Gannett Bid Should Wake Up PR

Again, life imitates art. In this case, it could be the first step toward a business tragedy

It’s as if, just like in the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” someone called the Wall Street Journal, like the fictional “Wall Street Chronicle,” and fed the tip “Blue Horseshoe Loves Gannett.”

The Journal reports Digital First Media, the media company owned by hedge funds wants to reap more cash by stripping what were proud local newspapers. In this analogy, they are Gordon Gekko, the screen corporate raider who said, in a memorable moment of dialogue, he wrecks companies because they’re “wreckable.”

Gannett, to follow the analogy, is the legacy media company that owns USA Today and newspapers across the country, struggling to return traditional-level profits to shareholders in the midst of sweeping industry change. In this analogy, they’re Blue Star Airlines, a Gekko wrecking ball target.

Gannett employees are already on edge. A combination of buyouts and layoffs are coming any day now. Layer on top of that the anxiety of being bought by Digital First and you should understand the extreme anxiety that will sweep over newsrooms and back offices alike.

If this deal happens, the radio deals of the ’90s that left Clear Channel as the consolidator of the business that made hundreds of local radio stations little more than computerized music boxes loaded with commercials could look downright altruistic.

In Michigan, for example, if this deal happens, one company would own the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News (and the Joint Operating Agreement that keeps both open), the suburban dailies known as the Oakland Press, Macomb Daily and the Daily Tribune and the legacy suburban weeklies the Observer and Eccentric newspapers. Also, one company would own dailies within 100 miles of Detroit, the Lansing State Journal, the Port Huron Times-Herald and the Livingston County Daily Press. What are the chances all would operate separately at the current thin staffing levels? Would they all become one skeleton crew operation? That has to be the fear today.

What are the chances these properties, however combined, would invest in investigative reporting? Include robust business coverage? Take the time to allow feature writers to explore topics outside of spot news? Include perspective based on informed, reported opinion?

Recently, on a conference call, I heard PR people talk about “an editorial board tour” and “a developed media list” as part of a press release about a new niche business-to-business product entering the market. I probably rolled my eyes. They don’t get what’s happening outside of their East Coast high rise. It’s time to get it.

There’s another “Wall Street” line applicable for the PR business in the wake of this news. Learn how the changes in the media business affect who they will employ and what they will do.

“This is your wake up call…Go to work.”