Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Intern Injustice: Gannett Gives The Middle Finger To Three Ala. Interns

Outrage.

That's the feeling I get when I read that media giant Gannett Co. was forced to make "quick and drastic" budget cuts that left three interns without summer jobs at a Montgomery, Ala. newspaper.

"I would not have done this if I had any other choice," [Wanda] Lloyd, editor of the Montgomery Advertiser, told Richard Prince's Journal-isms.

According to Prince, the decision came after the Black College Wire interns had already made preparations to go to Alabama, including taking urine tests. Lloyd said that after a recent meeting of Gannett publishers, she was told by her publisher, Scott Brown, that the newspaper would be asked to take a look at possible cuts for the rest of 2007. (She was on vacation last week attending a high-school reunion.)

Can you believe this? No choice. And then she takes a week off of work! Why don't you give the interns your week's pay?

Actually, Wanda, you did have a choice. If you (or your superior) were up on tracking the paper’s finances, you’d probably find some wiggle room to allow the interns that had already taken urine tests and were ready to depart for Alabama to stay for a single, solitary summer (three months, people).

Thankfully, the displaced interns were quickly picked up by South Bend-based Schurz Communications, which owns 15 dailies and five weeklies. A Schurz rep said he couldn't let "these young people have their internship pulled out from under them."

No kidding. And thank God for that.

Surely the interns were not that financially draining. I'm willing to bet that these interns collectively would have made one-third the salary of the lowest paid editorial staff member at the paper. And to cut their trip short after they applied, were accepted, and went through the prerequisites to attend? The nerve!

I’m not hooting and hollering because this is about intern injustice. I’m furious because this is complete negligence. Not only is it completely irresponsible to go through such steps and balk at the end, but it is rude to give the administrative middle finger to some young kids who one day probably wished they could be employed at that paper.

Well, Wanda, I guarantee you won’t see those three ever working for you in the future. Talk about cultivating the next generation!

I understand papers are going through budget cuts – this much is evident if you ever simply stumble across Romenesko’s daily headlines. But a newspaper is a company – and companies have annual budgets, handled ahead of time so that they suddenly don’t come up short one day. You know what that means? Someone at Gannett knew they’d be wielding the axe. Maybe it wasn’t Lloyd, maybe it wasn’t her boss, but these things don’t just happen overnight. The budget doesn’t suddenly get cut like that, and if it does, it means someone was withholding information.

Pity the fresh-faced interns that had just walked into the room to take the blow.

According to their own press release, “first-quarter net income at Gannett, publisher of USA TODAY and USATODAY.com, fell to $210.6 million, or 90 cents a share, from $235.3 million, or 99 cents a share, in the year-ago quarter.”

So Gannett, you’re telling me that after baiting some college interns (who probably make under $12,000 a year if they work full-time at a "real job"), you pulled the switch on them because you didn’t have enough money out of that $210 million to pay them for three months?

"The money for the three interns was not in the budget," Lloyd said. In order to meet new budget targets, she said, she might have had to cut a full-time staff member. "I had to make that decision very quickly," she said. "I just didn't see any other way."

Despicable. Gannett's CEO probably pays more in taxes.

My fellow bloggers over at Get Rich Slowly often talk about getting value in investing; that is, saving money on something you don’t often use and spending it on something you use everyday. It’s clear to me that Gannett saw the interns as a temporary expense and cut it.

What they should realize is that the interns are an investment, and when some of their older writers retire, they’ll need to replace them. It’s safe to say that these three won’t be waiting.

It’s no surprise that newspapers need a shot in the arm. Here’s an example of them turning away fresh ideas in favor of running the ship into the ground...and shooting themselves in the foot, instead.

I call on Gannett to reverse the decision and reinstate the interns’ temporary, probably near-minimum wage jobs. It’s clear at those pay levels the interns aren’t doing it for the money. Funny how that’s exactly why Gannett’s doing it.

Nonetheless, I must say bravo to Schurz, who stepped up to the plate in a very big way. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy fix, but clearly someone over there understands how to keep the coffers slicked and maybe invest in a company’s future a little bit. In doing so, they made a major PR splash for themselves and embarrassed a major media company and its complete lack of tact. So good for you, Schurz – you just took on some incredibly resourceful and thankful interns. And you’ve won some hearts in the process.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm curious -- if the money for the interns wasn't in the budget, then why did they go through all the hoop-jumping (urine tests are done free, ya know?) in the first place?

Anonymous said...

DUH -- That's should've read "urine tests AREN'T done free, ya know?

Anonymous said...

