Earlier this week, Gannett slashed at least 1,900 jobs by one tally. The Des Moines Register and the Iowa City Press-Citizen are among the Iowa newspapers Gannett owns and both saw layoffs; 41 at the Register and 11 at the Press-Citizen.
Sure the economy is in bad shape, and newspapers have been shedding jobs everywhere, but these were the first obvious newspaper layoffs in Iowa. Gannett has widely been blamed for turning the Register, a Pulitzer-winning, local-family-owned paper with state and national relevance, into one of the chain’s local newsletters that avoids controversy and regularly runs rewritten press releases.
On his blog, Rogue Columnist, Jon Talton argues that Gannett has been helping to bring this crisis on for years and, as a corporation, pushed American newspaper journalism to the brink it is at now.
Gannett also poisoned Wall Street for all publicly held newspaper companies. Its margins were far above, say, Knight Ridder. Never mind that Gannett didn’t really produce the same product. KR execs were obsessed with matching Gannett and terrified that The Street would punish them — again, the journalism suffered.
And while Gannett’s Information Center plan, for which the Register was a test site, helped the Des Moines organization improve its newsroom to the point where it was nationally recognized for its online journalism excellence, it didn’t do much for the chain’s actual journalism quality. And a Gannett executive Mr. Talton quotes agreed.
So besides the huge color weather map that now adorns the back of every newspaper’s A section, what has Gannett offered the newspaper industry that has been so good to it and its shareholders (to the tune of 40 percent profit margins even recently)? A business model that prevents news companys from caring about news quality instead of profits.