Democrat and Chronicle 2018: Endings, with no Signs of Beginnings

Frank Gannett's gravesite, Mt. Hope Cemetery, Rochester, NY, 12/31/18. [Photo: David Kramer]

Frank Gannett’s gravesite, Mt. Hope Cemetery, Rochester, NY, 12/31/18. [Photo: David Kramer]

Michael J. Nighan

Since the end of the old year and the beginning of the new is traditionally a time for taking stock and evaluating progress (or decline) over the past 12 months, a quick look at the current state of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle seems in order.

While the replacement of hard news with Gannett click bait fluff and filler (the journalistic equivalent of Hamburger Helper) has continued apace¹, the most significant and telling change this year have been in the area of personnel.

Last February, after only 18 months in the job, Daniel Norselli suddenly   resigned from his position as president at the D&C,“to pursue other opportunities”, well-known corporate-speak for someone who has been shown the door.   He ended up in the telemedicine business in St. Louis. (Which seems appropriate after working for a “news” organization suffering from any number of professional illnesses.) Gannett never bothered to replace him.

Image provided by the Office of Mt. Hope Cemetery

Image provided by the Office of Mt. Hope Cemetery [Scanned courtesy of the Brighton Memorial Library]

That left Editor and Vice President Karen Magnuson in charge. But just 10 months after Norselli’s departure, it was announced that Magnuson, a 19 year veteran of Gannett, had, “voluntarily accepted an early retirement package from Gannett Co. Inc.”.  That phrase provides two possible interpretations.   One is that it was “suggested” that she retire. The other is that she simply became too fed up with Gannett to soldier on. In either case, it was reported that Magnuson will, “serve as an executive in residence at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business as she weighs options for ‘rewiring” her career.’”

So now Scott Norris, the D&C’s “Consumer Experience Director” (whatever the hell that title means) is in temporary control of the paper until Gannett execs get around to anointing the paper’s next head scapegoat.

But the hits just keep on coming. Soon after the announcement of Magnuson’s retirement came the news that three more D&C staffers were leaving:

  • Reporter Patti Singer (33 years at the D&C)
  • News Director Dick Moss (31 years)
  • Photographer/Videographer Carlos Ortiz (19 years)

Gannett press releases stated that these three, “are among Gannett Co. Inc. employees across the country who voluntarily accepted an early retirement package.” Clearly this is a nationwide Night of the Long Knives, intended to cut payrolls by throwing veteran print journalists under the bus to make way for younger (and more importantly, lower salaried) staff additions to Gannett’s zoomy digital version of journalism.

Mt. Hope Cemetery. [Photo: David Kramer, 12/13/18]

Mt. Hope Cemetery. [Photo: David Kramer, 12/31/18]

But while heads were rolling at the D&C and at their sister newspaper across the country, the Head Head also got the chop with the December announcement that Gannett President and CEO Robert J. Dickey had elected to “retire” from the company in 2019.   His exit was positioned thusly: “Dickey said the decision was made in consultation with the board and was driven partly by the desire to spend more time with family.” Translation: “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”

Ever shrinking D & C waiting to be read, nestled besides its far more robust companion, The New York Times, early morning New Year's Eve, 2018 [Photo: David Kramer]

Ever shrinking D & C waiting to be read, nestled inside its far more robust companion, The New York Times, early morning New Year’s Eve, 2018 [Photo: David Kramer]

One does not need to be Nostradamus to predict that the days of the Democrat & Chronicle, at least as a print edition, are numbered. And whether the wounds have been self-inflicted or were delivered by a Gannett corporate shiv in the ribs, it seems clear that within a small handful of years the current paper – in which several more-or-less local sections are bundled together with a USAToday supplement – will be replaced by a regional edition of USAToday where the sad and sorry remains of the D&C will become a mere local news supplement. Whether a digital version of the paper will continue to float through the ether, moaning, like Jacob Marley’s ghost, over the years of poor decisions, is anybody’s guess.


