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With Newspaper Homeowners Like Gannett, Who Wants Enemies?

Mega-publisher Gannett introduced final week that it will be shedding staff, together with some untold quantity of reporters. Poynter estimated that no less than 50 journalists throughout 42 newsrooms had been laid off, including at that “there are likely many more.” This issues as a result of Gannett is the largest newspaper publisher in the country and, by dint of that, the only largest purveyor of native information in the USA. Per its personal web site, Gannett publishes more than 400 local publications throughout 48 states, in addition to the nationwide publication USA Right this moment. For all the eye garnered by The New York Occasions, Washington Submit, and Wall Road Journal, the truth is that an organization like Gannett has much more sway on how folks—particularly these exterior of New York and Washington, D.C.—get their state and native information. Not less than, for now.

These layoffs occurred for a similar cause layoffs traditionally occur at a store like Gannett: The corporate’s thousands and thousands in income had been one way or the other not sufficient, and the quickest means to make more cash seem on the ledger and preserve shareholders of a public firm completely happy is to chop payroll (a lesson I realized whereas working in newspapers). Gannett made $748.7 million in income within the second quarter of this yr alone, according to the company’s quarterly report. It’s down a bit from the identical interval in 2021, for a internet lack of rather less than $54 million, however that’s not the actual concern. The true concern is Gannett is at the moment carrying more than $1 billion in debt from its merger with GateHouse Media, and CEO Mike Reed stated the corporate intends to pay back $150 million to $200 million of that debt this yr. The cash to pay down the debt needed to come from someplace—and it absolutely was not coming from Reed’s pocketbook.

Reed’s wage final yr was greater than $7.7 million, according to Gannett’s 2022 proxy statement. The median wage of a Gannett worker final yr, in response to that very same doc, was $48,419. Per the corporate’s personal proxy assertion, that makes the pay ratio between its CEO and the median pay of an worker 160 to at least one. (I discovered these figures with the assistance of reporting done by Dan Kennedy over at Media Nation.) The truth is, with layoffs looming, Reed purchased 500,000 more shares of Gannett stock.

The numbers don’t get significantly better as you go down the proxy assertion. Final yr, CFO and CAO Douglas Horne was paid $1.7 million. The Gannett board is made up of 9 folks—Reed and eight others from exterior the corporate. All eight members of the board were paid well over $200,000 for his or her service, which incorporates doing, effectively, I’ve no clue. I’m comfy saying none of them work as onerous for Gannett as Gannett workers, who’re toiling away for that median wage of lower than $49,000, and were banned from asking any questions in any respect at a recent town hall.

If any of those well-paid executives and board members agreed to take cuts to their very own pay to assist cowl the debt funds, I didn’t see it reported anyplace and I didn’t see it talked about within the quarterly report. A docking of pay would have advantage given the connection between the corporate’s monetary losses and choices made by company management. Gannett’s management made a variety of noise about “headwinds” in digital promoting, main off its quarterly report with the actual fact. But the first page of that report did not mention, though it was later reported, that one other think about income not assembly expectations was a deal with the online gambling company Tipico not panning out. According to PlayUSA, “Gannett basically obtained an undisclosed ‘referral’ bonus for every buyer it drove to Tipico.” Reed, the CEO, crowed about the arrangement in 2021, saying, “Our extremely engaged viewers of greater than 46 million sports activities followers crave evaluation, betting insights, odds and distinctive options which we are going to present with our Tipico alliance.” However Tipico, based mostly in Germany, hasn’t seen a lot development within the U.S, and the unique settlement was mutually terminated in July, according to SEC documents. Now Gannett staff—not the corporate’s $7.7 million CEO, not its $1.7 million CFO, not its board—need to pay the value.

They pay the value to maintain shareholders completely happy. And the important thing shareholders in Gannett are, it’s value mentioning, not folks. They’re funding automobiles. The highest three three largest house owners of Gannett frequent inventory, per its own proxy statement, are BlackRock, adopted by Vanguard, adopted by the William H. Miller III Living Trust.

But what I preserve coming again to about Gannett is that it’s actually the identical story, decade after decade, CEO after CEO, newspaper after newspaper, perpetually fulfilling the paradox of an organization that’s perpetually rising and continuously shrinking. Once I graduated from faculty in 2003, Gannett owned about 100 newspapers, together with a handful in Florida, the place I grew up. The final phrase on the road about Gannett again then was you needed to keep away from working for a Gannett paper for 2 causes: They had been obsessive about excessive earnings and fewer obsessive about paying for good journalism.

