Turning out the lights on newspapers

Dateline: Wed 26 Sep 2007

A buddy sent a "sound familiar?" article from Seven Days, the alternative weekly in Vermont, headlined: "Paper cuts: Why are so many workers leaving the Burlington Free Press?"

You already know the answer: the paper is Gannett-owned. Here's the take from departing copy editor Mary Lake, 23:

" 'What's going on at the Free Press doesn't make any sense," Lake declares, not angrily, but mournfully. 'Everything they're doing is the opposite of what they should be doing to produce a great newspaper everyone can trust'

"The prime problem, in her view, is that the Freeps has 'too many products and too few producers.' The paper should either reverse its recent expansions or hire more staffers, but it is doing neither, Lake observes."

Seven Days writer Kevin J. Kelley notes that the Freeps, in the past year, has added five free weeklies to its publishing roster, while enlarging its weekend section and pumping up its website with bells and whistles. Meanwhile, the brain drain continues -- estimates are that the paper has gone from 211 full-timers a year ago to 170 now.

But Gannett continues to goose earnings, while still managing to lose money, says Kelley. Last year, Gannett made a $1.2 billion profit on revenues of $8 billion. Still, circulation and ad sales are down, and Gannett stock continues a downward spiral on Wall Street.

The Freep -- reportedly one of the cash cows in the Gannett barn -- continues to endure mean little paper cuts: staffers no longer get free parking and the lights are being turned out to save money, sometimes even when staffers are in the office or men's room.

Writers are exhorted to mimic the style of People magazine in coverage; major beats are left without reporters assigned to them; and morale continues to tank thru the basement.

As the person who sent this in said, "Sound familiar?"


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