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David Carr writes: "But Gannett is not the only big media enterprise where the consequences of bad decisions land on everyone except those who made them. The Tribune Company, a chain of newspapers and television stations run into the ground by Sam Zell after he bought it in 2007, is paying out tens of millions of dollars in bonuses as part of a deal in which it would exit bankruptcy."

The chief executive of Gannett Inc., Craig Dubow, second from left, received a $37.1 million severance package despite presiding over the loss of some 30,000 jobs. (photo: Richard Drew/AP)
The chief executive of Gannett Inc., Craig Dubow, second from left, received a $37.1 million severance package despite presiding over the loss of some 30,000 jobs. (photo: Richard Drew/AP)



Why Not Occupy Newsrooms?

By David Carr, The New York Times

24 October 11

 

Occupy Wall Street: Take the Bull by the Horns

 

lmost two weeks ago, USA Today put its finger on why the Occupy Wall Street protests continued to gain traction.

"The bonus system has gone beyond a means of rewarding talent and is now Wall Street"s primary business," the newspaper editorial stated, adding: "Institutions take huge gambles because the short-term returns are a rationale for their rich payouts. But even when the consequences of their risky behavior come back to haunt them, they still pay huge bonuses."

Well thought and well put, but for one thing: If you were looking for bonus excess despite miserable operations, the best recent example I can think of is Gannett, which owns USA Today.

The week before the editorial ran, Craig A. Dubow resigned as Gannett"s chief executive. His short six-year tenure was, by most accounts, a disaster. Gannett"s stock price declined to about $10 a share from a high of $75 the day after he took over; the number of employees at Gannett plummeted to 32,000 from about 52,000, resulting in a remarkable diminution in journalistic boots on the ground at the 82 newspapers the company owns.

Never a standout in journalism performance, the company strip-mined its newspapers in search of earnings, leaving many communities with far less original, serious reporting.

Given that legacy, it was about time Mr. Dubow was shown the door, right? Not in the current world we live in. Not only did Mr. Dubow retire under his own power because of health reasons, he got a mash note from Marjorie Magner, a member of Gannett"s board, who said without irony that "Craig championed our consumers and their ever-changing needs for news and information."

But the board gave him far more than undeserved plaudits. Mr. Dubow walked out the door with just under $37.1 million in retirement, health and disability benefits. That comes on top of a combined $16 million in salary and bonuses in the last two years.

And in case you thought they were paying up just to get rid of a certain way of doing business - slicing and dicing their way to quarterly profits - Mr. Dubow was replaced by Gracia C. Martore, the company"s president and chief operating officer. She was Mr. Dubow"s steady accomplice in working the cost side of the business, without finding much in the way of new revenue. She has already pocketed millions in bonuses and will now be in line for even more.

Forget about occupying Wall Street; maybe it"s time to start occupying Main Street, a place Gannett has bled dry by offering less and less news while dumping and furloughing journalists in seemingly every quarter.

It"s tempting to write off Gannett"s enrichment amid the ruins as anomalous.

But Gannett is not the only big media enterprise where the consequences of bad decisions land on everyone except those who made them. The Tribune Company, a chain of newspapers and television stations run into the ground by Sam Zell after he bought it in 2007, is paying out tens of millions of dollars in bonuses as part of a deal in which it would exit bankruptcy.

Over 4,000 people in the company lost their jobs, and the journalistic missions of formerly robust newspapers it operates - including The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and The Baltimore Sun - have been curtailed. And even though Randy Michaels and some of his corporate fraternity brothers who operated the company into bankruptcy are gone, more than 600 managers who were there while the company cratered remain.

Not only do they have jobs while so many others were sent packing, but the remaining leadership will be eligible for a bonus pool from $26.4 million to $32.4 million under the current plan.

Through the magic of blunt force cost-cutting - about $800 million over the last three years, much of it in the form of layoffs - a lawyer for the senior creditors told the judge in charge of the bankruptcy case that the bankrupt enterprise would generate an estimated $517 million in cash flow for 2011.

Over the past three years, counting the payment scheduled for 2011, the bonuses could amount to $115 million, according to The Chicago Tribune. The drawn-out legal process hasn"t stopped lawyers and the current managers from picking the carcass clean. The Tribune story includes overleveraged purchases, feckless management and a culture of personal enrichment, all hallmarks of the Wall Street way that have left protesters enraged.

This is a not a finger-waving screed to suggest that some layoffs are more damaging than others just because they landed on people like me who type for a living.

(It"s worth noting that Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher and chairman of The New York Times Company, and Janet Robinson, the president and chief executive, were criticized by various unions for a 2009 compensation package that cost a combined $12 million. It"s also worth noting that Mr. Sulzberger chose to forgo additional compensation in other years.)

The newspaper business is struggling, and those of us who have jobs are lucky to still have them. But how in the world could a board, any board, justify such huge payouts to media executives at a time like this? It"s not that any of them were flight risks, in need of incentive to stick out a bankruptcy. Most had no place to go, and even if they did, many would have trouble shaking off the taint of their previous tenure.

