Monday, October 24, 2011

Retweet: the NYT's David Carr gets on his soapbox and delivers a mighty sermon, will the media industry listen?

My mouth must have dropped wide open as I read this column by the New York Time's media writer David Carr headlined Why Not Occupy Newsrooms? One simply does not dare speak the truth so plainly in print now-a-days.

Carr starts his column by recounting the USA Today editorial that shakes its finger at Wall Street for excessive bonuses paid at companies that have engaged in "risky behavior".

Then Carr turns the tables on USA Today and its parent Gannett. Oh my.

The first thought that crossed my mind was whether Jim Hopkins, who writes the independent Gannett blog had read the story – yes, of course, he did.

Carr blasts Gannett for paying out excessive bonuses to its own chief executive even as the shares of the company were falling and its newsrooms were being halved in size due to layoffs. He also criticizes the huge retirement package given to Craig Dubow who recently left the company for health reasons, and then mentions that the company's new CEO has herself received huge bonuses over the same time frame "and will now be in line for even more."
Forget about occupying Wall Street; maybe it’s time to start occupying Main Street, a place Gannett has bled dry by offering less and less news while dumping and furloughing journalists in seemingly every quarter.
But Gannett is not the only target of Carr's ire, as he continues with shots at the Sam Zell era at The Tribune Company, ending with this broadside:
No one, least of all me, is suggesting that running a newspaper company is a piece of cake. But the people in the industry who are content to slide people out of the back of the truck until it runs out of gas not only don’t deserve tens of millions in bonuses, they don’t deserve jobs.
The entire two web page rant is well worth reading.

The situation Carr talks about is not unique to the newspaper industry, of course. But other segments of the publishing industry have their own issues – somewhat similar, but different, as well.

For quite some time the B2B industry has been the personal playthings of the PE firms that control them. One could ask the same question concerning leadership in the industry as firms play musical chairs moving CEOs who play along from one firm to the next, all the time staffs are reduced, and performance tanks. Yet rarely do CEOs lose their jobs, and if they do they inevitably receive a soft landing by taking a job for a year or two at the private equity firm that placed them to begin with. It is amazing how the faces of the CEOs of many of the firms seem so familiar.

The difference, of course, is that few CEOs in the B2B industry receive the kinds of bonuses Wall Street or Gannett have paid out. But the performance track record of the industry is even worse than that of the newspaper industry. Today no segment of the industry is as backwards when it comes to New Media, has suffered as many layoffs, or continues to manage its properties so ludicrously.

(At one firm I know one can find the same person serving as publisher of 11 different titles thanks to staff contraction. At another B2B the "publisher" position was eliminated altogether as management added to the ranks of the executive staff.)

What makes David Carr's rant so unique is that he names names and does not hold back. Don't look for Carr to move to Gannett any time soon.

Update: a sure sign that David Carr wrote his piece while in a fool mood – he tweeted later about having a cold: "One of the signs that the cold you've caught is a common one: The drug store is sold out of your usual remedies," Carr tweeted.

Sometimes the truth comes out when your defenses are down.