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Ex-MEDIA NEWS GROUP EMPLOYEE ‘UTTERLY DISGUSTED AT D[igital] F[irst] M[edia]’S HABITUAL SHABBY TREATMENT OF WORKERS’

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DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

Part 4 of 4, Finale

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, AUG. 28, 2014) — The previous three columns in this series looking at the “post new journalism” explored how THE PLANET has provided a working model for making money in a news milieu dominated by cyberspace. In doing so, we quoted an anonymous source who previously worked for Digital First Media‘s Thunderdome, the company’s failed digital newsroom meant to feed more than 100 Digital First papers with content.

Today, we share a report in which another former Digital First Media worker talks. She worked for Media News Group, parent of The Berkshire Eagle. She gives her name. Myra Bronstein provides an attributable inside look at how the newspaper/media chain operates.

A Vital Question for Pittsfield and Environs

Keep in mind that Digital First Media has recently put The Berkshire Eagle building and the land upon which it rests up for sale. The same company, for the time being, will continue to operate both the newspaper and its online version. This sale raises legitimate questions regarding the the relationship between the operating philosophy of what is in effect a media holding company and the local, feet-on-the-ground newspaper. How much has Digital First’s “money-first” policies bled The Eagle newsroom dry and helped squelch morale and enterprise?

Berkshire County and especially the Pittsfield community has everything at stake with the asking of this question. With that introduction, we present the following story by Michael Roberts of westword.com.

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By MICHAEL ROBERTS (July 2, 2014)

westword.com, editorandpublisher.com

On [June 30, 2014], we reported about layoffs at Denver Post owner Digital First Media, as well as the firm’s refusal to discuss them — a strategy that grew heavy-handed when a DFM attorney sent media blogger Jim Romenesko a legal threat for posting a graphic from an internal document listing those on the pink-slip list.

pastedGraphic_1.pdf
This image from the Digital First Media Facebook page was accompanied by the following message: “Change is in store as we leave 2013 and enter the new year, including the employment landscape.”

 

Since then, Myra Bronstein, a DFM employee who tells us she quit last month “in protest because of” the company’s “pattern of mistreating and deceiving workers,” provides more information about the number of workers let go and the behind-the-scenes machinations at a firm facing plenty of financial challenges.

Bronstein, who worked as a senior quality-assurance analyst for Media News Group, the company that owned the Denver Post before merging with Digital First Media, provided us with “2015 New Staffing Org Chart,” an Excel spreadsheet she says was circulated by DFM Chief Technology Officer Bob Mason. (The screen capture shared by Romenesko was made using the document.) We’re referring to the assorted charts rather than including them in order to protect the privacy of the past and present employees named on it. But a Facebook message Bronstein sent to John Paton, Digital First Media’s CEO, under the heading “Bob Mason’s distribution of highly sensitive DFM information” offers an overview of what it contains.

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John Paton.

 

The message reads:

John,

I’d like to know what you think about the fact that Bob Mason, Digital First Media CTO, widely distributed a document that he authored, containing the following highly sensitive information:

• Current and upcoming staff layoffs with full names of each person — 43 names total.
• Staff members DFM is considering laying off with full names of each person — 19 names total.
• Retained staff members and the pods they’re assigned to.
• Dead projects (Unbolt, Saxo on BANG, Design, User Testing) and retained projects (Online Saxo).
• Outside services with exact costs to be cut (Bartertown, Bright Edge, Bright Cove, Crowdy News, ERA, Email Predict).
• List and costs of outside services to keep.
• List and costs of maintenance fees.
• Building cost.

I think it’s absolutely outrageous that Bob Mason, Digital First Media CTO, distributed a list with such sensitive information. In fact, my name is on that list and greatly resent it.

I’d like to know what you think about it, and what you plan to do to mitigate the damage caused by Bob Mason’s distribution of this list.

Via e-mail, Bronstein notes that Paton has yet to reply to her.

The portrait Bronstein paints of Digital First Media is far from flattering. “DFM’s pattern is to hire and dump both direct employees and contractors with monotonous regularity and lie about their plans,” she maintains. Here are her examples of “DFM’s cyclical hiring and laying off workers”:

• About three months ago they abruptly dumped 5 or 6 direct employees for some mysterious reason, at which point…Bob Mason held an all-hands meeting and assured everyone that no additional layoffs were forthcoming.

• One week later, they dumped all contractors regardless of how long they had left on their contracts.

• Around the same time they trashed project Thunderdome and the huge number of staff members on that project.