Since then, Gannett has introduced extra newspapers, dabbled with buying Tribune, then absolutely merged with GateHouse, giving it a large portfolio. The chain that when owned a number of Florida newspapers now owns, by my rely, 19.

The names of the newspaper change, however the merger outcomes are all the time the identical: Extra newspapers within the chain means they want fewer folks working there and one way or the other the CEO always makes millions, regardless. Gannett is famous for this. As David Carr noted more than a decade ago, “Gannett is a excessive achiever with regards to downsizing.” Fewer folks means much less information. Besides much less information shouldn’t be taking place in the USA; there’s simply no one there to cowl it except it occurs within the White Home press briefing room.

The protection of Gannett, then and now, is that it’s merely doing what’s required of it to play by the foundations of a publicly traded firm amid a dying trade. However Gannett isn’t an organization. It’s an angel of loss of life. All it does is purchase native newspapers, then slowly smother them out of existence. You gained’t discover it at first; anybody who has been by means of any merger, even not with Gannett, is aware of the foundations. Your new guardian firm all the time provides you a yr, possibly two, to consider issues will likely be simply wonderful earlier than they creep in and let you know how factor are actually going to be now. The copy desk will get outsourced to a “regional hub.” (They all the time come for the copy desk first as a result of they’re the staff readers may not understand exist, although they’re important.) Then comes the hiring freeze. Then comes the skyrocketing value for an obit and a print advert. Then comes the shrinking print information gap. They part out the workers photographers. Then comes the elimination of your reporting or enhancing place as a result of they don’t want it, what with such a small information gap, although your group and your information shouldn’t be shrinking. Promoting, gross sales, advertising and marketing—that each one goes to the regional hub, too. Whoever is left behind is stuck with an impossible task, doing far an excessive amount of for too little pay, and all of it concludes with them getting yelled at on-line about typos.

Gannett is at the moment the topic of 14 open cases with the National Labor Relations Board. A survey done last year by the NewGuild of 14 Gannett newsrooms throughout the nation had its personal bleak findings. Of the 14 newsroom surveyed, 13 had been whiter than the communities they coated. Males of colour, girls of colour, and white girls had been all paid considerably lower than white males, with girls of colour paying the most important monetary value. White males additionally made up practically half of the workforce. It concludes with quotes from nameless journalists, this one from a reporter on the Palm Seashore Submit, which was a Cox newsroom after I competed in opposition to it at Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers, which is now often known as simply Treasure Coast Newspapers and in addition owned by Gannett.

Truthfully, what the paper pays some folks is insulting. Some reporters with superior levels earn lower than $20 per hour. How are folks purported to reside on that? And what does that say to them about their worth to the corporate?

Most reporters love their jobs, and so they take their accountability to serve the group very significantly. However the group loses out on that keenness, experience and data when reporters don’t stick round as a result of they can’t afford to outlive.

The issue is you’re employed onerous, be taught, transfer up and tackle added tasks,
however your pay doesn’t change. It is extremely de-motivating.

You might have managers who refuse to pay extra time to hourly wage-earners. They inform
you to take break day as an alternative. It’s in opposition to the legislation, however they do it. And for those who name
them out on it, be careful, as a result of the retaliation rains down quick and onerous.

The identical is occurring at newspapers not owned by Gannett—no less than, not but. As Jeong Park of the Los Angeles Times pointed out, the Occasions, Submit, and Journal mixed now make use of as many journalists as the complete Gannett chain.

For many years, firms like Gannett have satisfied folks the issue is newspapers. If solely the web hadn’t occurred. If solely social media hadn’t occurred. If solely one other recession hadn’t occurred. By some means, it’s all the time another person’s fault. Positive, the times you would be a literal fool and nonetheless make thousands and thousands as a result of your daddy was wealthy sufficient to purchase a printing press are over. However that doesn’t imply there isn’t nonetheless a market and worth in native information. It one way or the other by no means happens to folks that Gannett is the issue; {that a} system that requires huge earnings each quarter in an trade present process profound modifications is the issue; {that a} newspaper firm answering to world cash managers as an alternative of precise readers is the issue; {that a} lack of help for making an attempt out actual, tangible options to fill within the gaps in native information deserts is the issue. The issue shouldn’t be newspapers are dying. The issue is company greed killed them.

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