Gannett continues to kill Iowa’s newspapers

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.

Predictable shopping shouldn’t be headline news

The day after Thanksgiving is usually a slow news day but never fear, dear journalist, there is a HUGE cultural event that demands coverage! Time to throw everything you got at it!

Luckily you had the forethought to build a database. Now make sure you’ve got a Twitter hashtag set. Then, on Friday, get some video! Do a live chat! Saturday, make sure you run a front page story on the phenomenon that, by at least one news organization’s admission, is no longer a surprise to anybody.

I understand the argument that we should cover what people are interested in, but if we must cover — and give such prominent play to — Black Friday shopping, at least we could do a good job. See guys, as Fev at Headsup put it, “Shopping doesn’t really need context.”

Perhaps it’s because Black Friday is the metro news equivalent to a new Brangelina baby, but the coverage is generally so useless. There might be interesting cultural angles, but “HOLY SHIT, PEOPLE ARE IN LINE AT MIDNIGHT TO BUY A $200 HDTV AT WAL-MART” isn’t it.

So let’s get away from speculating whether more or less is being spent this year and find stores willing to tell us if sales are keeping pace with last year’s. (Stores do have the ability to watch their sales in real time and probably know to the penny how close they are to last year.) Let’s talk to sales psychologists who could tell us why humans are driven to spend in herds and, maybe, how to resist. Could we look at how good of a deal some of these bargains really are? Maybe a “36 Hours“-style piece that plans out the 1 a.m. shopping spree.

Because unless you’ve got a story about locals being trampled to death, I’m really not that interested in stories about people shopping. And if you absolutely must push Black Friday off A1, there is that whole Mumbai thing you could put there instead.

Obama election front page winners and losers


If only we could have historic events every day, maybe newspapers wouldn’t be in such trouble. Some very nice A1s ran this morning.

The nicest A1 I saw was from Mr. Obama’s hometown tabloid, the Chicago Sun-Times. Simple. The Des Moines Register‘s was simple and effective and I’m a fan of not trying to make the headline do too much. We know who Barack Obama is and what his victory means. No need to do too beat readers over the head with your, um, hed. The Gazette‘s Yes, He Did! is too obvious (we saw tons of Yes, He Did and Yes, He Can heds today, best to avoid the cliche). The layout is striking, though. The Press-Citizen was apparently in a Star Wars mood after CNN’s Princess Leia hologram. Or perhaps those on the universal desk there are too young to know better remember the original movie’s full title (it was 1977, after all). The Sioux City Journal again tries to do too much. No need to root. Understated heds only, please. The worst was from the Weatherford (Oklahoma) Daily News. Simply awful. The Rockdale (Georgia) Citizen was awful, too; It led with a dog story (albeit a dog-attacks-school-kids story).

Incest fest at the P-C

Right above Kurt Michael Friese’s column in today’s Press-Citizen is Michael Knock’s column all about Kurt Michael Friese.

But nowhere in the 3,000-inch story (a Q-and-A style piece takes up the majority of the the feature front and then jumps inside for another half-page of broadsheet real estate) about Mr. Friese’s new book does anyone acknowledges that Mr. Friese regularly contributes the “Table Wine” column to the paper.

OK, OK. We’re a small media market and Mr. Friese has practically cornered the local food writing market. The book was going to get press (even the one outlet Mr. Friese doesn’t write for got in on the love fest.) But some editor should have inserted high Mr. Knock’s column a very short phrase — “who writes a column for this paper” — between the words “Freise” and “has just published the book…”

It would have the added advantage of making the Press-Citizen look relevant for once in its history.

I should add that what makes this offense worse is that when an acquaintance complained about the lack of disclosure in an e-mail addressed to the section’s editor, the complaint was passed off to Mr. Knock (who handled it with aplomb, I might add).

But the blame lies not with Mr. Knock but rather the local editor. (You remember editors, don’t you? The people who read and guided their writers to make them better? The ones that are charged with making newspapers better than the printed ravings of the unwashed masses?)

At least she doesn’t let Mr. Friese get away with slapping “chef” on the beginning of his byline.