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Press Publisher says they are a “highly successful marketing services producer” during Econ Club luncheon

November 15, 2010

The Economic Club of Grand Rapids held one of their monthly luncheon gatherings in downtown Grand Rapids today. Their guest speaker was the publisher of the Grand Rapids Press, Dan Gaydou.

Gaydou’s talk was entitled, Adapting to the Changing Media Landscape, which some might have interpreted how the only daily newspaper in Grand Rapids has made adjustments in how in reports the news, but the head of the Press made it clear early on that news had little to do with what he wanted to impress upon the audience.

Gaydou began with a powerpoint slide with the headline Dealing with disruption in the marketplace, which right away set the tone for what he wanted to address. He then showed everyone a list of the media entities that the Press is part of, namely the Booth News chain. However, Gaydou failed to mention that Booth News is really part of the media conglomerate Advance Publications.

The lingering economic crisis,” Gaydou said, “means that when people don’t buy goods, advertisers don’t by ad space, which negatively impacts revenue for the Press.” This business reality makes it clear why the Press also does so called news stories that essentially promote area businesses and a consumerist culture. The most recent evidence was the front page article on the front page of Saturday’s Press where the Press reporter told readers about local retailers who aren’t waiting til Black Friday to offer holiday sales. (Shoppers Feast Early)

Gaydou then said that the Press has been changed because of the digital revolution, which he thinks has been good for consumers. The Press’ Publisher spent time then hyping new technology, which he thinks with radically change our lives. Gaydou held up an iPad he says has revolutionized the way he accesses media. This notion of media technology is something that Gaydou felt the Press needed to “take hold of and make it theirs.

The Press Publisher then told the audience, “Incremental change is over, we need to make drastic change or become irrelevant.” It seemed to this writer that what this meant is that newspapers have to become more than newspapers. Gaydou held up a copy of West MI Business Review, which he publishes and can be find on MLive.com. According to Gaydou this publication demonstrates their ability to be innovative.

Gaydou also talked about what he called “Adjustment Strategies,” where because of less revenue from traditional advertising they have needed to rethink how they operate. The Press’ Publisher says they have been quite successful and referred to a recent Editor and Publisher Magazine article which stated that of all the media markets in the US the Grand Rapids Press ranks seventh is sustainability and readership because they have made their online presence more than just a digital archive of what appears in print.

Gaydou also claimed that the Press has “Core Competencies.” One of those core competencies is that “the Press acts as an independent & credible source for local content.” Gaydou even referred to the Press as a Community Watchdog, but did not cite any examples of how they fulfill this function.

More importantly for those in attendance, Gaydou stressed the economic role his newspaper plays by saying, “We are a highly successful marketing services producer. Our marketing strength has never been better. Your business is a success because of the partnerships you have with us. We offer targeted direct marketing opportunities, search engine marketing, display ads, shopping data bases, text and video to help your businesses grow.” This was certainly the core of his talk and it went over well with the audience who was made up of the management class.

However, Gaydou did believe journalism should rise above that so as to look out for the interest of the community. “We care about the poor, the down and out, the person who is powerless to ask important questions.” Again, the Press’ Publisher offered up no evidence that they care about the poor and the powerless.

Gaydou concluded his talk by re-affirming the business and marketing aspect of what they do. “We are aiming at tomorrow, while mining today’s revenue. We are mastering the underlying analytics, strategizing around transition economics and doing more than repurposing, we are adding more content.” If you asked people what this had to do with journalism, what do you suppose they might say?

The Econ Club moderator only allowed time for one question from the audience. Someone asked Gaydou what the future was for investigative reporting?  Gaydou said it is a core of what they do and cited the Hangar 42 Studios scandals that the Press reported on. Unlike other Econ Club events I have attended, no other media was present to do a story on Gaydou’s talk, which should tell us something about the supposed competition that exists between news entities in West Michigan.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate Wheeler permalink
    November 16, 2010 4:24 am

    Well, this explains a lot. And they even planted their “one question from the audience” source! Incredible.

    Did Gaydou give any details about what he meant when he talked about “targeted direct marketing opportunities”? I’m wondering if the Press gets paid to do those “this is an advertisement posing as a feature story” pieces that they run, or if he was referring to some type of mailing-list business gleaned from subscriber lists?

  2. Nancy Lautenbach permalink
    November 16, 2010 9:02 am

    Gaydou also talked about what he called “Adjustment Strategies,” where because of less revenue from traditional advertising they have needed to rethink how they operate.