On the other hand,

The people at Schurz (especially news VP Pittman) deserve major congratulations for stepping up and taking the kids. This is especially significant because they did it as an announced matter of principle.

signed:
An editor who does nbt work for Schurz

The Editorialiste said...

@anonymous: Good question, and I'd love to here the rationale behind it. Chances are, given how companies work, we'll never hear the truth unless we worked in that office. But that's exactly my point: Investing the money and time in urine tests and going through applications and so forth is a poor financial decision/investment if you're going to throw down the hatchet later. Surely that investment, much less the qualitative effects of screwing over some young talent, would make them think twice about a few months at minimum pay?

Guess not.

Thanks for commenting and keep on reading,

The Editorialiste.

Anonymous said...

This just in: GANNETT TELLS INTERNS TO PISS OFF AFTER DRUG TEST

Anonymous said...

i interviewed at the montgomery advertiser a few years ago and had to drive some distance to get there. later when i turned in an invoice for the mileage at the business rate then allowed by the irs -- 48-cents a mile at the time -- i was informed by the advertiser that they would pay only 21-cents. so they're balancing their budget on the backs of their mostly young, surely low-paid staff.

should this cheapskate intern flap surprise anyone?

Anonymous said...

It sounds like she had the money for the interns in her budget and was then asked to make cuts. She decided to eliminate the interns rather than layoff an existing employee. I think she made the right choice. Hard to believe there wasn't another option.

Anonymous said...

No, let's protect the kids and let full time staffers -- you know, folks with families to feed, mortgages to pay, that sort of thing -- take it in the neck.

I'm sorry the youngsters didn't get the chance to work at a Gannett paper, but as a former (short-term) Gannetteer, I'm for protecting the employees first.

The Editorialiste said...

@anonymous (1:30pm): I completely understand the sudden defense to the full-time employee. But you're taking this argument at face value: Intern or full-time employee. Is that really the only way we can save money? You're telling me that there aren't other expenses that can be cut besides actual, you know, editorial staff (temp or not)? I have a hard time believing it's a "one or the other" decision. So let's not automatically assume it was just because that's the official line from corporate.

Plus, if that's the case, why so sudden? The timing is fishy to me.

Look, I'm all for the full-timer protecting his or her job. Let me ask you this: Why doesn't Wanda Lloyd take some cut of her own salary? She's top dog, right? It's in the name of education, right? She can claim it as a charitable tax deduction. It's not like she went around the newsroom and asked everyone to put some money in the pot for an internship scholarship, either.

But again, maybe she's a great reporter's editor, the kind of person that would do that in a heartbeat. I don't know. Maybe her hands were indeed tied. So then move this argument up the ladder to Gannett corporate and ask them why they don't have the money.

For that kind of screw up, there should at least be some sort of reciprocal offer. Maybe a guaranteed internship later in the year. Maybe an agreement to freelance. Gannett owes these interns something for all that trouble. Let me tell you, if I were one of them, I'd have been furious.

Anyway, I welcome your comments. Please continue healthy discourse!

Thanks for commenting and keep on reading,
The Editorialiste.

Anonymous said...

Many Gannett papers do not pay interns, but do charge for parking.

I know one intern who worked the entire summer, not just six weeks, at one of the larger Gannett papers. Praised for doing professional quality work, the intern was told "you're hired" for a second summer. When the intern showed up the following June, and asked what the rate of pay would be, it was less than zero. What Gannett wanted was 12 more weeks of free labor -- and $3 a day for parking.

Gannett has no shame.

The Editorialiste said...

@anonymous (1:50pm):

I understand completely. There's a grave injustice with free work/working for credit/unpaid internships. That's why I wrote this post, one of my most popular:

"Journalism Internships Are A Joke. Period."

http://editorialiste.blogspot.com/2007/02/journalism-internships-are-joke.html

And here's an example of a current discussion in the MediaBistro forums about one such internship (which I ended up being linked in):

http://www.mediabistro.com/bbs/cache/t33323_1.asp

Cheers,
The Editorialiste.

Anonymous said...

the funny thing about all this -- actually, tragic and sad -- is that the so-called high-minded media, which lectures everybody else on fairness and ethics and values, has NO sense of fairness when it comes to a few buck$. and, thanks to the mba bean counters, it's getting progressively worse every single day.

can the msm be any more phony and hypocritical? i don't think so.

Anonymous said...

It's Gannett, and Montgomery.

Satan's News Agency and a backwater city in Alabama.

What else might you expect.

Anonymous said...

friend of mine lives in montgomery. knows stuff about the advertiser. this is his observation about the intern report:

"Backs up all the stories I've been hearing about the place (the montgomery advertiser). I understand that morale is so low among employees that it is below hell."

do you suppose the bean-counting execs at gannett care? doubtless no.

