NYT writer David Carr’s column “Why Not Occupy Newsrooms?” struck quite a chord, to the tune of 250+ comments and counting.
Many former Gannett employees offered their thoughts and observations on the state of the newsroom and how the company’s (mis)management directly destroyed the state of news while enriching the executives.
Others took on the Occupy movement directly, offering up smart critiques and ideas.
We picked out a baker’s dozen of the best.
I have always been mystified by the rarefied ranks of the uber-execs who command these kinds of salaries in any industry. It seems to be some kind of club like Skull & Bones that once you are admitted, you are set for life. There is no success or failure that will affect your extravagant wealth one way or the other. In fact, the rewards appear to be proportional to the damage you cause, as if the board is worried that you might feel embarrassed and need a few more millions of dollars to soothe your bruised ego. OWS has shown that I'm not alone in feeling like a scullery maid at the Palace of Versailles -- grateful to be employed but clueless as to how my master's world actually works.
Sad but true: Gannett doesn't exist to sell newspapers or create jobs; it exists to make money right now, this quarter. ... And while the layoffs & executive payouts you document are outrageous & pathetic & painfully short-sighted, they're not illegal -- not yet, anyway. Which is why the laughter you hear in the distance is Craig Dubow -- reading this article while depositing his $37.1 million severance package in the bank.
I'm a former journalist who got out of the newspaper biz before it took the biggest hits from our TV and Internet culture. But I gotta say, this sort of income inequality has been going on for decades in the media industry, just as it has in almost all US industries. Greed is not a recent event, but it has reached a critical mass. And ironically enough, it's the non-mainstream media on the Internet that is educating us to the problem.
As a former magazine writer and editor, I completely agree -- and understand. Every magazine I've written for is no longer in print, and it was inevitably the writers and editors who lost their jobs. The people responsible -- publishers and managers -- managed to carry on in other positions.
Gee, and I guess readers would be better served if all legitimate news outlets (including those run as, who'd have thunk it, businesses!) disappeared and left us to the opinions and pablum of bloggers and HuffPost imitators. Mr. Carr, perhaps you shouldn't bite the hand that feeds you. And perhaps you shouldn't jump on the Occupy Wall Street bandwagon without being better informed about the reality of the financial and intellectual marketplace.
Excellent piece. I worked at the Arizona Republic, one of the papers that Gannett has starved and shriveled to the vanishing point. It regarded Arizona not as a market to be served with public-service journalism but as a colony to be plundered to boost the stock price and pad the bonuses of the bosses back at hq in Virginia. There are still some great people at the Republic. But the paper isn't a shadow of what it was pre-Gannett, when we aspired to be a great regional paper. Gannett isn't interested in journalism. It's a dreary widget maker, robotically looking for new ways to squeeze costs. The bonuses it pays to the widget boys are a disgusting example of corporate malfeasance at its worst.
If the boards of these companies want to fire management for poor performance, they have that right. But if they believe that these high compensation packages are necessary to attract the talent that they need, they have that right, too. The statement that these newspaper companies are riding atop a declining industry is true, but that calls for brighter, more talented management to help reverse or delay that trend. Whether companies like The New York Times have found those 'right' people is debatable, but reining in compensation to solve the problem is probably not the solution; more board activism to force management to create solutions, however, might be.
While were on the subject of high compensation, what about professional sports? What about TV network news? What about Hollywood actors? What about software companies, etc., etc.? There is such a thing as the American Dream -- where people can and should be able to work as hard and make as much as they want. The people in the NYC park, smoking dope and getting handouts in order to evoke sympathy for their laziness, do not impress me. Many people who were successful started at the bottom, doing small jobs, some even doing them for free, just to get a foot in the door. These park people don't want to do anything, and their fate should be to get nothing.
I worked for 6 years for one of the big TV networks in New York, as a PERMALANCE, that is, producer with no benefits, and all I could see was valuable people being laid off left and right not because of performance, but to save cost. It was dreadful.