    I’d like to address these “adjustment strategies”, which were actually the ongoing layoffs (and buyouts) of many, many employees – some employed by the Grand Rapids Press for 25 years or more. As a former Grand Rapids Press employee, I have seen the impact these strategies have had on individual lives, and not just in the local arena. Booth Newspapers (Advance) has significantly cut staff, merging the responsibilities of others, and in some cases completely eliminated news services, as in the case of the Ann Arbor News. In terms of caring for the down and out, the poor, the powerless to ask questions… please. Don’t get me started. A better example of journalism might be in the fairly new concept the Rapidian is displaying as a hyper local news source. For better or worse, at least this is being looked at as a model for the role of community journalism on a national level.

  3. Chris Knape permalink
    November 16, 2010 2:35 pm

    Jeff,
    I was not the person who asked the question, nor did I suggest it or plant it with the gentleman who asked that question. The man who asked that question was sitting at my table, but I did not know him, nor did we discuss his plans to ask the question.

    Since we’re talking about the quality of of journalism in the community, I figured I’d set the record straight.

    As for only allowing one question, Doug DeVos, actually scouted the crowd for people with questions before asking his own question. No one else had a hand raised that he or I saw.

    Chris Knape

    • November 16, 2010 8:44 pm

      Chris, thanks for setting me straight on who asked the question. I removed that from the posting. As for no other hands going up there were a few other hands near the back where I was sitting, but that is not really an important point. What was important to me was the content of Gaydou’s speech and what that says about journalism and the Press.

  4. Kate Wheeler permalink
    November 16, 2010 3:50 pm

    Nancy, the Grand Rapids Press also has a lengthy history of seriously underpaying stringers or columnists. There have been some people who have essentially worked full- or parttime jobs for the Press for years and been paid pennies on the dollar compared to what the staff writers were paid…while doing what amounted to the same work. I’ve been amazed that the Press hasn’t ended up in lawsuits over that practice.

    I was asked at one point some time ago to substitute for someone who wrote bi-weekly for the Press and who became ill. For several months, I was sent on assignments all over West Michigan that required me to attend events, interview people, and write two pieces a week. I was paid the same set fee for my work regardless of location or complexity of the piece (on average it worked out to less than $3 an hour), and was never reimbursed for mileage, even though I submitted mileage reports. In addition, I was asked do things like take a trip to Chicago on my own dime to cover an event (I refused) and to update a weekly calendar “as a part of my duties” without pay (I refused). Finally, I just walked out.

    Although I enjoyed the work I was doing, and it was on a topic that I was fascinated by, I was also working for a living, and couldn’t afford to do what amounted to charity work for the Grand Rapids Press. One time when I broached the subject with the editor I was working with, he said part of my pay was in the “prestige” of writing for the Press.

    As if writing for a paper that is a laughingstock in the rest of the state had any cachet to it! And even some of my friends never noticed I was doing the writing until I pointed it out, because few people take note of bylines.

    For years, staff writers were aware of this ongoing inequity and did nothing to voice their concerns that I’m aware of, or to stand in solidarity with their fellow writers for fairer pay. Instead, many of them actually took advantage of the situaation. Maybe now they’re finding out how it felt to be treated like that.

    • Nancy Lautenbach permalink
      November 18, 2010 5:48 am

      Kate – Thanks for offering your story. It is sad to hear. I eventually left the Press because I worked there for 8 years (working my way up from $4.25/ hour to $8.00/hour working part time.) Granted this was the 90′s by the time I left, but I knew I would never be hired full-time, because then they would have to pay benefits as well. I was pretty much at the top of my pay scale and it was a job that got me through college. But, this is a story I have heard all too often. My friends, who have stayed (and eventually lost their jobs), were forced to work irrational split shifts with no consideration for the care of family. They gave years of their lives in loyalty to the Press with very little gratitude. I was lucky to get out when I did. The newspaper business is really brutal to its employees and I saw this as well when I worked a brief stint years later at the Ann Arbor News before it closed. It will be interesting to see the fate of the GRP and how it “rethinks its operations”. I feel for those who are still hanging in there and pray they don’t go down with the ship.

      • Kate Wheeler permalink
        November 18, 2010 5:08 pm

        Nancy, my brief subbing stint at the Press convinced me that it would be a place I’d never, ever want to work. I do wonder what might have happened if the full-time staff had organized and stood up to management on behalf of all the writers. My impression was that that core group of employees felt fairly smug and entitled in their positions, but if management is capable of treating part-time workers and stringers so badly, it’s obviously capable of treating others that way, too.

        I don’t envy the staff that’s left over there. And I wonder why people who wrote columns for the Press as full-time, benefit-paid workers have agreed to write those columns after being laid off or accepting a buy-out. It allows the management to have it both ways–no longer pay the salaries and benefits, but get the same writing as before. It only empowers them more.

  5. November 16, 2010 7:03 pm

    This is interesting… Is GRIID going to do anything to adjust to the changing media landscape that the Press editor spoke of? It seems this website is run on an outdated model and lacks the more engaging features that the corporate media is exploring (i.e. social media, community, involvement, etc).

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