Gannett giving Star employees the finger

Dateline: Thu 04 Mar 2010

According to the Inkling, the Indianapolis Newspaper Guild's house organ, the latest indignity is that Star management now wants to track worker hours by using some sophisticated technology (similar to a computerized time-punch) that will include fingerprinting.

Big Brother IS the media center...

Here is what the Guild prez Tom Spalding wrote in an appeal to exec editor Dennis Ryerson:

"We hope you will urge to the highers-up here at the Star that the Guild would only be OK with switching to a card-swipe timekeeping system as a last resort — and that we definitely OBJECT to any type of finger or thumbprint imagery-based system. We are NOT AGAINST computerizing the time-keeping system, but why the company is fast-tracking an initiative before seeking input from the staff seems unclear to us. And any system needs to be applied fairly and logically.,,,

"The overwhelming preference among Guild members is that we maintain an “honor” system (employees turn in paper timesheets at the end of each two-week pay period).

"HR Vice President James Keough told the newsroom via Q&A that Gannett has this Kronos system in place at Detroit, Cincinnati, Phoenix, Nashville and Rochester, among others … but we checked … and the newsroom in Detroit does not use a fingerprint system (just swipe cards).

"Rochester has swipe cards but not a fingerprint system. Nashville has Kronos but the reporters and photogs don’t use it — just those on the design/copy desk, and by swipe, not fingerprint. Cincinnati’s newsroom has no system, contrary to what was told to us. Hawaii considered Kronos 3 years ago but it was abandoned when the Guild informed the Advertiser it would ask its members to track every second. The Arizona Republic reporter AND copy desk veteran I talked to on the phone — veterans of that operation — say they e-mail their time sheets to a coordinator each week, and said they are not sure where James’ information about Kronos use originated."

Spalding also shared (anonymously) objections from staff:

  • What’s next? Raising our hands to ask if we can use the restroom? We do our work — they get our 40 hours (and then some). Morale is bad enough. I don’t see how treating us like 5-year-olds will improve it.
  • Honestly, my biggest concern is what do they do with the fingerprint once they have created the binary “representation” of the fingerprint for the machine? I don’t want Gannett to have a copy of any of my fingerprints, frankly.
  • What about time spent covering games, school board meetings, interview sessions. This seems like a ridiculous way to keep track of reporters’ time. I do a lot of work from home because I have a laptop and no computer at my desk and that’s way I’ve always worked. But it makes no sense for reporters who work in the office, either Can’t see how this works for anyone but copy editors and paraprofessionals who don’t leave the office.
  • I’m not sure I fully understand the repercussions of the Kronos system that would expose how much time it actually takes to make the daily miracle happen.
  • I think this system would be a nightmare for reporters. Especially since our hours are all over the place and we are pretty much at the beck and call of the copy desk, meeting, and our sources. I often work from the office, home, my car, over lunch breaks, etc.
  • If I start my work day up north at meeting or hard-hat tour in Noblesville, how do I get credited for that time? It would seem there will be people in this situation ALL the time, and the paperwork to fill in the gaps would negate the system’s efficiency.
  • There are a number of folks here who, for whatever reason, refuse to wash their hands properly after hitting the restroom. I’m not policing this, mind you, but I’m aware of it. It would seem a communal system that requires every one to touch it would be unsanitary. I keep anti-bacterial gel handy and touch as few doorhandles in this place as possible, but a new thing that requires everyone to touch it just sounds gross.
  • This system is inefficient for a working newsroom and an affront to employees already demoralized by the recent wage cuts.
  • If the company insists that every second of workers’ time be tracked electronically … then the Guild should insist that calls by editors to reporters’ homes for questions on stories, etc. continue but be “counted in” as part of the work week.

"Reiterating: the Guild is NOT OPPOSED to computerized time-keeping but does object to the planned fingerprint time-keeping system and has questions that need to be addressed."

It never ends, does it? Gannett will not rest until every fiber of self-worth is stomped out of every employee at any cost.

Can you imagine such mickey-mouse back in the day when newspapers actually had gravitas? I know some people get sick of this blog ranting on about Gannett, but it truly is an evil wretched concern....



George Stuteville [unverified] said:

I don't get sick of the anti-Gannett rants, Ruth. What they have done to The Star and American journalism in general is criminal. I am just sickened by their smallness. At times, I am still hurt and angry when our own editors in the early 2000's who swallowed enough of that Kool-aid to make the professional lives of some of their colleagues a misery.

2010-03-04 09:21:53

Bill [unverified] said:

I always go back to that "ironclad" agreement that the Pulliam heirs could not sell Central Newspapers.

Well, they got theirs (cash) and the peons got p....d on.

2010-03-04 10:54:49

ruthholl [Member] said:

Funny...I thought again of the Pulliams yesterday, in the sense that -- I've told this before -- someone on the copy desk (1970s, late) inserted the line, "Myrta Pulliam sucks d--k" in Mamie Eisenhower's obit. It almost made it into print; a printer caught it.
The culprit was never officially identified, and so nobody was fired.
At least back then an angry or disgruntled worker was not afraid of taking a gonzo-style subversive action. Now, I fear, the belief system is simply to take what is dished out....

2010-03-04 12:27:40

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:

Why doesn't Gannett just microchip employees so they can be read and recorded each time they go in or out of a newspaper doorway?

Seriously, freelance writers (and attorneys) use various systems to track their time -- usually involving pencils and paper.

With reporters who often work OUTSIDE THE OFFICE, I fail to see how the systems mentioned would function to accurately report work time.

2010-03-04 20:29:21

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Wow, Ruth, the Myrta reference gave me a much-needed giggle. It's been a rough week.

