More stink at the Star (an "embarrassing fiasco")

Dateline: Wed 31 Mar 2010

Here's the latest from the Indianapolis Newspaper Guild -- besides an update on the efforts to unseat Gannett's CEO and board of directors, you can read about the following "New Ethics Breach" -- which is truly outrageous:

"*New Ethics Breach: The Indy News Guild officers and stewards have asked Star editorial NOT to allow any of our journalists' work to bereused without their authorization as part of any in-house marketingor advertising campaign. This happened with disastrous results last week.

"Features reporter TJ Banes wrote on summer camps in January 2007 -- only to have the story "repurposed" and used with her byline as partof a metro section "summer camp guide" that was labeled a "special advertising feature" in the print Star metro section Tuesday, March 23, 2010.

"The story and two photos were used without the writer's or photographer's knowledge and the content was manipulated to make it appear to be current. This wasn't a case of an article being simply reprinted. It was altered to mislead readers in a way that could damage this reporter's credibility with the sources of the original
story. It was an embarrassment to the ethical standards the Indy News Guild has been pushing Star management to uphold since 2006, when the company first presented the idea of having journalists produce and edit so-called "advertorial" content.

:The summer camp article is a glaring example of why the Guild has raised objections to the unit's work being repurposed in this manner. It allows another department -- marketing, custom content, momslikeme or whomever -- to use our work in such a careless and unprofessional fashion that it reflects badly upon the journalism produced by those in the Star newsroom. Making it worse (in the Guild's opinion) is that
the tease to the "guide" above the Indianapolis Star masthead on A1 gave no indication this was an advertising product, conveying the impression that the summer camp material was produced by journalists.
Look at the section and it is labeled "special advertising feature" in small type.

"The Guild has asked for a meeting with management to discuss this issue. The Guild wants original reporters and photographers notified in the future if another department reuses a story or photograph. Guild members have the right to have their bylines removed from their work if they object to the way it is used. The online version of the
story (which we spotted on and asked to be removed from the site) had no markings that indicated it was advertising-produced.

"This fiasco was embarrassing for everyone who works on the editorial side of the Star. It also violates Gannett's written Principle's of Ethical Conduct for Newsrooms which states, "We will be honest in the way we gather, report and present news" and "We will differentiate advertising from news." To their credit a clarification was issued,
the story was pulled off the Web and an explanation provided to the reporter....


*Protesting to the top: The Indy News Guild over the weekend mailed about 20 letters to members of Gannett's board of directors, its biggest investors and even the federal securities and exchange commission (SEC) asking them to rescind the bonuses paid out to the company's executives. We feel we needed to send these letters in light of what we experienced in 2009, and wanted to share with you the letters which are nearly identical. Here's what they said:

"As shareholders and stakeholders of Gannett Co. Inc., we take exception to the bonus provided CEO, President and Chairman Craig A. DuBow. Please rescind the award and pay a stipend commensurate for an
individual who was out of the office recuperating from surgery for a large share of 2009.

"Paying a bonus equal to 50 percent of the $942,000 base salary is an egregious abuse of our company’s resources and shows a callous disregard for shareholders. Concessions prevail for employees even as the strategy employed at McLean, Va., is still unfolding and may prove insufficient to ward off financial danger for our company.

"Yes, GCI's share price rallied in 2009, but so did the DJIA, and by a wider margin. Our share price has returned to only half its value of March 2008, while DJIA is about 20 percent off the mark, and the S&P 500 has performed even better.

A $1.5 million bonus in this case seems excessive and premature, as are the additional perquisites for Mr. DuBow noted in the current Proxy statement. These include membership in a country club and use of GCI aircraft for three years after leaving the company, the donation of GCI home office equipment, payment of Medicare supplements, andaccess to company-paid secretarial and technical assistance.

Had the GCI stock price remained in the range of the $78-per-share price prevailing when Mr. DuBow became president of the company, this bonus and perquisite compensation scheme might have been deemed
satisfactory. In the company's current financial straits, however, this is excessive generosity on the part of the board and is abusive to shareholders.

"We might note the compensation for Mr. DuBow is clearly eroding employee morale here in Indianapolis, the No. 4 newspaper in GCI in terms of daily circulation. At the Star newspaper and, leadership has been taking mandated unpaid furloughs. The Indy News Guild, which represents about 180 newsroom workers, has been forced to accept furloughs and a permanent 10% pay cut. The employment base is some 40 percent off the level in place when the newspaper was acquired by GCI a decade ago. News hole has been intentionally reduced,
circulation outlets shrunk and employee headcount trimmed. The digital initiatives mandated by McLean have not offset the revenue slide on the print side.

"Clearly, the company has tried to cut its way to prosperity.

"On an end note, please indulge us on an observation particularly relevant to the workforce in Indianapolis. We have numerous posters in place identifying our core values -- Lead, Innovate, Include, Respect. The excessive bonus flies in the face of these values. Please rescind the retirement perquisites and the bonus, and pay the executives a stipend commensurate to their contribution."


Tell The Truth [Member] said:

I saw the story mentioned here. Also saw one in an automobile section right after was in conjunction with the Auto Show. I had this strange feeling I'd read the article before...turns out I had. Months before.

I was painting a spare room, and used some old newspapers as covering material. In an older USA Today, the exact same automotive article was printed. Mind you, I hadn't paid for USA Today (ugh), rather got it on my hotel room door during a trip east.

Funny thing is, when I read the article, I had one of those self-doubting moments, and brushed it off as a Senior Moment...except, this SM was not a forgetful one, rather a weird re-visit of an earlier article.

It played tricks on my mind. So after I made the discovery, I as relieved to know I wasn't losing my mind. If only I could blame all senior moments on The Star.

This is serious business, and the original writer/photographer should have the ability to remove his/her byline/cutline. It's dishonest otherwise.

As a gentle Holly Arpan/Gretchen Kemp throwback, please alert the good Guild writer that "Principle" is not made plural by adding an apostrophe and an "s."

2010-03-31 05:21:13

Just Call me Sue [unverified] said:

I was astonished to read this post, Ruthie!

The two Genes must be spinning in their graves.

What an unconscionable misuse of publisher power!

"Repurposing" editorial into advertising -- and using the reporter's byline -- is so heinous as to be unimaginable. Except Gannett did it. They should be shamed.

I hope someone's sent this to Romanesko at Poynter!

2010-03-31 10:20:25

ellen mckinney [unverified] said:

i only wish i were surprised by this, or by dubow's gross overcompensation. gannett is run by ad people, for ad people, and with no real concern at the top for journalistic ethics.

too bad gannett's current management and board can't be "repurposed" into FORMER management and board (without continuing perks) and replaced by people who understand that the function of news media in a free society is not solely to make as much money as possible.

2010-03-31 21:30:16

NewsVet [Member] said:

...and who understand that there will no longer be a product to sell to advertisers if they keep this sort of thing up. Few people will read a paper with reporting they can't trust to be unbiased by ad dollars.

2010-03-31 23:06:22

Just Call me Sue [unverified] said:

Does anyone see the irony of posting this item next to the one about IPS throwing out the cameras at the behest of a Star reporter?

2010-04-01 08:57:53

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