Wednesday, January 16, 2013

When Gannett Attacks!

By Jeff Simpson

H/T Blue Cheddar for bring this story to my attention:

In an era where politicians like Ron Johnson and Paul Ryan refuse to talk to anyone but the extreme right, and  politicians like Rebecca Kleefisch and Paul Ryan refuse to debate their opponent, the era of transparency is eroding.,   This is a time when we need our media the most.  Unfortunately, Gannetts media latest series attacking public workers under the ruse of more information to the public, is a wolf in sheep's clothing!  I asked to speak to reporter Eric Litke about this series and, after he reviewed this blog, was turned down by editor Dan Flannery.

I was told that any and all questions were covered in the online chat.  Before we get to that though, let's take a look at their justification   Here is Flannery explaining the project:

Unfortunately Flannery starts out on a false basis, so lets help him correct it via an expansive Watchdog reporting effort from CogDis WI:

1.  First they say they are getting salary information from all public workers because "we the taxpayers" are their employers!(Litke even used the term Boss: "  We obviously aren't going to print addresses and phone numbers, but basic info like identities and salaries should be available to us like it would any boss.").

CD:  That premise on its own is INCORRECT.  Do we really think that we are the employers of the local math teacher?  The law school professor at UW-Madison?  the snowplow driver?   Custodian at the Capitol?   Am I in Madison the "Boss" of the person who works buildings and ground at UW- Stout?  Of course not and this false premise is what has caused much division in this state.

I would not think that I needed to explain this to someone who has had 27 years experience in the newspaper industry but apparently I do.   There is either a chain of command or there is chaos.  " We the taxpayers" are the "boss" of the local elected representatives(say school board).   The School Board is then in turn, the "boss" of the local administration, who is then the "boss" of the teaching staff.

The term Boss means in this context: a. An employer or a supervisor or b. One who makes decisions or exercises authority.  Does Gannett really think that taxpayers do that with public employees or should?  In our Constitutionally Limited democratic republic, we have a system of checks and balances in the government that is supposed to be in charge of making these decisions in a line flow basis.   It is truly unfortunate that what passes as media did not understand that.

2.  They say they have included all public employees:   The result is a collection of more than 250,000 names, covering every Wisconsin public employee earning more than $25,000 in the most recent available fiscal year. The listing includes state, federal and U.S. Postal Service employees, as well as those who work in Wisconsin’s 72 counties; 91 cities, towns or villages with a population of 10,000 or more; 26 University of Wisconsin campuses; 16 technical colleges and 424 public school districts.  

CD: See who is noticeably missing?  Elected officials and their staff of course,  No sense in letting people know exactly how much money and how many staffers their elected officials have. These are the people who the taxpayers are, in theory, the Boss of!    It might blow some of the arguments that the right has been using the last two back to focusing on the kindergarten teachers...

3. Every Wisconsin public employee earning more than $25,000 in the most recent available fiscal year.  

That is purely and  simply because public workers making less than $25.000/yr do not fit the "public workers are overpaid" meme.  When the general public wokers, who you know are doing an honorable job serving the public on a daily basis, then you find out they are not even making $25,000/yr, it really blows holes in the public workers are paid to much meme.

4. "We do point out pay differences between one area of the public sector Vs. another comparable area. That is our responsibility."

 Again what is missing is education, years of education, extra credits, job descriptions, class sizes, classes taught,  personnel reviews etc...(all of which are available via public records the same way the limited information they obtained and shared).   They also fail to explain where they came up with their numbers for benefits costs.

5. How much do the reporters publishing public workers salaries make? 

Eric Litke: 
Paul: I figured this question would come. :-) The simple answer is that I'm not a public employee, and the general public has no more right to know what I make than they do any other private worker. Public employees work for the taxpayers, so there is a direct taxpayer interest in what they are paid, since it's our money. 

The answer of course is mind your own business, because the fact that advertising rates, subscription rates, the prices we have to pay at establishments that advertise their products in the paper, classified advertising rates, taxes they pay, deductions they take, etc... all are related to what Gannett pays their employees.   

6.  Since public workers have been demonized over the last two year, you know that people will use these numbers to harass and attack.  Do you feel a little bad about that at all?   
Eric Litke: 
preese: We're here to educate and inform. If people use this data to make unfair, inflammatory statements, it doesn't seem fair to hold us accountable for that, does it?
 Gannett is washing their hands of all responsibility for any consequences that come up from this online database.   Which I am assuming includes if someone is trying to hide from a past abusive partner or spouse.   We should also keep in mind that when "Verify the recall" put up a database of people who signed the petition to recall Scott Walker, it was Gannett themselves that used the information to harass their own employees!  

FYI to all of the righties out there who love this, Gannett is also the company that released the names of all gun owners in NY!  