A permalance contract means that you work 40 hours a week or more and you get NO benefits. Later it was supposed to be 39 hours... The alternative were pitiful entry level full time positions that paid half -- despite significant national and international experience in TV -- than what Wall Street Interns are paid (before their overtime) and a quarter of what a WS intern gets with overtime. However the permalance producer job was hard stressful work, long hours, nights and weekends and holidays, when you were supposed to be working almost every minute. We were the slaves on the plantations where the top brass received millions in undeserved bonuses.
Oh, did I mention that many people were depressed and on medication to get through all this? Not to mention that the quality of the work was SUPPOSED to be as brainless and automatic as possible, and the foreign offices were cut almost everywhere.
Only one reservation to the title of your article, it should read WHY NOT ALSO OCCUPPY THE NEWSROOMS.
Right on target, David. We see today the final, over-the-brink plunge after a long descent.
It began in earnest in the 1970s with the rise of investment banker. (Odd how that happened to so many American institutions, isn't it?) The IPO and the EPS and the ROI became more important than the product.
In the newspaper business, editors learned they could best advance their own careers not by journalistic excellence and ethics, but by draconian budgeting and reduction in FTEs.
I was lucky to work for a great family-owned newspaper empire four decades ago. The journalism was excellent, readers were treated with respect, accuracy and erudition were highly regarded, the workplace was fun because we knew we were surrounded by smart and dedicated people doing important work and informing our community.
Then, the company decided to sell stock to the public. It was understandable, perhaps, as the two ink-stained brothers who ran the empire were getting on in years. The public offering was, as I told my co-workers at the time, the worst thing that could happen to our newspaper world.
Wall Street gradually took control, the executive suite (having been moved from the industrial Midwest to sunny Florida) began to fill with bean-counters and MBA types who had never owned a typewriter, and money-gathering gradually overtook news-reporting as the primary purpose of the enterprise.
Six years ago, another editor in another part of that newspaper empire wrote a book ('Knightfall') about the company's decline. He saw the same corporate horrors from his desk in Wichita that I saw from my perch in Detroit.
Through the years, the leeches in suits finally sucked all they could from the once-proud empire, and they eventually cashed out by tearing it apart and selling off the pieces.
Final score: Corporate Capitalism 1, Journalism 0.
Full disclosure: I am a former wage slave of Gannett. When my newspaper (The Newburgh Evening News) was sold out from under us many decades ago, do you know how we found out? From the Gannett News Service! It told its employees the same time it told the rest of the world that we were toast, nothing, out on the street.
Now, the only 'newspaper' existing in that area of New York is owned by Rupert Murdoch. This alone is enough to tell you that the community is not being served.
Now there are thousands of journalistic refugees blogging and sometimes begging for donations on the Internet, and contributing right here for free in the Times comment boxes. (Free for The Times, $15 a month for contributors) We are the Reporting Buskers! We occupy the comments threads! Glad to be adding my wee share to your ad revenue to help your bottom line. (I see one of the Google-generated ads on the comment page advises us how to invest wisely in the stock market -- do love the delicious irony).
Gannet has been wrecking newspapers and local news coverage for decades. In Boise Idaho in the 1980s it put one incompetent editor after another in charge of the local paper, driving out people with institutional memory who cared about the city and knew where bodies were buried. Numerous stories went unreported, finally resulting in a mayor who after six years of unreported doings in city hall went straight from there to jail after being exposed by a third rated TV station looking for ratings.
Multiply this by possibly a hundred other cities where this has gone on and you see the real damage that has been done.
Your article is bang on! I worked for Gannett for three and half years. I did everything but stand on my head for them. They furloughed me 'so there would not be any layoffs' and then they laid me off. It's disgusting at the very least I can't look Craig Debow in the eye and say 'how dare you' and I'm sure my ex-bosses are part of the bonus trickle down. Maybe places like Gannett and Tribune should just not cover the Occupy Wall Street movement. They should be ashamed, without pointing the finger at themselves.
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