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October 2001

The Year of
Savage Counterattack
Taking Casualties

Dispatches from the Front by Burl Burlingame

Saundra Keyes

Gannett editor
10/5/01 Editor Saundra Keyes walked into the Gannett Advertiser last December, fresh from the Contra Costa Times and to Gannett. Since then, she's hired Contra Costa staffers, stomped on reporters' freelancing contracts and this week, feature editor Wanda Adams resigned due to differences in the "vision thing" from Gannettoids. Wanda, a nice lady, will become food editor. Sounds like Keyes is serving the Dark Lord loyally.
10/5/01 Staff News on our side: Feature editor Nadine Kam was featured in a Japanese magazine, right. And Blaine Fergerstrom, our brilliant, energetic webmaster, responsible for launching, is leaving to join Kamehameha Schools.
10/7/01 Linkage: Here's a story about how we're doing after six months. Here's Pacific Business News' take on the same story. And here's a story about how advertsing people need to be more sensitive in the wake of the 9-1-1 Attack, which ought to be posted in the Gannett Advertiser ad-sales department.
10/8/01 Even though the Audit Bureau of Circulations told the Gannett Advertiser to stop using private ABC correspondence in an ad campaign to smear the Star-Bulletin, Gannett is ignoring the order and continues to do so. The latest ad, in Pacific Business News, compares us to a missing, slimy, raw, little Vienna sausage. I hope my kids don't see that. They already think I'm a dick.
10/9/01 The Gannett Advertiser is dismantling its Features section, moving three or four employees to elsewhere in the paper, and killing the Click! high-tech section. Seems our weekend tab is hurting them.

10/10/01 Owner David Black made an official visit to the newsroom after a week of unofficial visits, and reported on our status, how we're doing in the newspaper war. Sorry, Gannett, you may want to know what he said -- but you wouldn't want to hear it. Suffice to say we're going to be around a while. Gannett already knows it's losing milions every month in Honolulu.
10/11/01 The changes at the Advertiser are throughout the news side. All employees have received a letter instructing them to reapply for their current position (if they want it) plus at least one other position. A listing of EVERY job description at the paper was attached -- all Guild positions, apparently, lest someone apply for Publisher. The letter claimed that the massive restructuring was to better serve the community and provide "better diversity," whatever that is. Business and Op-Ed are being expanded to better reflect the Advertiser's proclaimed status as Honolulu's "leading" newspaper. Deck chairs on the Titanic, preparation for layoffs or just a scramble to show Gannett Corporate their local goombahs are on the case? Some staffers have been privately told that "this doesn't affect YOU," nudge nudge wink wink, but reapply anyway. When Gannett starts making reassurances, keep one hand on your wallet and the other on your privates.
10/12/01 A decade ago, Gannett killed the Arkansas Gazette in a manner that laid a pattern for future anti-trust scenarios -- buy a paper, install a puppet head, claim support and then, after a few years, kill your own product while buying the competition. The piece linked above is a marvelous memoir of what happened in Arkansas. Here's a canny description of how Gannett's Roman-emperor chairman Al Neuharth arrived on the scene. Anyone who ever dealt with Neuharth will recognize his shallow meglomania:
When the Gannett Co. took over the Gazette in 1986, its Jabba the Hut chairman, Al Neuharth, arrived for his first day of "work" at the Gazette to proclaim that now, with him at the helm marshaling vast Gannett resources, victory in the newspaper war was assured, the Gazette would squash the Democrat like the miserable little bug it was. Neuharth arrived at the front door of the Gazette Building that afternoon -- afternoon! -- in a stretch limousine, which was left in the street, motor running, blocking the westbound traffic lane on busy Third Street until it was time for Chairman Al to call it a day...

10/19/01 Last day for the Star-Bulletin's high-octane webmaster Blaine Fergerstrom. Here he is waving bye-bye whilst staffers snarf on the traditional memorial pizza. Blaine built into the single most-visited site in Hawaii, and for the first couple of years, did it by himself. He understood the yin of economy of data and the yang of access speed. Compare to the Gannett Advertiser's bloated, lazy site for a lesson in basic web design.
10/27/01 The Gannett Advertiser told its news staff what their new assignments were going to be, and everything goes into effect within weeks. Some employees were thrilled, others horrified. Almost every reporter on the staff is changing his or her beat. No one was let go, but the features section is decimated and many of the veteran writers there farmed out elsewhere. It's occasionally good to stir things up, but this is a wholesale bottom-roiling for no apparent purpose, and by taking experienced people off established beats means that the departments will have to be built up all over again. Some people have been stuck in jobs for which they're clearly not suited, and that's to our benefit, not theirs. None of the Gannett managers and editors have had their jobs changed, naturally. This could be significant. In military terms, the Gannett Advertiser has changed its order-of-battle in the midst of the campaign, weakening its strengths and demoralizing its troops, while the field commanders who got them into this mess are still in place. Something's going to give over there soon. They'll likely drop an entire section, like their Sunday Ohana section, in order to concentrate on the fray.
10/29/01 Dave Peyton, now a columnist at the Charleston Daily Mail, has filed an age and disability discrimination complaint with the West Virginia Human Rights Commission against Gannett's Huntington Herald-Dispatch, where he was employed until this summer. Peyton's brief is that Gannett wanted him gone because he's too old; Gannett says he was fired because he didn't use the Internet properly. Peyton is 57, way too old by Gannett standards.
10/30/01 Moving day at the Gannett Advertiser, as reassigned reporters play beat roulette. Stirrring the pot in this manner is editor Saundra Keyes' way of putting her mark on Advertiser operations. Keyes replaced fleeing Gannett editor Jim Gatti last December, who wasn't up to a real newspaper war. All sections have been altered, staff-wise. Some have been dismantled and cast to the winds, like the feature section, which may never recover. Others, like the 'Tiser's excellent Capitol Bureau, are virtually untouched (dang!). Some moves may have a hidden political or management bias. For example, their glitterati-chaser Wayne Harada is staying in place, while reporter Yasmin Anwar is becoming a member of the Op-Ed staff. Anwar, a terrific reporter, also happens to be of Pakistani heritage, and it will be interesting to see how short a time it takes Gannett to take credit for that. Gannett managers get cash bonuses for cynical public-relations moves like that.

Saundra Keyes

Gannett editor
10/31/01 The Gannett Advertiser prints another story giving the impression that the Audit Bureau of Circulations is ratifying huge increases in Advertier circulation while the Star-Bulletin is not living up to projections. Not explained clearly is that these numbers are the ones provided to ABC by the publishers, not ABC's audited and corrected numbers. Gannett is high-balling their numbers, while we're low-balling. It's a game of bluff. But when real numbers come out early next year, Gannett will look like it slid more dramatically than it did, thanks to their artificial inflation, and vice-versa for us. If the Advertiser's paid circulation actually went up nearly 40 percent overnight, as they claim, it's newspaper history!
NEXT! November 2001
More Casualties

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