• Then on June 24, as you know, around 45 employees were kicked to the curb.

Regarding the latter, their names appear in the “staff notes” section of the spreadsheet with lines struck through them. The categories from which cuts were made include “Niche Editorial,” “Mobile/Ventures,” “Revenue,” “Verticals,” “Digital Commerce” and “Business Intelligence.”

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A photo shared on Facebook by former Digital First Media employee Mike Noe.

 

Bronstein was on the spreadsheet’s “cut” list along with folks such as Mike Noe, who shared the photo above on Facebook after he was given the bad news, and she’s certain she would have lost her job, too, had she not resigned eleven days earlier. Here’s the text from the June 13 letter she sent to supervisors explaining her decision.

All,

 I told my manager Angie McCurdy that I accepted another job and I’m leaving Media News Group. My last day is June 13. Angie said [HR would] like to know the reason for my decision, so here it is.

I quit because of the callous, irresponsible and deceitful way upper management treated contractors a couple of months back. All contractors, including our excellent team member Eric [last name redacted], were dumped with very short notice regardless of how much time remained on their contracts. In Eric’s case he was dumped, i.e., lost his livelihood, after only a few weeks of what was supposed to be a longer contract.

To make it even worse, one week prior to dumping the contractors upper management held a meeting announcing that some direct employees had been let go, then assured everyone that there were no more staff reductions to come. Clearly that was untrue. I have to wonder how they expect remaining workers to have confidence in them and feel good about the company, now that we’ve seen how they operate.

By contrast I greatly admire Angie McCurdy, my direct supervisor. She’s an incredible leader and person. I’ve learned more from her than from any other manager I’ve ever had.

I simply don’t want to work for a company that mistreats workers.

Thank you,

Myra Bronstein

Westword has reached out to multiple Digital First Media representatives about the layoffs, about half of which took place in Denver, a source tells us. Thus far, we have not heard back from anyone. When and if we do, we’ll report about it in this space.

In the meantime, Bronstein sums up her feelings like so: “I’m utterly disgusted at DFM’s habitual shabby treatment of workers.”

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This concludes our series. We hope you found it stimulating. THE PLANET shall be back with the WEEKEND EDITION tomorrow.

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“What’s freedom for? To know eternity.”Theodore Roethke, from “I Knew a Woman,” a poem from 1958.

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

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dusty
dusty
6 years ago

I would not be surprised to learn that the local paper is a really lousy place to work. I have heard that for years and it is reflected in the product itself.

But is it not a separate issue that the Eagle has treated its readers like crap? By selectively reporting news when it reports it at all kind of spits in the face of its own customer base. By protecting the corrupt local government they crap all over the very people they want to buy their paper. How upside down is that? But some people do still buy it. Why? This newspaper needs a heavy dose of morphine. I do believe another newspaper would move in and give the people a paper to look forward to each day.

BOC
BOC
6 years ago

Seeing how the media constantly misleads its readers, why would anyone be surprised that it misleads it’s employees?

T-bone
T-bone
6 years ago

One of my best buddies works as a reporter at the bb. Talented guy but totally under-used. They wont let him go after stories. Its what DV said earlier, you have to have stories that people want to read not the usual pr and marshmello fluff.

James Stock
James Stock
6 years ago

How, exactly, has the Planet presented a model for making money if it hasn’t actually made any money?

And, the Planet trumpeted to all that the Planet itself had obtained an on the record source from Digital First Media, as if the Planet, through its jorunalistic prowess, had somehow convinced a heretofore reluctant source to spill the proverbial beans. Instead, we get a copy of an email from a blog post, published nearly two months ago, that essentially bashes the email writer’s former company. Wow. What an exclusive.

Jonathan Melle
Jonathan Melle
6 years ago

The Berkshire Eagle and its corporate masters represent yellow journalism at its worst! The Eagle is a third-rate rag without a conscience. Many people, including myself, over the years, have written to the Eagle telling them the truth about the issues facing Pittsfield and Berkshire County. The Eagle systematically ignores the truth. Instead, the Eagle reports propaganda and a top-down viewpoint. The Eagle screws over the people!

Spectator
Spectator
6 years ago

Are there supposed to be graphics on this column?

Pussy Galore
Pussy Galore
6 years ago

Collingwod just mentioned that parking on both sides of Harding street causes congestion, it’problematic and to narrow….Really? REALLY? Then catch LOw on his puter, while all this discussion is going on at the traffic commission hearing.

PopKornSutton
PopKornSutton
6 years ago

Makeup purple Louie, makeup.