Anonymous said...

I used to work at the Advertiser. A couple of years ago, things got so tight that the higher-ups decreed no more snacks and such for newsroom gatherings. They've been told to cut dozens of thousands of bucks in spending since then ... Absolutely, wretched pathetic.

As for Lloyd, whom I don't know, it's extremely ironic that this blew up on her watch. Her former job was director of the Diversity Institute in (I believe) Nashville, and normally she'd rather bring in an intern (or three) of color than breathe.

The Editorialiste said...

@anonymous (9:22am): Thanks for commenting -- the input is valuable.

When you were at the Advertiser, were cuts made in curious places, or across the map? And did you have interns then?

I wonder what Lloyd really thought about all this, off the record. And of all things, I wonder why Gannett hasn't just issued an apology, at least.

Hmm.

Thank you and keep on reading,

The Editorialiste.

Anonymous said...

The various newsroom departments did have interns, though at least in our (the metro desk's) case they came from the local college, Alabama State U. (Again, almost all were black; ASU is itself a historically black school.) I couldn't swear to it, but I think bringing in interns from elsewhere is a fairly recent development, and might have been initiated by Wanda Lloyd herself.

Again, I don't know Lloyd, but I'd bet my bottom dollar that she was really blindsided by this. My understanding is that she'd already left on vacation when the budget-cutting directive came down.

As far as I know, budget-cutting is an across-the-board deal at the paper -- not only in the newsrooms but throughout the entire operation. I understand that other, non-newsroom departments are likely have to make far deeper cuts than the newsroom is.

Like most Gannett papers (I'm told -- the Advertiser, thank God, is the only one I ever worked for, and the only way I'd ever go back is if it were made a condition of parole or something), newsroom staffing is already paper-thin -- something like 10 reporters to cover a state capital of 200,000.

Anonymous said...

Somebody please look further into the practices at this newspaper. This paper is a prime example of why corporate-driven newspapering is dying on the vine.

I cannot tell you the number of quality journalists (my friends) who have left not only the industry and their trades after working in Montgomery, but who left without even having another job. That's true desperation.

The intern debacle just happens to be the thing that brought outside attention. I promise you there have been legions of abuses going back years that would make your hair stand up.

Anonymous said...

great blog item. As an employee of Gannett on a few occasions, I can say that Gannett often uses a machiavellian and a spirit killing approach in the recruitment, hiring and management of reporters and editors. People know that. Gannett hates to be reminded of it. I hope some of these spurned interns become celebrated correspondents and Pulitzer winners at the New York Times or another paper and they can dedicate their awards to the little Gannett paper that didn't give them the opportunity to get sucked into a soulless employer. or perhaps one of them will become a billionaire with a management and journalistic sense who organizes a buy-out of Gannett and injects some stronger values into that company's culture.

Anonymous said...

Ten reporters?
Try four (not counting sports' four).

Anonymous said...

Yeah -- I just heard that two more gave notice this week. Amazing. The senior metro reporter in the newsroom has been there something like 4 months ...

The Editorialiste said...

@anonymous (4:12): When you say gave notice, are you saying they quit because of this flap, or just because they were unhappy at the paper?

Has anyone at the paper voiced discontent with the situation?

Thanks for reading,
The Editorialiste.

Anonymous said...

From having (as noted above) worked there myself, I can only speculate that it's a case of a worsening situation (which I wouldn't have thought possible, to be honest) in a newsroom that was pretty atrociously run to begin with.

Anonymous said...

Interns are only the beginning - Gannett papers all over have been told to cut X amount of dollars. In Louisville they are getting rid of Long-term employees. People who've been with the company 20-30 years. Eliminating their jobs. Keeping the "younger" less time in the company personnal so they don't have to pay the benefits. Then making the ones left "tryout" for their job and when they succeed in landing the job they've had then they are told they will have to take a pay cut.

Traci said...

I only recently began reading this blog, but I am so outraged by this article that I felt inclined to comment. I am a current intern in NYC and I see firsthand how hard it is to get a journalism internship in today's world, let alone a PAID one. I also see that internships are no longer optional field-related jobs, but rather essential stepping stones that can make or break your chance of landing a real career someday. I'll put it bluntly: by taking away these students' internships, Gannett essentially took away the chances of these students landing jobs. That is absolutely horrendous, and I cannot believe their company stooped to such a level. How dare they. They could have at least offered them unpaid ones or SOMETHING. I am in no way implying that peoples' full-time jobs should've been jeopardized, but please. There had to be some other solution. The company had already committed to those interns and let them down in a big way. I applaud Schurz for being morally responsible for these poor interns.