Russ and Myrta fly over the madness, peering down at we mere mortals...favouring us with a few columns form time to time...a patrician snotty view of life. It's almost too much sometimes. The acorns don't fall far from the trees. They almost never do.

I refer back to words spoken by a colleague at a newspaper convention in 1980: "Ah, Indianapolis....the only major American city without a daily newspaper."

The rest of the world knew about us long before we did. Gannett only scooped up the pieces. Sure, there were great writers...but the Overlords were almost always selfish, greedy and mean-spirited at their core. They gave a midwest face to the Loeb vindictiveness.

The Gannett follow-through is evidently much meaner to the insiders on N. Penn, than their predecessors. Which is a pity for the good scribes left.

But take a good look at the Gannett mannerisms, Ruthie--this is how many of us felt reading The Star for decades. With some obvious exceptions (yours included)

I' truly sorry the pendulum known as Karma is smacking good employees right now. It's not fair.

2010-03-05 05:40:34

ITperson [Member] said:

The IT department has been living this for a long time- IT on-call is 24/7/365 Did not matter if you were on your day off or vacation. You had to provide help and comp time was not always provided, even if you were up all night working the problem. The next day you better be at work on-time. It ruined a few dinners and movies over the years! time off and work time? no difference, same thing.

2010-03-05 08:19:04

John [unverified] said:

What I find amazing is reporters complaining that they'll have to charge overtime. They SHOULD charge overtime. They're professionals and they shouldn't give time away for free.

2010-03-05 10:48:02

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:

True professionals are salaried, and don't get overtime.

Staff are hourly, and do (or, should --according to state law, which "The Star" routinely flouts).

Therein lies the rub. Reporters are now merely interchangeable pieces of "staff", not professionals.

Sure do miss "Indianapolis Eye"! It was just a few years ahead of its time.

2010-03-05 11:41:38

escaped before being gannetized [unverified] said:

I remember the day Gannetoids walked in the door and actually took "possession" of the property; it was on Aug. 1 of 2000. Up to that point, it was a family atomosphere, we had fun, did a lot of work, and made a profit year after year.
Since then, it has been void of any of the good things and full of too many bad things to list. Everything from Aug. 1 forward centered solely on how much money they could make for the least amount of internal investment. Period. Everything they do is based on how they can do it cheaper and make more money at it. I can guarantee you that this is another way to save money, somehow, someway, and a few folks in payroll along the way will lose their jobs.
Gannett does not implement anything unless it saves them money and / or makes them money. Period.

2010-03-05 20:59:25

Todd [unverified] said:

I have no connection to the newspaper industry whatsoever so perhaps I see these things through different eyes that aren't as biased.

I don't think Gannett is really the bad guy as much as your readers are. The bottom line is that most people don't read a physical newspaper anymore and have zero interest in subscribing. I'm 40 years old and would be hard pressed to find ANYONE in my office younger than me that has any interest in a physical paper.

All the whining about Gannett, etc. is really just frustration with the changes your industry is having to go through. Being part of a vastly declining business model is never fun whether it's Gannett, Ford, whatever. The bottom line is that when the revenue goes down you have to reduce expenses and be tougher on employees. Anyone that doesn't like that should get out of the newspaper business now and move to an industry that is likely to grow in the coming decades.

2010-03-05 21:28:34

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

Todd, you are correct, but only to a point.

Most of the complaints about Gannett behavior focus on the company's self-inflicted travails.

Was it unexpected that Yugo automobiles didn't sell well? When you cheapen the product to the point where there is no perceived value to the brand, then the business model is unsustainable.

It can be argued that Gannett is caught in a downward death spiral. Maybe their timing was unfortunate, buying the Star just as newspapers began having a hard time breathing.

In the end, Gannett is simply a Bad Company, a Bad Employer, and Bad Newspaperpeople. And they were that before they bought the Star, before newspapers began becoming irrelevant in an increasingly illiterate, distracted, micro-attentionspanned society.

2010-03-06 07:20:13

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:

Tom Greenacres is spot on.

"Bad Newspaperpeople" doesn't begin to describe it, however. There's no "news" in The Star anymore, and I don't mean just in the physical paper. The online version, which could actually, ummmmm, cover the city (and be read by the world) is difficult to navigate and virtually devoid of content.

Take a look at today's edition. They've evidently canned the religion writer, and are replacing Robert King with random outside columnists (no doubt, unpaid). Sheesh.

And they wonder why nobody considers reading The Star essential to living in Indy anymore!

2010-03-06 12:25:29

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

I read online daily, and in print Thursday-Sunday, how John Touhy has basically become a police scanner reporter. He gets facts wrong on a regular basis. It's discouraging.

He exercises little news judgment, obviously writes from his desk while scanner-hopping, and often publishes comments from the scanner or witnesses, that are borderline stupid. Witness this:

A woman's mugging last week included this Touhy tidbit (paraphrasing): 'police are going to increase patrols around her home because the thief got her keys and ID, so they know where she lives.' I kid you not.

It made it to the online edition, into print and was not stopped by an editor. (Sigh) This passes for reporting these days.

He's not alone, sadly.

Mused the late Prof. Gretchen Kemp about a northern Indiana newspaper that had fallen on hard times in the 70s: "It's become like a letter home."

2010-03-08 08:24:28

Phil Lund [unverified] said:

Ms. Cynical,
I'm curious, when did you confuse the definition of amature, one who works for free, with a professional? Try asking one of the true professions to work for free, try to get your lawyer to work for free for instance, and see what she thinks of your definition.

2010-03-14 12:15:13

Shorty Long [unverified] said:

Get over it girl. Your days at the Star are long over. No pulitzer but you have a damn good blog.

2010-03-14 13:01:43

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