Letter: Gannett Wisconsin Media managers’ ‘Newsroom of the Future’ moves are ‘baffling’

From LOGAN CARLSON, former Gannett Wisconsin Media journalist:
I’m surprised you haven’t heard any fallout from the Newsroom of the Future restructuring currently underway with Gannett Wisconsin Media, given how it’s been going (terribly) at other Gannett sites across the country. [Actually, I have, and I’m trying to confirm that some top editors have resigned. Please email me if you have information.] What’s been true at other sites that have gone through the restructuring has been true for Wisconsin.
For the last month the 10 daily newspapers in Wisconsin that Gannett owns have been going through the restructuring process. When we first began hearing rumors of NOTF, we all knew it was essentially company spin for reducing the newsroom positions while making it sound like that wasn’t going to be the case. All told, I believe the company goal was to reduce payroll by 15 percent. As with any change anxiety and trepidation follows, and its fair to say reporters and editors in the company experienced that in abundance in the weeks and months prior to the announcement GWM would be going through the process.

When editors and general managers met with newsrooms to discuss the new organizational charts and how the whole process would work out, I have to admit my thoughts and feelings regarding the changes were positive. I still knew some people would draw the short straw, but overall I thought the direction the company was taking was going to better position it for the future. But it became clear as the process went along that no matter how much those editors – who spent countless hours planning – didn’t have a clue how things would eventually shake out, and any they were winging it by the seat of their pants./CONTINUES

We were told we could apply for two positions at local papers, and if we applied for a statewide position, we could apply for a third. As the application process went along, it was described by friends and colleagues as The Hunger Games on steroids. People were talking about the strategy in applying for positions and who would likely apply and receive offers, and how that would cause dominoes to fall. We were told the position descriptions weren’t tailored with any specific person in mind, but it was painfully obvious to see through that farce.

Logan Carlson

Logan Carlson

This week editors have been meeting with each employees to let them know what job they were offered, if any, and how the company would be proceeding. I am still receiving information from my now former colleagues on how things shook out, but it’s clear that some newspapers will be dangerously thin moving forward, and it sounds like in some cases, left completely empty unless they are able to scramble to find either temporary reporters from other Gannett sites or bring in people off the street. Before we applied for positions we were told that if we did not receive an offer during the initial phase, if there were openings, and there were definitely going to be vacant positions, that it was possible we could receive offers for those positions. That turned out not to be the case.

As I spoke with my friends across the state, the word “baffling” kept coming up in our conversations. Everyone was at a loss for words with how decisions were being made to place people in positions. A reporter who had been a member of GWM’s Investigative Team for multiple years was inexplicably left off the team, despite the fact everyone thought that individual was a great asset to the team and had published numerous investigative pieces that have resonated across the state. In other locations reporters were denied offers at papers they had applied to, only to be offered a position at a paper they did not apply at. It could be they are keeping some positions empty until they can find replacements to fill positions, and then transition those employees to those open jobs, but that has not been communicated to my knowledge.

What little optimism I had for Gannett before Newsroom of the Future quickly evaporated this week. The company and those in management positions have shown they have no loyalty to its employees, and from reading accounts from years gone by, it seems like this is par for the course at Gannett. I’m sure there will be countless current employees repeating the corporate approved mantra that the changes “position the company for future success,” but with what happened this week in Wisconsin, I find that hard to believe.