When I heard all of the snide remarks that were being made about the memo at a GateHouse Media newspaper that the freebie gravy train was being stopped, I had to find out just what was going on.
The memo, from Editor Chazy Dowaliby at the Patriot Ledger and Brockton Enterprise indicated that the GateHouse property was in dire financial shape.
It included the following:
We will no longer be able to supply coffee service in our newsrooms. We will use up whatever supplies are currently on hand. I suggest you bring in a mug or your own disposable cups. We do have a drip coffee machine available, if you wish to collect for, buy supplies and brew by the pot.
And this shocker:
We will not be replacing general office supplies in the short term. Please conserve use of paper for copy machines.
Rumors rapidly circulated that toilet paper was being rationed and that reporters were having to pay rent on their desks.
Could things be this bad at GateHouse Media? I decided to ask my old friend, GateHouse CEO Michael Reed. As his longtime butler Charles guided me into his winter home, I found a worried newspaper executive awaiting me.
I wasted no time. “What’s wrong with GateHouse Media?” I asked.
“It’s the economy,” he said. “It’s just not a good time for a newspaper company to be billions of dollars in debt.”
“What can you say to all of those people who have lost their jobs at GateHouse?”
“I feel for them,” he said, sipping his wine. “Times are tough for all of us. We have had to make sacrifices.”
“But coffee and office supplies?”
He slammed his fist on the table. “We all make sacrifices. I am no longer having the yacht waxed every week. It’s every other week and if things get worse, it may only get waxed once a month.”
“I didn’t realize things were that bad.”
“They’re worse than that. Have you ever tried to play polo on a rented horse?”
“Can GateHouse Media be saved?”
“it’s going to be tough,” Reed said thoughtfully, “but we think we can do it by consolidating our information gathering processes, the way we collect the stuff we put in our newspapers, what do they call that, the word keeps slipping my mind?”
“News?” I said.
“How would you consolidate the news? Your newspapers are already cut to the bone.”
“We have an idea,” Reed said. “Write it yourself newspapers. The people send it in and we have it printed automatically from our national copy editing and design hubs”
“But what about the reporters?”
“They can certainly feel free to write their own news, too,” he said, “but they can’t do it on company time and if they do it on company computers, they are going to have to feed the meter.”
“Feed the meter?”
“It’s another money-making idea I came up with.”
I was stunned. Reed handed me a tray. “Caviar?”
“No, thank you,” I said. “I’m trying to cut down.” I knew it was time to broach a most sensitive subject. “Your critics are complaining about the $800,000 bonus you received, while you have cut so many jobs and made so many other cost-cutting measures. How can you justify that kind of bonus?”
A tear crawled down Michael Reed’s face. “I am hurt you would even bring that up, Randy. Our board of directors begged me to take two million dollars, but I wouldn’t hear of it. If my employees have to scrimp to make ends meet, I will try to set the proper example.”
“I’m sorry I asked.”
“Would you like to write your story while you are here?”
“Sure,” I said. “That would save me a lot of time.”
“Here’s the computer,” he said, “and if you need any quarters, there’s a change machine in the hallway.”