the audit

Newspaper Companies As Emblems of the 1 Percent

David Carr rips Gannett's $37 million golden parachute
October 24, 2011

“Gannett paper” has long been a pejorative in journalism circles. So how about “Gannett executive”?

The nation’s biggest newspaper chain has run its papers with threadbare newsrooms to keep profit margins extra-high for shareholders. When the newspaper industry hit the wall a few years ago, Gannett “strip-mined its newspapers in search of earnings, leaving many communities with far less original, serious reporting,” as David Carr writes today in a terrific New York Times column, one of his best.

That quote captures the outraged tone of the entire piece, which compares Gannett’s executives to the ones who triggered the Occupy Wall Street protests. Here’s Carr on CEO Craig Dubow, who recently resigned due to bad health:

But the board gave him far more than undeserved plaudits. Mr. Dubow walked out the door with just under $37.1 million in retirement, health and disability benefits. That comes on top of a combined $16 million in salary and bonuses in the last two years…

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.

I wrote about Gannett’s executive compensation back in June when the company announced it needed to lay off another 700 workers while paying its executives in the high seven figures. I calculated back then that Gannett could have saved 40 percent of those jobs by forcing executives to take compensation packages that were merely in the low seven figures:

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Poynter’s Jim Romenesko is good to note that Bob Dickey, the guy who announced the “extremely difficult and painful decisions,” got paid $3.4 million last year.

And he’s not even the CEO.

That’s Craig Dubow, who raked in $9.4 million.

And $3.4 million Dickey isn’t even No. 2 in the Gannett lottery. Chief Operating Officer Gracia Martore took home a whopping $8.2 million. Plus, the struggling newspaper company (redundant, I know) had at least three other multimillionaires on the payroll: CFO Paul Saleh, who made $2.9 million; USA Today publisher David Hunke, who got $2.5 million; and president of broadcasting Dave Lougee, who got a mere $2.2 million. These folks are kidding, right?

Dropping these execs down to $1 million each, while generously allotting $2 million for the CEO, could have saved hundreds of jobs and given shareholders way more for their money.

That such a thought exercise is a silly joke reveals quite a bit about the corporate culture of inequality.

Carr isn’t reaching for his Occupy analogy here. This kind of mismanagement is at the heart of the Wall Street protests. You can certainly make a business case for needing to lay off newspaper workers the last few years. Making the case for firing hundreds of low-paid proles (and actually its tens of thousands of layoffs: Carr reports Gannett’s payroll is now 32,000, down from 52,000 in just six years) while paying yourself and your COO nearly ten million dollars apiece when the stock is down 87 percent on your watch? If you want to make it, be my guest.

These practices aren’t unique to Wall Street or to Gannett in newspaperland, as Carr makes clear, and they haven’t just popped up in the Great Recession. That’s just how business is done these days.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR’s business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.