Peter Lewis, a former employee of both The Times and The Des Moines Register, which was bought and diminished by Gannett after he left the paper, ripped the Gannett bonuses on his blog "Words and Ideas" in summarizing an approach in which getting rid of jobs passes for a strategy.

"Can anyone argue that Gannett newspapers and journalism are better today, and that news consumers are better served?" he wrote.

"How did Mr. Dubow and Gannett serve the consumer?" Mr. Lewis continued. "They laid off journalists. They cut the pay of those who remained, while demanding that they work longer hours. They closed news bureaus. They slashed newsroom budgets. As revenue fell, and stock prices tanked, and product quality deteriorated, they rewarded themselves with huge pay raises and bonuses."

Sure, he was talking about Gannett, but he could have been talking about the Tribune Company, or come to think of it, much of the American economy that used to make money by making things. Many newspaper companies are working hard against steep challenges to innovate into a new future, but Mr. Dubow and his team seemed content to just ride the collapse of the business.

No one, least of all me, is suggesting that running a newspaper company is a piece of cake. But the people in the industry who are content to slide people out of the back of the truck until it runs out of gas not only don"t deserve tens of millions in bonuses, they don"t deserve jobs.

The optics of the bonuses are far worse than the practical impact. Newspapers are asking their employees for shared sacrifice and their digital readers to begin paying. So, lucrative packages won"t cut it. As newspapers all over the country struggle to divine the meaning of the Occupy protests, some of the companies that own them might want to listen closely to see if there is a message there meant for them.

e-max.it: your social media marketing partner
 

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+55 # Kayjay 2011-10-24 17:52
Occupying Gannett newsrooms sounds like a very good idea to me. Looking at the big picture, a legitimate, honest, independent press corps watchdogging our politicians is vital to our well being. No one deserves bonuses for running an industry into the ground.
 
 
+21 # readerz 2011-10-24 22:36
Just a rhetorical question... none of the journalists could do investigative reporting about their bosses until now? Sure, Occupy should be about the practice of executives profiting no matter how well a company does. Often, companies "do well" by cutting their payroll (i.e., their employees).

Journalism, more than any other business, should have a commitment to the truth. As some Soviet-era Russians would say: "There is no truth in The News, and no news in The Truth." (Meaning the names of their newspapers "Pravda" and "Isvestia.")
 
 
+6 # Capn Canard 2011-10-25 07:18
readerz, sure reporters could do investigative reports on the Upper Management receiving gratuitous bonuses but such a story would never see the light of day, nor would the journalist in question be retained for future work and promotion is out of the question! This story by New York Times' David Carr is very curious(is the Times looking for cover to prevent an Occupy the NYT?) how long will David Carr be with the Times? will he be transferred? reassigned? could he get "promoted" to a non-news position? There is also the idea that Newspapers print "truth" which is nothing more than MARKETING. The only thing that media really does is too attract an audience in which to market ad space. The people that sell the ad space make more than the journalist! Only chickens believe that the media tells the truth. I remember hearing a visiting Russian scholar talk about the media in the U.S. and his comments were shocking to me( and this was in 1987) in that he maintained that we are inundated with far more subtle propaganda than the USSR, our propaganda is so subtle most people don't recognize it. I've learned to never count on news orgs for reliable information...
 
 
+8 # Romesh Bhattacharji 2011-10-25 00:22
Excellent idea.

I had ben thinking of one sure shot way of hurting the banks at least. Maybe if people stop doing business with these big banks they will be on their knees.
 
 
+16 # rose 2011-10-25 01:26
It's long past the time that newsrooms should have been occupied. That should have started about a decade ago when they all jumped on the Bush Bandwagon and stopped reaching their own conclusions about what was happening in the country, swallowing the Bush Propaganda hook, line and sinker!
 
 
+8 # grouchy 2011-10-25 03:07
In my mind I draw this cartoon with several ship's captains raiding the luxury food stocks of the ship and pigging out while the ship is sinking. Seems to me this is the same thing described here. The pigs are feasting on deck as the boat is going down! I just wonder if they can swim when the time comes?
 
 
0 # Doubter 2011-10-26 14:45
There is a multimillion dollar yacht hanging from their golden parachute.
 
 
0 # X Dane 2011-10-27 15:31
I hope notGrouchy
 
 
+12 # fredboy 2011-10-25 06:24
I ditched my journalism career when I saw the greedy egotists were swiftly replacing the real journalist. And when editors created "community journalism" and other cave-ins that set aside our mission as society's watchdogs.

Now newsrooms are at best organized social and political media. In Southwest Florida our newspapers are tea party, and our lakes, canals, estuaries and beachfronts teem with harmful bacteria as a result. Throughout the state many media side with the idiotic belief that anything good for the environment is bad for business, not realizing Florida's entire economy is dependent on a clean, safe environment.