  1. Representative examples of such filler and fluff from this past week’s D&C Facebook page are articles detailing how John Bobbitt recalls the night his wife made a cutting…..remark, a review of Melania Trump’s wardrobe, and a critique of the new uniforms sported by the Indianapolis Colts’ cheerleaders.


For you, Talker buys the D & C digital archives. And Noam Chomsky

Is Public Input to the D&C a Dead Letter? by Michael Nighan

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  1. George

    In case younger readers are curious what the Night of Long Knives refers to, it was Adolph Hitler’s purge of Nazi leaders on June 30, 1934. Troubling to see such a term used to describe the letting go of journalists nearing the end of their run at a dying newspaper.

  2. Michael J Nighan

    Sometimes the antidote to being troubled is to become informed. In the decades since 1934, the phrase “Night of the Long Knives” has become genericized by being used to describe the elimination of any individual or group by opponent/opponents within the same organization or frame of reference. Over my career, I’ve heard the term used, and used it myself, on occasions when several workers were simultaneously laid off or let go under a common rubric. As used it here, it obviously refers to the elimination by faceless senior management of older, higher salaried employees within the Gannett media companies.

    One of the first uses of the term that I became aware of years ago, outside of its early Third Reich context, was in the 1960 dystopian novella of personal and group survival, “The Night of the Long Knives” by Fritz Leiber in which the author describes a post-apocalyptic America where survivors view all other survivors as a threat to be eliminated.

    More modern usages include the a 2012 article in Public Management Review, “It Was the Night of the Long Knives”, dealing with the impact of organizational changes on public employees; and a 2014 publication, “A Movement of Long Knives: Death in June, Alternative Nationalism, and Building a New Antifa”, about the insidious ways in which the messages of fascism can be transmitted via current cultural movements.

  3. George

    Typical move. Rather than admit it was an inappropriate exaggeration, you pull a rabbit out of the hat by Googling when the phrase has been used by others. In fact, you even go so far to retrieve an obscure line from a 2012 review in Public Management Review. Sometimes the antidote to arrogance is just saying you are wrong. But we are in the Trump era now. Better double down and come back swinging. I think the larger issue here is the deterioration of our language in general. The issue is not about whether others have used this expression in various contexts. It’s about whether they should. We don’t say any other historical event besides Pearl Harbor is “a date which will live in infamy.”

  4. Anonymous

    A phrase created by the nazi regime? What would possess you to continue to use it? If you know its origins and continue to use the term, then shame on you.

  5. Michael J Nighan

    Nice try George. But we both know that your argument here is the result of your sulking over my previously pointing out that you denigrated the Holocaust and other massive atrocities over the years by bombastically calling a localized and relatively minor, albeit unfortunate, border incident a “crime against humanity”. So you took what you mistakenly viewed as an overreach on my part to attempt to get a little payback, an effort which blew up in your face because you didn’t have the background to know that the “Night of the Long Knives” (Note to “Anonymous – The anti-Nazis used the phrase “Night of the Long Knives” to describe the events of 1934. It is not a phrase created by the Nazis) has been used in other contexts than the Rohm Purge long before I used it yesterday. If you (and “Anonymous”) had spent a few minutes researching matters before trying to be cute, you’d have found the following…”The phrase “Night of the Long Knives” in the German language predates the massacre itself, and it also refers generally to acts of vengeance. Its origin might be the “Night of the Long Knives,” a massacre of Vortigern’s men by Angle, Jute, and Saxon mercenaries in Arthurian myth.” – New World Encyclopedia. Thus endth the lesson.

  6. George

    God you are a piece of work. Do you really think what is happening with the D&C is an act of vengeance? Do you really think it is an apt comparison to a “massacre of Vortigern’s men by Angle, Jute, and Saxon mercenaries in Arthurian myth.” Who is the one being bombastic?

    I also like how you do all of this research after you are called out. Instead of just admitting a mistake, you personalize this by referencing a previous debate. I’m not being cute, Michael. But I do find your desperate attempt to be in the right mildly endearing. At least I know you care what others may think about your so called lesson.