Saturday, January 24, 2009

Employees??? We're Gannett. We
don't need no stinkin' employees!

Gannett is to newspapers as Clear Channel is to radio.

Maybe worse.

This, of course, means "shareholder value" trumps "public service" every time . . . and you won't find much of either on the doorstep before you have that first cup of coffee in the morning gloam.

Oh, who the hell am I kidding? Nowadays, your morning newspaper probably is so skimpy, you'll be lucky if the slightest breeze hasn't blown it down the street long before you get out of bed.

STILL, you're the lucky one if you still have a compelling reason to get out of bed in the morning . . . like a job. That's no longer the case for a lot of folks who, until recently, were proud employees of the Daily Blab.

And nowhere is that more the case than in the moneygrubbing world of Gannett, as exemplified by the plight of The Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, La.. If you can stand it, consider, please, this account from The Independent Weekly:
The Lafayette City-Parish Council did not meet this week. The Daily Advertiser, the official journal of record that is paid more than $240,000 annually to publish public notices, failed to print the council’s agenda Friday, violating the Home Rule Charter that requires publication of the agenda within two working days of the meeting.

“It just didn’t get done,” says Janet Gianelloni, the city-parish council’s administrative assistant.

The public blunder is just one outward sign of the chaos taking place on Bertrand Drive and indicative of much bigger problems at Lafayette’s daily paper. The Advertiser has been undergoing cuts since 2005, massive ones in the past five months, all handed down by corporate media giant Gannett. The publicly traded entity has been sucking the life out of what has been one of its most lucrative papers to offset losses elsewhere and placate antsy short-term, profit-oriented shareholders.

In fact, the longtime legal clerk who handled public notices for the paper was among those laid off in a 50 percent reduction to the classified department, which appears to explain why the mistake was made.

Demoralized by the cuts, the local workforce has no one to complain to. Bean counters in McLean, Va. — who as a former Louisiana Gannett publisher says just happen to be in the newspaper business — are calling all the shots. By The Independent Weekly’s estimates, about 75 positions have been cut in the last year from Gannett’s local operations (The Advertiser’s Web site claims it has 277 employees but that likely hasn’t been updated), including longtime staffers like columnist Jim Bradshaw, whose forced retirement went unannounced in the paper. After 40 years of writing, Bradshaw just disappeared.

On Sunday, Jan. 4, Publisher Leslie Hurst announced changes to the Sunday and daily editions of the paper in a front page letter. “These changes are a response to difficult economic times,” she wrote, noting that while our community has been mostly spared by the national recession, “the challenges at the national level still affect us.” What she failed to say is that it’s Gannett’s challenges, not the nation’s, that are trickling down.

The following day the changes hit home. The Monday paper was a single section, with no page dedicated to national and world news and no classified section.

On top of the flimsy 16-pager, which weighed all of 2 ounces, The Advertiser recently spiked the cost of its paper from 50 cents to 75 cents ($1.25 on Sunday) even as it was slashing staff and drastically dropping coverage. That same Monday’s privately held Advocate, on the other hand, was twice the heft at still only 50 cents.


Out of the havoc Gannett has wreaked on Lafayette’s daily paper, however, there are stories of selflessness — poignant examples of human kindness. First, there is this one — as told to us by a former employee — involving Baton Rouge political writers John Hill and Mike Hasten, both of whom were summoned to Lafayette for a top management meeting in July 2007. Hill, Gannett Louisiana’s Baton Rouge capital bureau chief with 38 years as a reporter and columnist, was told if he did not retire Hasten would be let go. We all know how that one ended.

“The early retirement buyout came at an opportune time for me, as I had offers on the table that I was contemplating,” says Hill. “I joked with Mike that I fell on the sword for him; he shot back that it was a velvet sword.”

More recently in the classified department, which serves The Advertiser, Daily World, Times of Acadiana and Town Talk, one of two supervisors had to go. The decision was made to terminate Fils Prejean and keep longtime employee Ed Breaux. “As Fils walked around the building giving his last good-byes, Ed became upset because Fils is the sole supporter for his family [with three young children still at home], whereas Ed’s child is grown, and he only supports himself and his wife,” says an employee who witnessed the day’s events. “Before Fils could make his way to the door, Ed went to HR and volunteered to be laid off. Just that fast, Fils was back on the job, and Ed was laid off.”

Want to know what Fils Prejean got for Christmas? His walking papers.
YET ANOTHER media company is found to be totally unworthy of its employees, both the ones who have been fired . . . and the ones yet to be. That would be the rest of them.

I'm so shocked.

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