Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Gannett joins the "boot 'em out" parade

Sometimes, you just have to so something as a catharsis for yourself. 

Some people talk, others draw and still others go into a room and holler.

I write.

This week, Gannett Corp. Inc., the largest newspaper chain in the nation, let go 600 people from its Community Newspapers division. The really large Gannett papers, USA Today, the Detroit Free Press and maybe one or two others, are not part of that division.

This doesn't directly impact the New Haven area. Gannett doesn't own any papers in Connecticut. The nearest papers are The Journal News, which covers Westchester, Putnam and Rockland counties in New York, and the Poughkeepsie Journal, which covers Dutchess County. Gannett sold its Connecticut newspaper, The Norwich Bulletin, to a Massachusetts chain that has a lot more weekly papers and shoppers than daily papers. 

So why am I in need of a catharsis? I used to work for The Journal News and I know some of the newly jobless. The one I really feel sorry for is a guy who was offered a buyout a few months ago and turned it down. 

That's all personal stuff for me. The reason you, dear reader, should be concerned is that when the largest newspaper chain in the nation needs to shed 1,000 jobs -- 600 layoffs and 400 by other means such as not filling  jobs left open from people who quit and a few, perhaps, by offering more buyouts -- it means more than the same thing happening to other news organizations.

The reason I say this is that Gannett has been a pioneer in melding newsprint and the Web to deliver news to you and me. A decade ago, Gannett's USA Today was devoting a whole floor in its Roslyn, Va., headquarters to its Web operation. We're talking about state of the art computers and state of the art strategies. 

If they can't figure out how to make news delivery pay, then I fear for the whole news-delivery industry. This is serious stuff. We can't rely on our politicians and their drum-beaters to keep us informed. We certainly can't rely on bloggers who strain the news through whatever issue they're for or against. Not to pick on anyone, but I really don't think making a city bike-friendly, for example, is as important as making it safe against crime. 

So for me, the personal issue of seeing good people with whom I worked for almost 15 years get booted out the door of the place for which they worked and sacrificed (and seeing some people who should only be able to get into the building to buy an ad stay to make a bad situation worse) is coupled with the real worry about how we're going to get the news we need to keep a free society free.

Thanks for reading. It helped a little to write this.

Page 2

I've been reading comments in the New Haven Independent from readers about whether the press should print the names and likenesses of men arrested and charged with crimes related to prostitution. I think they should, if they do it right.

I've been in newspapers for more than 40 years and I can tell you getting it right depends on getting your facts straight and how you write it. You call a person a murderer, you have troubles; call that person a murder suspect, you're fine, as long as that's the truth. Say a man was arrested for patronizing a prostitute and you have real problems if that person is found not guilty, because the word for implies guilt. Say a man was arrested and charged with patronizing a prostitute, you are telling the truth as you know it. You can't call a person a suspected murderer, but you can call him or her a murder suspect. 

You also have to follow the "was you there, Charlie" rule. If you saw it, say it. If you didn't, say who did. The person was arrested after propositioning a police decay, police said. Now, you're fine.

As far as perp walks, I think it's fine. They were arrested --true. They were charged -- true. The thing you have to do is follow up the story. If the person is found not guilty after trial or if the case is dismissed for whatever reason, you need to report that, too, in the same place as you reported the arrest. Lots of news organizations get away with not doing that.

We shouldn't let them.

Page 3

Speaking of the cops and following up, has anyone come forward to say who beat up a van driver who's only crime was to be in the way when a 15-year-old came careening down the street on a dirt bike? 

Where is the march or the rally or the demand for action in the death a few months ago of Jerome Gross, who died a few days after a man who people close to the case say was an illegal immigrant with no insurance drove way too fast for conditions and slammed his car into Gross' vehicle as Gross attempted to enter his own driveway?

Does anyone remember Moniek Eckhaus? The "crime" for which the 84-year-old Holocaust survivor paid the ultimate price was walking on the street near his home at 3 a.m. A Holocaust survivor who lived in Eastern Europe after the war doesn't sleep so well, so he liked to walk in the still of the early morning. He was killed, the police think, when he was accosted for money. He carried nothing during his walks, so the thief beat him.  

Who has been arrested for his murder? What's been done to make Forest Road safer, so nobody else has to die as Jerome Gross did? 

Excuse me if I think these questions are a little more important that whether to publish the picture of some guy arrested and accused of trying to buy sex from a woman who turned out to be a cop. 

Oh, and to answer a question: The strategy of naming these guys worked when cops used it to clean up Chapel and Howe streets, which had resembled an outdoor bawdy house, more than 25 years ago. 

Until next time...

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