December 6, 2019

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The axe is starting to fall at Gannett

Ugh. We knew this was coming. The post Gannett-GateHouse merger purge has begun. A heavy round of layoffs began on Thursday. Sadly, this might only be the beginning.

Previously, Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds reported roughly 4% of the new Gannett’s 24,000 employees — about 960 — would be let go between now and February. The “now” started Thursday. It’s not known exactly how many were cut, and the numbers will be hard to track because some open positions simply won’t be filled.

But Thursday’s layoffs were from all over, including Fort Myers, Florida; Knoxville, Tennessee; upstate New York (Rochester and Poughkeepsie); and Detroit, where the Free Press staff was trimmed by at least four by those requesting a layoff package. Other papers, as well as USA Today and the USA Today sports media group, were impacted as well. The cuts included non-newsroom jobs.

There was one report that Gannett was asking those laid off to sign non-disclosure agreements to get severance, as well as telling its journalists to stop tweeting about the layoffs.

And how ironic: Thursday was #LoveMyNewspaper Day.

Unfortunately, expect more of these items in the newsletter in the coming weeks.

A real ‘she said, he said’

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announces Thursday that the House is moving forward to draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

On Thursday, I shared my thoughts on the media’s impeachment coverage — especially TV. Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan weighed in with her opinion, which seems to suggest the media should be a little more proactive in its coverage and avoid the down-the-middle narrative. Sullivan wrote:

“With that in mind, I would also very much like to see one other major change: a moratorium on the reflexive use of the word ‘partisan.’ Mainstream journalists love that word, because it lets them off the hook: ‘We aren’t taking sides, not us! The country is divided, and we can’t help it.’ Just uttering the word ‘partisan’ is media Prozac: It soothes journalists’ angst about not being perceived as inoffensively neutral.”

Sullivan also said that there are some out there who are still undecided about whether or not Trump should be impeached. To which Sullivan writes, “Maybe, just maybe, it’s the job of American journalism in this moment to get serious about trying to reach these citizens.”

In response, Fox News’ Brit Hume tweeted:

“Because, you see, journalists are not simply to report the news without fear or favor. Their mission instead is to convince the public that the president should be impeached and removed. Good lord.”

Two must-read pieces for your weekend

Alex Jones. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Carve out some time this weekend for reading. This Sunday’s New York Times Magazine has two can’t-stop-reading pieces that deserve your attention. They are already up online.

The first is from one of the best magazine writers in the country — Pamela Colloff, the senior reporter for ProPublica and staff writer for The New York Times Magazine. Her latest piece shows why. It’s about a lifelong con man whose testimony from alleged jailhouse confessions has led to 34 convictions, including four who have been sent to death row. One of those cases may lead to an innocent man’s execution. In addition, the con man’s cooperation might have helped him avoid trouble for sexually assaulting a minor. (He later allegedly assaulted another.)

The reporting is meticulous and the writing is superb as Colloff digs through a case that is more than 30 years old, but remains controversial and active.

The second piece is a first-person feature written by Josh Owens called, “I Worked for Alex Jones. I Regret It.”

Many already believed the InfoWars owner was off the rails, but the allegations in this story are even more stunning than we’ve heard before — drinking while speeding through traffic, getting into punching contests with employees, wild fits of rage, shooting animals. And, especially, details about Jones’ outrageous conspiracy theories.

You have to read it to believe it.

Listen to this news

Dana Canedy, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, announces the 2019 winners in April. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

This sounds exciting — the operative word being “sounds.” The Pulitzer Prize Board is adding a new category for the 2020 prize cycle: Audio Reporting.

The prize will be awarded for “a distinguished example of audio journalism that serves the public interest, characterized by revelatory reporting and illuminating storytelling.”

Submissions can come from producers of radio programs and podcasts, as well as U.S. newspapers, magazines, wire services and online news sites that publish regularly. Non-U.S. outlets are ineligible.

This is a great idea, and long overdue. Audio storytelling and reporting — especially in the ever-expanding podcast world — is among the best journalism out there. It’s exciting to see the Pulitzer Board recognize that and it will be fascinating to see the submissions, finalists and ultimate winners in the coming years.

Not quite sure what to make of this one …

Stephen A. Smith. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

ESPN Radio is replacing Stephen A. Smith’s radio show with … Stephen A. Smith. Well, sort of.

As a part of Smith’s new deal at ESPN — which reports say will pay him somewhere between $8 million to $10 million a year — he is giving up his 1-3 p.m. radio show that is simulcast on ESPNews. It will be replaced with something called “First Take, Your Take with Jason Fitz,” and will feature the best moments from Smith’s “First Take” morning TV show with Max Kellerman. Fitz then will expand on those debates and other topics with additional opinions and conversation.

Here’s the thing: “First Take,” while not everyone’s cup of tea, can be really good and create viral moments. But is building a second show around a show that’s already aired the best use of air time? Isn’t showing viral moments what the website is for? And will the new show force content from “First Take” that really isn’t worth repeating?

In a smart breakdown for, Bobby Burack wrote, “Just the idea of this is head-scratching. Radio thrives on up-to-the-minute, live content. Creating a show around segments that aired earlier is the exact opposite of that. It’s not even clear who the target audience is here.”

Well, this is Rich

(Photo courtesy of Fox News)

Fox Nation is getting Rich — country music star John Rich, that is. The on demand, direct-to-consumer streaming service, which just celebrated its first anniversary, will debut the new show called “The Pursuit! With John Rich” in February. (Not sure why there’s an exclamation point in the middle of that, but oh well.) The show will be filmed in Nashville and feature star guests and friends of Rich as they talk about achieving the American dream.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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