Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Black Tuesday For Greenspun Media

UPDATE: A list of 18 people who lost their jobs and what they did is now available in the latest post. More will be added there as I learn them. -sf

I don't know all the details yet, but when I learn from sources today that some of my favorite Vegas writers -- Richard Abowitz, Jeff German, Abigail Goldman, Jeff Simpson (right) and Melissa Arsenuik -- have lost their jobs, I shudder for Las Vegas journalism.

It's not even that Greenspun Media -- owners of Las Vegas Sun, In Business Las Vegas, Las Vegas Weekly, Vegas Magazine, Vegas.Com and other entities -- fired as many as 25 employees that gets me, though. That's depressing but many of the company's publications have been money-losers and civic duties for the Greenspun family for a long, long time. It's probably been many decades since the Sun has made a dime in profit. If ever.

These are good people, really, and their investment in media over the years has never paid them a profit in any way other than helping to keep the public informed and entertained. The family money comes from many other sources -- real estate, largely, as developers of Green Valley -- and many millions have disappeared into these publications and efforts.

So if the hemorhaging became unmanageable, it's tragic and a sign of the times. Nobody, not even a billionaire, owes anybody a job when the money is vanishing at the rate I suspect it has been for some time.

But.

With all due respect to the Greenspuns, whom I work for as a columnist for the Las Vegas Weekly, whoever crafted this thing announcing the changes within their media conglomerate has done a tremendous disservice to the many people whose hundreds of years of collective service to the company just ended. Here's how it starts:

Local media divisions of The Greenspun Media Group today announced that they will reorganize and move into a single location, with the goal of fully integrating print and interactive operations.

These steps are intended to position the company to better meet the Las Vegas area's rapidly evolving informational and marketing needs and create a sustainable business model for the future, said Brian Greenspun, chairman of The Greenspun Corporation and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

“Today's move reflects our commitment to traditional media and our increasing commitment to the potential of the digital age,” Greenspun said.


So far, so good, right? They're changing with the times, consolidating, improving efficiencies, blah blah blah. Neat-o! It's not until the eighth paragraph that we get to this:

As part of the reorganization and due to the continued economic climate, Greenspun announced that a reduction of workforce was necessary. Affected employees were to be notified today.

“We truly regret the loss of jobs in our family and in our community,” said Greenspun. “We are grateful to these fine people for the contributions they have made over the years. But we must face up to both the challenges and the opportunities of the world we’re living in. We feel it’s time to unite our media into a more progressive and audience-driven model.”

Uh, wow. What were the first 50 years or so of GMG if not "audience-driven"?

But more significantly, you're laying off a large group -- unspecified for unspecific reasons, which is weird, too -- of people. Again, that's your prerogative and understandable if brutal in this environment and given the time of year, but at least do them the dignity of not depersonalizing. Don't bury this grave human cost so far into the press release that it's presented as an afterthought. Don't act as though this is all for the best, that the product you're producing will be better for it and not reduced and less substantial.

We expect this sort of spin from normal corporations and politicians. How refreshing would it have been to get something from a MEDIA company that looks like this:

Bowing to the pressures of a miserable economy that has led to record losses, Greenspun Media Group today laid off X number of journalists in a tragic but necessary act to shore up the company's books. Among those who will be leaving the company are [NAME SOME BIG NAMES, THEIR HISTORIES, ETC.] "We had hoped it wouldn't come to this and we are heartbroken that so many of our colleagues now must face the worst unemployment scene for Nevadans or for journalists in generations," said...


See? Then go ahead and do the shiny-happy about how these changes will impact the product, integrate, whatever. But what they put out today was obvious face-saving fluff -- and who do they think they're kidding? You fired dozens of people. Own that.

What's even odder yet is that while the news release doesn't give specific names or numbers, neither does the Associated Press news story that is appearing on LasVegasSun.Com! They need to use wire copy about their own fiscal drama? I mean, the fact that Jeff German, a columnist at the Las Vegas Sun for many decades, is no longer in the paper is shocking. That would be news all by itself.

