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.”
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.