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Outtakes 10/27/11

I LAUGHED SO HARD The Sunday column by the executive editor of the daily newspaper (Pensacola News Journal, “A professional watchdog costs money,” Oct.  23) made me laugh so hard I snorted my Circle K coffee through my nose.

His premise was the paper, which is owned by Gannett Co., may have to charge for its online content so that it will have the money to pay for more investigative pieces like the “10-part” series on Commissioner Wilson Robertson recently done by Jamie Page.

I laughed because Gannett is the largest newspaper chain in the country, with 82 U.S. daily newspapers, including USA Today. According to the Form 10-K it filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the media giant had net operating income of nearly $1 billion in 2010.

To help make that money, the company ordered unpaid furloughs in the first quarter, as it has done every year since 2009 for reporters like Page. The cost savings was $12 million in 2010, but only $10 million this year because Gannett has laid off more than 9,000 employees in the past two years.

While the Gannett employees took one for the team — maybe to avoid having to charge readers for website content — the upper management felt little pain.  Earlier this month, Gannett Co. Chairman and CEO Craig Dubow resigned. His exit package was just under $37.1 million in retirement, health and disability benefits.

We have been told by insiders that the News Journal is one of the most profitable newspapers in the Gannett chain. Thanks to Bella Magazine, BP ad dollars and cost-cutting measures, such as shutting down its printing operations, the Pensacola daily hasn’t seen the huge layoffs that the other papers in the chain have experienced.

At the Independent News, we know how to get by with little and still provide first-rate, investigative reporting that holds our local officials and power brokers accountable and has won our paper state and national recognition. We report without a safety net, knowing some stories will cost us advertisers.

I had the same tips Page had on Robertson and his efforts to get a friend hired by the county. Unfortunately, I already had two investigations on my plate and Jeremy Morrison, our news reporter, had his hands full, too. We don’t have an army of reporters to throw at stories.

I thought the Robertson story could hold for a week. I was wrong and Page did excellent reporting on it. You win some, you lose some. The important point is that the story got reported.

So, while you consider the daily’s pitch for a few more of your precious dollars, please keep your locally-owned newspaper in mind for your advertising. We will always be free for our readers.