I write all this knowing full well I may offend the powers that allow me the joy -- and I mean that seriously -- of my Las Vegas Weekly column. I hope not. But I have been fired before and I feel a great kinship for the folks who have lost their jobs, a kinship that Hank Greenspun certainly would have understood and appreciated. And they could have been treated better publicly.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit sick over this.

I know two of the people above and while I don't know the others, I'm sure they're also fine employees who worked hard to service their community.

Jeff Simpson has forgotten more about the gaming business than I'll ever know... The paper is SIGNIFICANTLY worse off without him.

I wish I could hire all these guys (and gals) - I'm sure they'd produce a kick-ass product.

- Hunter

Nick Christensen said...

If names aren't named in Wednesday's paper -- Ron Kantowski, Mary Manning, Jeff German, Jeff Haney, Jeff Simpson, Jerry Fink and Dave Clayton are among the names I've heard -- I will lose an immense amount of respect for the Greenspun family. I was sad enough to see my former colleague Jean Norman, a fiercely loyal Greenspun employee, cast away with nary a peep earlier this year. If the above named peoples' decades of contributions aren't recognized, I will be stunned and saddened.

Anonymous said...

as a former sun staffer from many years back, allow me to say what others still reliant on Greenspun money cannot...
for years the Anti Hank (Brian) and his sibling (Fredo?) have allowed their father's beloved paper to whither and die while pursuing the vaunted fruit of 'new media'. Reporters were expected to compete with the RJ at lower salaries and under morning deadline to boot..when they actually had a paper before they became an insert in the RJ.
My heart goes out to the ink stained folks who have been affected by this. And I would say that I will no longer read the paper as a result, but it would have to be 2005, since that is when they last published one.
Oh and one more thing.
I took an extra Sun mug without telling anyone when I left...in honor of my fallen brothers and sisters at the Sun, I will use it to drink my morning coffee while I read the NY Times from here on in..

Anonymous said...

Steve, I dont think Sam Morris was let go. His Facebook said something about "survivor's remorse" this evening.

Anonymous said...

Add Tim Pratt, Brenden Buhler and Sam Skolnick to the heap of bodies.

Anonymous said...

I forgot editor Mark Whittington, Jeff Haney and Nicole Lucht from In Business.

Anonymous said...

Rob Miech has also been let go.

Anonymous said...

and Mark Whittington, Nicole Lucht and Rick Serrano.

Jeff in OKC said...

Heartbreaking news. Although I take issue with Brian Greenspuns editorials often, and think he spent too much effort trying to get a job in the Hillary administration, I love the Greenspun product. I read it online, subscribe to their magazines and podcasts and grab paper copies of In Business and Las Vegas Weekly every visit. I spend several hours a week absorbing their product. These peoples work has given me a great amount of information and enjoyment over the past 7 years I have been a degenerate Las Vegas addict. I'm so sad for these people that I don't know, but I feel like I know.
Jeff Leatherock

detroit1051 said...

Thank you, Steve, for paying tribute to the fine staffers who were dismissed in such an uncaring manner. It's sad that Brian, a Greenspun family member, didn't have the class, or even a clue, on how to announce this sad news. And, so it continues to end, the Greenspun Media Group.

Detroit1051

Anonymous said...

Are Steve Kanigher and Ed Koch still there? Pat McDonnell?

Michael said...

It's always hard to see colleagues be let go, and I do admire you for stating your issues in the way it was done. I guess in some senses it would soften the blow to be done in the manner that you speak, but I guess I come from the side that says, crap I just lost my job, who cares how they did it anyway they do it sucks.

Good luck to all who did lose their jobs, many names on their as an outsider that I recognize and have enjoyed reading for a couple years.

Steve said...

