right now.

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