For three straight days during the week leading up to Christmas, the top news story in the Reno-Gazette Journal’s daily email wasn’t about local issues. It wasn’t about the pandemic, or homelessness, or holiday travel problems.
No. Instead, it was an ineptly managed multibillion-dollar corporation begging for money.
“Please donate to keep Mark Robison reporting for the RGJ,” read the subject and headline of the RGJ’s Daily Briefing email on Dec. 21, 22 and 23. Once you opened the email, this summary was below the headline and a picture of a smiling Robison with a dog, also smiling: “Mark Robison joined the RGJ a year ago to expand our coverage of local issues. His wages are paid 100% by a grant and donors. Please help if you can.”
I need to make one thing clear: I have no issues with Robison—who’s a great reporter—or his local managers making this ask. The reporters and editors at the RGJ work hard, do good stuff, and are truly doing the best they can to keep the community served with local news.
I do have an issue with Gannett, the RGJ’s parent company. If you’re unfamiliar: Gannett Corp. is the RGJ’s longtime owner. Under Gannett’s “stewardship,” the newspaper’s staff and resources have been constantly slashed—but in recent years, things have gotten even worse.
In August, the company laid off 400 people, said it would not fill hundreds of positions and offered employees buyouts. In October, CEO Mike Reed announced employees would need to take five mandated days of unpaid leave in December, suspended 401(k) matches and offered severance for “voluntary resignations.”
On Dec. 1, the company announced it was laying off another 6 percent of its U.S. media division. Happy holidays!
One of the reasons Gannett is in such a rough position is it took on more than $1 billion in debt during a 2019 merger with Gatehouse. As a result, Gannett is selling off everything that isn’t nailed down. According to an October story by the Poynter Institute, “Gannett reported it had paid down $55 million of that debt since June 30. It also will be selling $65 million to $75 million in real estate and other assets.”
That same Poynter story says: “Gannett has cut its staff considerably since the 2019 merger. At the time, the two companies had roughly 25,000 employees. By the end of 2021, that number had shrunk to 13,800 in the U.S. and 2,500 abroad.”
While Gannett’s poor employees are being laid off, or forced to take unpaid leave if they still have jobs, Gannett’s executives are paying themselves rather handsomely. Reed, the CEO, took home $7.74 million in 2021, including a $900,000 salary, a $767,052 bonus, and a little more than $6 million in stock. CFO Doug Horne received more than $1.7 million in salary, bonuses and stock.
So, to summarize: The RGJ’s parent company is a huge corporation—it still took in $749 million in revenues during the second quarter (and reported a loss of $54 million)—that took on a crazy amount of debt in a 2019 merger, has since cut nearly half of its employees, and paid its CEO $7.74 million in 2021 … and it wants you to help pay for a reporter as it makes all sorts of cuts around him.
I’ll put it another way: Gannett wants you to invest in the RGJ, even though the company is unwilling to do so itself.
I repeat: Ugh.
Rather than sending Gannett a few bucks, may I suggest an alternative? Instead, you could support local, independent and/or nonprofit media—local news sources that will take that money and invest it in its news product. Consider supporting Double Scoop, or the Sierra Nevada Ally, or This Is Reno, or the Nevada Independent, or, of course, the Reno News & Review.
Given the trajectory of Gannett, and its greedy corporate management, it’s hard to see a future for the RGJ—unless Gannett sells it off to benevolent new owners who happen to have deep pockets.
However, the aforementioned local news sources do have a future—as long as you show them your support.
Great column, Mr. Boegle! I was the regional director of PR for a northern Nevada casino company for a few decades and worked with Mr. Robison for his features and other articles on many occasions. He’s a good guy and an excellent writer. I saw the RGJ’s “appeal” a week or so ago and could not believe what I was reading. It was pathetic in the extreme, to say the least. The RGJ has been going downhill for years and now that deterioration is speeding up. E.g.: My son signed-up for an online subscription, paid for it, and they totally screwed it up and it never worked. When he tried to cancel, he spoke to someone whose English was so bad (obviously from an offshore fulfillment company) that it took a half dozen more tries to get out of the subscription. Although I still go online for my daily news fix (NYT, Wapo, SFChron, LATimes, SFGate, SacBee, and, of course, RN&R), as an old bastard, I still enjoy holding a newspaper in my hands and flipping through the pages while enjoying a strong cup of coffee. Gannett and the RGJ have really let down the northern Nevada community and the paper’s crumbling is almost as sad and depressing as the ruination, mismanagement and ultimate closing of Harrah’s Reno. I will be donating to your fine publication in the very near future. Keep up the good work. P.S.: I was also a columnist for the late, great Gold Hill News, which was founded by Nevada writer and legend David W. Toll. His last book, “David Toll’s Nevada – A 50-Year Tour Through the Most Interesting State in America,” is a delight and a must-read for all Nevada lovers.
Excellent synopsis. Gannett turned its back on this community decades ago as it proceeded with its death by a thousand cuts. It now wants the Reno community to pay the price for it. Literally. Thank you, Jimmy, for pointing this out.
I’ve been an RGJ subscriber for about 50 years. In the past three weeks, I’ve received two print copies. One of the joys of my life was reading the paper. Yes, I’ve tried to access the digital version, but the website simply says that my email address is already there, and I will be sent a temporary password. In six tries, that hasn’t happened. I’ve called the number listed for “customer service” and received no response. It’s all automated. There’s no one home. So, what’s the point?
Right on, Jimmy.
How sad. I have lived in Reno since 1967 arriving as a newly discharged airman enrolling at the University. While stationed in D.C. at the Pentagon, I subscribed to the RGJ to become familiar with my newly adopted state. I was helped by former Sparks resident & green beret, Army Colonel Alex Lemberes who was also a colleague at the Pentagon. He was the first person to advise me how to pronounce our state name properly😉
While a student on the GI Bill I worked as a bank teller at the former First Interstate Bank on Second & Va, then as a payroll clerk for Bill Harrah & finally on campus in the financial office. All those years and since, the RGJ was my comfortable source of local news. Once the delivery system deteriorated & prices skyrocketed I gave up enjoying my daily crossword puzzle.
Well put. I was one of the RGJ’s weekly columnists for 20 years. And was part of the million cuts, let go with an e-mail saying ‘this is your last column’ , no expiation. When I asked to write a final one just to say good bye to readers and let them know where else to find me… I was told it wasn’t personal, they cut all the columnists. I was living in Ireland and just accepted it. But to me the columnists are the heart of the community and opinions are an important part of every newspaper. My hat’s off to Frank and staff for building the RNR as he has! Erin Meehan Breen
I joined the committee advertised by RGJ people, to find ways to fund reporting of local news because Gannett would not. At one point in the conversation, after I made several attempts to get a straight answer, I was told that the campaign was really to raise money to pay Mark, no more than that, not really an attempt to hire a team to do regional news reporting, the other members of the committee seeming to be in the know that this was the real objective when, it seems, they met before the first official meeting to do the fund raising. I suggested ways to reach out to the public by broadening the goal, to not just keep Mark but to support news gathering and reporting on local affairs. That was not what the rest of the committee, wanted. They wanted to get large donation from those like themselves (I was told) who were the powerful people in Reno who, I came to believe, wanted Mark at the paper to tell local stories as they wanted them to be told.
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