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August 27, 2008

On Media - The C-J’s summer of discontent

Let’s face it — almost no one is happy with the corporatization of media. When corporations underperform, and boy has the Gannett Co. done that, they go into cost-cutting mode. And when tradition and quality try to stand in the way of profit, profit always wins. 

That means there’s been a lot more goings than comings at the Gannett-owned Courier-Journal. One of those departures, we learned on Monday, is Tom Dorsey, the oft-critiqued media “critic,” along with a copy editor and a decent-sized chunk of the circulation department. 

The copy editor, Joey Harrison, is known as the man who killed Muhammad Ali, because his photo cutline June 4 identified Lonnie Ali as a widow. Ouch. 

It’s been quite the summer of discontent at Sixth and Broadway, so here’s a review chronicling the decline of the local newspaper. 

In March, the paper’s new website is launched to modest reviews. Local social media guru Jason Falls writes: “You have social media tools that seem to serve no purpose.” And he was being nice. The C-J wants your photos, your blogs, your opinion, blah, blah, blah. And no one likes Patti Swope walking across the screen every time you open the site. No one. 

HerScene, a quarterly glossy fashion magazine, is the talk of local media. Christine Fellingham, who is running the mag and the weekly Saturday insert that is still called Scene but is an offensive misappropriation of the name, works in the paper’s marketing department, not the newsroom. Actual journos just shake their heads. 

In June, Bob Hill announces he’s taking his 33 years of innate area knowledge back to his Indiana farm. Some optimists think he’ll actually be replaced. Hill says he’s not up for all this blogging stuff. People who think he’ll be replaced might be high. 

On June 4, a C-J copy editor is to blame when a photo cutline identifies Muhammad Ali’s wife Lonnie as a “widow.” Again, ouch. 

In July, editorial board member Jill Johnson Keeney, who kept track of the state legislature and wrote a regular column from Frankfort, announces she’s getting out of newspapers to work at Humana, triggering …

The elimination of the public editor’s position — after four decades. The C-J was the first paper in the U.S. to have one. The paper moves Pam Platt over to take Keeney’s editorial board spot. Rather than focusing on state government, Platt’s first few columns focus on her late-night TV habits, a park and Michael Phelps.

In what’s termed by Gannett Blog as the Friday Afternoon Massacre, publisher Denise Ivey announces her resignation in June, along with Indy Star publisher Babs Henry. 

In sports, U of L beat writer Brian Bennett takes a job with ESPN, opening his spot for the in-house promotion of C.L. Brown, who is not replaced.

By the way, in sports, some alert followers note that not since at least the 1940s has the newspaper failed to send a scribe to the Olympic Games. 

In August, Gannett launches Metromix, an online entertainment guide. To compile the 1,000 restaurant listing required by the suits, it hires freelancers. When said freelancers, mostly college students, find out they won’t get bylines as promised, the freelancers launch an attack on the product through various blogs.

Velocity, the Gannett/C-J lifestyle weekly, sees its sales staff folded into the newspaper’s, sacrificing at least a part of its independence. When Metromix launches, Velocity gets a major demotion on the C-J website. Then Velocity editor David Daley is made “lifestyle editor” at the C-J, and Velocity is reportedly rolled under the editorial purview of the daily’s lifestyle department. All this prompts speculation that the print edition may be the next thing pink-slipped.

Exclusives war breaks out when the paper starts touting stories as “exclusives” with a postage-stamp size icon in the print version of the paper. C-J reporters admit their embarrassment. 

Arnold Garson, whose claim to fame as the publisher of the Argus Leader in South Dakota is a failed attempt to control the distribution of independent newspapers, is hired as publisher. The prominent online story gets so many negative comments that the paper squelches the Comments function on the piece.

A couple weeks later, Garson announces that 15 staffers will be part of the Gannett-wide layoff of 1,000: 600 layoffs plus 400 through attrition. The paper plays the layoff announcement at the top of its website and the front page of the next day’s print edition.   


Rick Redding writes about politics and media on his website, http://thevillevoice.com.