Jeff Glick and Javier Torres, the two leaders of Gannett's Design Studio, which produces The Tennessean and other Gannett properties throughout the Southeast, were laid off Wednesday in a move designed to cut costs from the group.
Does this matter much in Nashville? Maybe not right now, unless your last name is Glick or Torres. But in talking to a number of current and former Gannett employees — none of whom wanted to speak on the record due to the insular nature of the journalism industry — sources said Glick's dismissal, in particular, is a bad sign for journalism within the chain.
Glick, who confirmed their departures but would not talk with Pith, came to Nashville as assistant managing editor of The Tennessean in 2005, after a decorated career at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. In 2009, when Gannett began the process of building design studios — centralized hubs that were responsible for print design, graphics, editing and production of multiple newspapers within the chain — Glick was one of a group of visual managers within the company tapped for expertise in design and graphics. They would go on to build out hubs in Nashville, New Jersey, Louisville, Des Moines and Phoenix.
In Nashville, these staffers were put in another area of the building at 1100 Broadway that had been ceded by the ever-shrinking newsroom. Even though studio chief Glick reported to The Tennessean's editor, the paper here was to be just another of his group's clients.
Why would you remove designers, copy editors and wire editors from local papers and put them in a single place? Money. How much money is unclear, but multiple sources placed the projected savings at between 10 and 20 percent of Gannett's total news operations budget.
From the beginning, these studios have been understaffed, at odds with the papers they were supposed to be producing, and facing shortages of things as simple as pens and paper. The churn rate at some studios has been high because relatively low salaries and heavy overtime have burned out employees. To that end, recent college graduates have been the target, in many cases replacing higher-salaried, more experienced staff at the paper they work on. In one instance, staffers in the studio were described as working weeks without a day off.
"This is no joke. We did not have our own office supply budget. Not for pencils. Notepads. Staplers. All of the things that go into any newsroom. We didn't have access to 11 x 17 proofer paper," one former staffer told Pith. "Paper was so scarce that I would steal it from The Tennessean at 2 a.m. and hide it in my desk."
Glick and others were given a near impossible task: Produce the papers without enough people or resources, without the control necessary to be efficient, and without the clear backing of corporate in squabbles with local editors. Sources told Pith that Glick was a vocal advocate to his bosses about the problems with the system. And when the studio's budget — comprised almost entirely of payroll and machines — was cut an estimated 10 percent for 2013, the higher-salaried managers were gone.
One of the biggest problems with the studios is that not every paper has anted up equally to the pot. When assembling them, Gannett told each of its papers they would have to sacrifice a certain number of journalists from each newsroom. But while Paper A might have given five positions, Paper B might have only given three, despite being relatively the same size. Why? Because virtually none of the local newsrooms produced their papers in exactly the same way. As a result, some studios don't have the right number of people to produce their papers and errors have crept in.
"There was constant churn. Some of that is to be expected because it's large and a training ground for larger newspapers. You're training them on CCI [a popular editing system at larger papers] and paying them low, so they're easy to snatch," a former staffer said. "You've got designers in this sweatshop where they're doing up to 40 pages a night."
This is a far cry from the picture Gannett senior vice president for news Kate Marymont painted two years ago. In a Q&A with the Society for News Design, an industry association of visual journalists, Marymont refused to say how many jobs the chain was looking to consolidate, but she viewed the studios as a kind of progress.
"We certainly hope that Gannett designers see the Design Centers as exciting places to work and a good career path," she said. "We want Gannett designers to have first crack at these jobs. Some, we know, won’t choose to relocate. We hope to work with SND to recruit other top talent."
But another person told Pith that from the beginning, Gannett has approached this project without a real understanding of what needed to be done.
"I think there's a way to make them work, but they got so far into this without paying attention to all the math. There's 80 some-odd papers, but you can't treat them all the same," he said. It was thought that Gannett would spend a few years investing in the studios, building up centers responsible for making the product that still reaches millions of readers every day, the printed newspaper. But cuts came just months after bringing the last paper into the studio system.
What does that mean for The Tennessean? Well, since the studio reports to the editor here, they'll likely continue to get "special attention," as one person put it. Good news for Nashville, bad news for Montgomery, Pensacola and Jackson in a system he described as "must be present to win."
And Glick and Torres, now spit out by Gannett, might look back in a few days with the perspective others have shared with Pith: They might be the lucky ones — they don't have to work there anymore.