Amen to this post, Steve. As a former Sun employee myself, and a fellow journalist, I was heartbroken to see the fate of so many of my former colleagues and current friends. I surely cannot blame the Greenspuns for the necessity to balance the books, but you're absolutely right about the way it was done. That release was truly awful. These people deserved a lot better.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the owners of the LVRJ aren't so bad after all. They have no debt and seem to keep costs down. You may not like the politics of their editorial board, but that's not a survival issue.

SG

Pj Perez said...

Nicely done, Steve. My sentiments exactly. As a former GMG employee and current Weekly freelancer, I expected more transparency and honesty from this announcement. Instead we got insensitive corporate doublespeak.

I'm really hoping the CityLife or another media outlet does a thorough investigation into the mess over at Greenspun, if only so maybe the company sees for itself what's going on. Between the shut-downs of 702.tv, CineVegas, LVL, Golfer and this newest hatchet job, something's not right with the financials over there.

Charlie Bass said...

Amazing that so many good people, who helped their success in the past, are now gone. Writers need to promote THEMSELVES going forward and not just the publication they write for. That way, they are the product, not the publication.

Just like rock-stars who perform in different venues and professional athletes who perform for different teams, they are the product in the end.

For those affected writers (and others who may be in the future), start publishing your articles in many places on the Internet. Promote YOURSELF!

VegasNewsChannel.com/write welcomes good content about Las Vegas and gets into Google in minutes. Check it out!

THE STRIP PODCAST said...

SG: My issues with the R-J brass are not political and you should know that by now if you read this blog regularly. They have to do with a certain lack of foresight and some do-do moves as it pertains to their new media product. Also, their publisher misstates circulation figures. And then there's some commentary to be had here and there when reporters there do well and badly, although nobody seems to notice that I praise more than I attack. Also, how do you know they have no debt? Just wondering.

atdnext said...

PJ-

That sounds like a good idea... But who's to do it? Both Greenspun Media and Stephens Media (The R-J's and CityLife's owner) are in deep sh*t financially, and neither company seems to want to admit that it's in trouble. At least Steve has this blog and a few other good Nevadans are on the 'net... Otherwise, we wouldn't even know what we now know about our local media empires collapsing.

We'll probably have to wait for an outsider (maybe LA Times or NY Times) to investigate before we know the real story.

Anon "SG"-

Give me a break. It's not like The R-J's really in any better financial shape. I'm wondering just how they manage to "keep costs down". Stephens Media does produce some worthwhile content, such as CityLife, but most of The R-J is just a lame joke.

Steve & all the former and still current Greenspun employees-

I'm so sorry to see this happen! The Sun & The Weekly won't be the same with all these firings, and it's a shame that Brian Greenspun and the other corporate bigwigs won't even show some respect and admit that they've done something this week that will hurt a number of good Las Vegas who have been serving the public honorably at Greenspun's media outlets.

It's just too bad we have to rely upon Greenspun and Stephens for almost all our news. This just goes to show that deregulation and media consolidation weren't the "magic elixir" that would save print media, and it will be nice one day to see the revival of truly independent media that really report the news and don't treat their reporters like this.

Anonymous said...

They fired my two favorite reporters.

Look at the cuts and tell me what they're going to cover in Las Vegas. The entire cops/courts desk is gone. Gaming is gone. Sports is gone. The quirky is gone. Investigative is gutted.

Thanks Las Vegas Sun. My favorite newspaper is now focusing on arts, politics and city/county government -- subjects that are just painfully "interesting."

Emmily said...

Nicely done, Steve. This crap deserves to be called out. My heart is with the people, not the company. To them I would say: This is not a measure of your worth or talent.

Anonymous said...

Jeff German and Jeff Simpson are two of the classiest people I ever met in journalism. The survival of Liz Bentsen, who sold the MGM Mirage line in a story on Jim Murren last week without even questioning why Murren didn't even mention his mentor Terry Lanni, while losing these two guys is ludicrous. But I guess it's all money.

Anonymous said...