The watchdog died. Now we, the people, have to take that role. And communicate truth.
 
 
0 # MainStreetMentor 2011-10-25 06:46
“Occupying this, that and the other thing”, may not be exercising the best “sense of timing”. While such actions may be necessary, we must use caution in trying to cover too many topics at one time. To do so, dilutes the impact and weakens the effectiveness of those actions. Placing emphasis on one or two issues at a time, provides strength and focus towards attaining the desired effects: Awareness of the public.
 
 
+8 # douglassmyth 2011-10-25 07:49
Instead of "occupying," which would be judged criminal trespass, how about more articles like this one, and finding some way to place them in MSN outlets?

Or, alternatively, starting new, online newspapers, by setting up partnerships of laid off journalists and advertising online.

I know, I know: the money just isn't there. What are laid off journalists going to live on?

We do need some creative thinking, however. Just occupying newsrooms won't do it, but we do need to do something besides write to the choir.
 
 
+4 # wwway 2011-10-25 08:56
Journalism has been suffering from this "rape" of professinal journalism for years. It's been very difficult to support my own town newspsper because the editor expects sloppy journalism, receives good pay and compensation and has laid off people and cut hours of employees who have USED their health insurance.
I like Mother Jones and NYT, Reader Supported News, The Atlantic Monthly but as soon as I notice the quality of journalism declining I'm dropping them as well. Occupy the News Room sounds good to me!
 
 
+2 # forparity 2011-10-25 09:08
Curious notes:

1.) Just before X-mas, '08, NPR announced layoffs of 64 employees.

Top 15 paid executives at NPR (Pres./ VP's & top 5 paid editors/hosts) were being paid a combined salary of $2,962,516. Imagine if these top 15 executives would accept a salary reduction to $100K annually; they'd be able to keep the 64 fired employees at a salary of $46,289 each. A better option, than sending 64 packing for the holidays.

2.) In the news the other day:

Beltway Earnings Make U.S. Capital Richer Than Silicon Valley
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-10-19/beltway-earnings-make-u-s-capital-richer-than-silicon-valley.html

an excerpt . .

Federal employees whose compensation averages more than $126,000 and the nation’s greatest concentration of lawyers helped Washington edge out San Jose as the wealthiest US metropolitan area, gov data show.

The US capital has swapped top spots w/ Silicon Valley, according to recent Census Bureau figures, with the typical household in the Washington metro area earning $84,523 last year. The national median income for 2010 was $50,046.

3.) Average CEO pay to average worker pay ratio. When did this great shift take place?

http://www.aflcio.org/corporatewatch/paywatch/images/2010_trend_chart_2.gif

Guess the media doesn't want us to know.
 
 
-4 # forparity 2011-10-25 09:12
From Celebrity Net Worth a week or two back - the big Hollywood supporters of OWS.

1 Yoko Ono Net Worth - $500 million.

#2 Russell Simmons Net Worth - $325 million

Keep in mind that on top of being a hip-hop mogul Simmons is the founder of a high fee credit card company called UniRush Financial Services.

#3 Roseanne Barr Net Worth - $80 million

Roseanne thinks anyone with over $100 million should be beheaded. Interesting that her net worth is $80 million. I guess she doesn't make “the cut”.

#4 Deepak Chopra Net Worth - $80 million

#5 Kanye West Net Worth - $70 million

#6 Alec Baldwin Net Worth - $65 million

#7 Susan Sarandon Net Worth - $50 million

#8 Michael Moore Net Worth - $50 million

#9 Tim Robbins Net Worth - $50 million

#10 Nancy Pelosi Net Worth - $35.5 million
 
 
+10 # Eugenebound 2011-10-25 10:02
What's your point?
 
 
0 # Ken Hall 2011-10-30 03:00
In what way and how is this relevant? If one has money one can't support OWS? You want to restrict our freedoms?
 
 
0 # boudreaux 2011-10-25 11:18
They got alota money....
 
 
+10 # fredboy 2011-10-25 11:39
I go with Mother Jones, RSN, and many overseas news media readings to get the most honest depth news about the US. Dropped the NYT when they misled us on WMDs--once trust is gone, it just doesn't come back. I pity the young journalism majors walking into today's newsrooms with dreams of courageous, objective reporting...
 
 
+7 # amye 2011-10-25 11:51
Its not just Wall Street, but almost all big corporations in this country and the world are all doing the same thing! Its formula now, and it doesn't matter what industry...news paper, finance, healthcare, chemical, pharma, etc.!!
 
 
+5 # Billsy 2011-10-25 14:17
These kind of grossly distorted payouts did not exist in the era of progressive income taxation and higher taxes on capital gains. How about if our govt. were to receive 70% of those payouts? It's a step in the right direction, once we start replacing our senators and congresspeople with independents and send the democrats and republicans packing. Nothing like fear of losing your job AND your cozy benefits package to light a fire under these out of touch arrogant politicians.
 

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