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.

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  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.

SEE ALSO

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