I posted an earlier comment, as a former Sun staffer, and in my haste to (justifiably() attack Anti Hank (Brian) and Fredo Greenspun, I neglected to say what needed to be said of greater importance...and that is this...
to all of those now-former Sun staffers affected by this cold-blooded announcement please do sincerely accept all of our thanks for your great work over the years and helping to make this desert town a more tolerable one for those of us who value quality journalism. I know it's not much consolation, and wont pay the power bills, but it needs to be said and apparently the classless Upper Class twits running GMG were not going to do so.
So, thanks folks. And hang tough--the sun, if not the detritus of the newspaper sharing its name--will rise again.

Anonymous said...

What's sad is that they're pegging this as it's all done in the name of efficiency and "convergence."

"The staffs of the Las Vegas Sun and its Web site, LasVegasSun.com, will merge and move into the same office as part of a plan to reorganize the local operations of The Greenspun Media Group, the company announced today. ... Until now, the newspaper was produced out of one building while the Web staff largely worked out of another and the advertising and editorial staffs of all publications were separate."

Please keep in mind that this was a new development. The Sun website (albeit a pretty shoddy one) was in the Sun newsroom. But the modest team that started the transformation seemed to be getting it right, and it was working.

Then, when upper management decided to fork over the blank check, the Web operation got its shiny new offices, its plasmas, its Red Bull fridge, its Xboxes and pinball machines, the TV studios, the high-end cameras and servers. The (ample) job openings touted the coolness of the office, the gee-whiz, look-what-we-can-do capabilities of the site.

This was all a creation of management. There were folks running the two operations who couldn't see eye-to-eye. I don't think anyone would dispute that.

So now, to say all this was done in the name of efficiency is quite ludicrous.

I'd like to see the number of hires made on the Web in the past two years contrasted with the number of laid-off folks yesterday. I guarantee you it's still more.

Maybe next time don't start the arms race in the middle of a horrible economic slump.

Then you don't have to cast off employees into a city with record unemployment, hours from civilization elsewhere, right before the holidays.

Lots of collateral damage from a couple of big egos that were allowed to fester unchecked.

LF said...

Steve, Thanks for paying a fine tribute to my former co-workers at the Sun (I left years ago).

This is a travesty. Several of these fine writers/reporters devoted the bulk of their careers to this newspaper and the Greenspun family, sticking around when they likely would have seen their work better appreciated elsewhere. And this is their thanks. I hope they are all able to move on to the much bigger and better things that they deserve after toiling away at the Sun for so many years.

Will the Sun even be worth reading anymore, seeing as how the Greenspuns have pulled out its heart stomped on it?

GregoryZephyr said...

I agree with Charlie: writers need to work on themselves as a brand. Reading about your adventures in freelancing, Steve, shows it is no picnic but at least you can go wherever the money is and get work.

As for "audience-driven" my assumption would be that they will put out more slop that sells based on focus groups and celebrity ratings. A good newspaper used to pride itself not on publishing stories that people wanted to know about rather on stories peopled needed to know. No one wants to read about children starving in Africa. But, it is important that we know about it. An audience-driven newspaper is a sad commentary on the news business today.

J.T. said...

That "unite our media" line sounds like something Dilbert would make fun of. Brian Greenspun had better watch out or his hair's going to get pointy.

Anonymous said...

Not to denegrate the abilities of, or the people layed off in any way, but as a local resident for 20years, I could have sworn that I remember reading at the time when the Greenspuns made the deal to take over and run lasvegas.com (for a royalty payment of at least $1 million per year) from the RJ folks, that there was a mention in there that they would totally get out of the local newspaper business so as to not compete with the RJ. Why has it taken so long? With their real estate holdings value cut in half, it appears they are now desperately clinging to their one remaining profit maker, i.e. that commission-grabbing, reseller, travel agency thinly disguised as a visitor information and news internet website. How much longer can THAT last in these economic conditions when people find it harder to travel due to the rising fuel costs?

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