Nota
Nota
6 years ago

Congratulation to Michael Jordan on his Billionaire status, just released by Forbes.

Jonathan Melle
Jonathan Melle
6 years ago

NEWS ARTICLE:

“Pittsfield Councilor, Mayor At Odds Over Records Request”
By Joe Durwin, Pittsfield Correspondent, iBerkshires.com – August 28, 2014

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — Being charged to look at public documents indicates a lack of transparency in the city’s bidding process, says at-Large City Councilor Barry Clairmont.

Clairmont has formally asked for copies of all emails relating to discussions between city staff and the owners of property of 100 North St., where Mayor Daniel Bianchi plans to move the city’s inspection offices. While Clairmont believes there are about 175 such emails, he was granted permission to view only 63 pages, and balked at being asked to pay $63.95 for them.

“It’s ridiculous,” Clairmont told iBerkshires. “In my opinion, this is meant to be a roadblock and a deterrent to me for asking for information.”

Clairmont said he was taken aback by the fees, because he has requested “far more information” from other departments, such as the Treasury and School Departments, and never been asked to pay for that information.

“When you have an elected official that’s doing official city business, and they have to pay for records, in my mind, that’s an obstacle being put up,” stated Clairmont. “In my opinion, it just doesn’t look good.”

Bianchi told iBerkshires that a reasonable fee had been assessed based on the amount of labor required for the request, which included a search of the email system for all correspondence related to discussions with the owner of the leased space at 100 North St., the former Agricultural National Bank.

“It was a voluminous amount of paperwork, which tied up our IT manager,” said Bianchi, who added that it then had to be reviewed by the city solicitor’s office to make sure no confidentiality laws would be violated. “So it’s not like this is an inexpensive thing.”

“I asked the mayor to call me, to ask, ‘Did you really mean to charge me for this?’ ” said Clairmont. “He has yet to call me back.”

The councilor, who has been a vocal opponent of Bianchi’s administration on numerous issues since both took office in 2012, added that he intends to pay the fees for the documents because he has concerns about the way the request for proposals for the new inspectors’ offices was conducted.

“I’ve heard that this move to that particular building has been in the works as early as 2013,” Clairmont told iBerkshires, noting that the RFP for new office space was put out in April 2014. “If that is the case, I am questioning was this RFP written so restrictive that only that building could apply?”

“If they’ve really been planning this move, and it has been designed for that building from the beginning, then I don’t believe the bidding process has been handled properly,” Clairmont said. “I want to see if they admit to having met with [building owner] Scarafoni beforehand. I’ve been told point blank by numerous people that they did.”

Clairmont, who has put forth a petition to have the administration answer a variety of questions about the move at the City Council’s meeting next Tuesday, says he is “less concerned” about the process if the city did meet prior to the release of the request for proposals with other building owners in addition to the winning bidder.

“If they only looked at 100 North St., what’s really going on here?” concluded Clairmont, who said he fears that the limited amount of pages granted to his request and the fees associated with it are an attempt to conceal information from him, a contention that Bianchi firmly denied.

“Are other city councilors being charged for copies, or is it just me?” Clairmont asked.

Senior city councilors contacted expressed a mix of experiences with requesting records from City Hall.

Council President Melissa Mazzeo said most of her requests for copies had been limited to meeting minutes and past council orders that had been provided free.

“I did ask once for emails and stuff from Deanna Ruffer and she wanted to charge me,” Mazzeo said. “Rich Dohoney [former city solicitor] said no and let me copy them for free.”

“I have never been charged as a city councilor,” said seven-term Councilor Jonathan Lothrop. “As a private citizen, I once paid for some records in 2001 when I was a candidate for office. It was perhaps $20.”

“This was a fair amount of work for a number of people,” Bianchi said of Clairmont’s request, but added that his office has contacted the Department of Revenue to seek its opinion on the matter. “That isn’t necessarily free.”

“We try to be as responsive as we possibly can,” he said. “But you can’t tie up staff indefinitely with things.”

http://www.iberkshires.com/story/47311/Pittsfield-Councilor-Mayor-At-Odds-Over-Records-Request.html

Spider
Spider
6 years ago

We are being told by the mayor that the rent for the first year at 100 North St. will be $126,00 and will decrease the following 2 years. And after that lease ends The owner might (and probably will) increase the rent significantly. Then what? Move out? No…..my guess is the city will pay it, no matter how high.

I hope our City Council wakes up and backs Clairmont. This deal goes way beyond corruption!