Need some perspective?  There was one small story written off of press releases when our Republican Congressional Delegation voted against Hurricane Sandy Relief!    

Let's hope, for all of our sake,  that our public workers are doing better at their job, than the people at Gannett .  Let us also hope that our teachers are not as sloppy when working with our kids as the Gannett crew has been with working with the public workers information.   

If you want to contact Mr. Flannery and ask him for accuracy in journalism:

 920-993-1000, ext. 237.

If you are a subscriber, I would also highly recommend, calling up Customer Service and let them know that you would like to cancel your subscription:

 For customer service call: 1-877-424-5639 (toll free).
Hours are Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything.  Except what is worth knowing.  Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands.  ~Oscar Wilde


  1. The Governor's website jobs page still says this, so it must be true:

    250,000 new jobs in four years - It’s an ambitious goal, but one that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says is achievable.

  2. Gannett is giving Walker a free ride in Minnesota as well. It makes me want to puke.

  3. If taxpayers are the employers of all public sector workers (except politicians and their staffs, of course) then aren't subscribers the employers of everyone at any Gannett newspaper that gets some part of its revenue from subscriptions?

    If there are any subscribers out there I would appreciate your testing this line of reasoning with Mr. Litke or Mr. Flannery before you cancel. Or perhaps you could point out that your taxes pay for your public library subscription to their newspaper, which contributes to the bottom line and, in turn, their salaries. Your taxes! You have a right to know! Everything!

    If this works, please do share. After what they did to my hometown paper I personally would not touch a Gannett rag with a ten foot pole, even if my tax dollars did pay for it.

  4. Doubt that it'll get published, but here is my letter to the Gannet D-Bags:

    I read, with a vested interest, the article concerning the discrepancy between Technical College Instructors and Professors at the University of Wisconsin Campuses. My interest is vested as I am a taxpayer, and I am an Instructor at a Technical College.

    My first question for the Gannet WI News Media is what is your motive? Is it to “Divide, then Conquer” as our Governor has suggested would be an appropriate way to force Wisconsin into becoming a Right-to-Work state, or is it simply an effort to spark an ounce of interest to shore up struggling newspaper sales? The Post Crescent made a point to dramatize the discrepancy, using numerical data with very little research or insight to back up their claims. There is an argument to be made that this data is public record, but I struggle with the thought that a person would actually spend the amount of time to research this. Why would they, and at what expense? Was it really necessary to publicize the names with the salaries? This accomplished NOTHING, other than to toss several more gallons of gasoline on an already-roaring fire. Thing is, when you throw gas on a fire, it comes back to you. Since my salary has already been published, I hope that this letter can be published anonymously.

  5. It is time to quit buying and advertising in all newspapers, which are sold and brainwashed to the public as the "liberal media" just like "fair and balanced" Fox news. If you ever see Fox News on at a restaurant or bar or hospital waiting room, change it to CNN at least. I own stock in the Packers so I guess I get to be on the field just like Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys is, and I must (by Gannett thinking) be the boss of the Packers organization, and I guess I should also represent management at the players' union bargaining table. Maybe I cannot stay on the field as long as Jerry Jones, but I should at least get a minute for my two shares...EACH GAME. By the way, legisaltors are defined in the WI statutes AND the State Compensation Plan as being full time public employees, we need to audit them also. Free parking on the square, $88/day per diems, higher mileage paid to drive to the "office" from their districts, never taking sick leave (funny how none of them are ever sick), staff costs, postage funds, and some of them do sleep in their offices and claim the per diems anyay, etc, etc..... Time for a part time legislature. It never ends does it? How about prisoners, who work in prisons, I guess I am their boss as I am also a taxpayer, I think we need to see what inmates make too, did you know there is also a state statute requiring inmates to be served real butter? No kidding, look it up. Here is my solution: we privatize all public employees just like Thompson did with WHEDA and UW Hospital, then no one has to complain anymore. Does the public know that UWW and WHEDA (and other similar agencies) get better bveneifts that public employees but are really paid by the state of WI. They are just private employees on paper, they still get their pay and beneifts from the taxpayers but do not have to abide by other public employees standards, i.e, in many cases they get better perks becasue they are "privatized". look that up to Mr. Lipke, and Mr. Flannery. Maybe you won't bve so smug next time you need a public nurse inserting your foley catheter.

  6. "aren't subscribers the employers of everyone at any Gannett newspaper that gets some part of its revenue from subscriptions?"

    Not just subscribers. Since the vast majority of their revenue is from advertising, anyone who simply looks at their newspaper is (according to how they are defining the word) their "boss".

    Tho, the fact that they aren't publishing the salaries of political officials and their staff tells us who is really calling the shots for 'em...

  7. So this data base won't show the saleries of UW Hospital or the Mendota phychiatric hospital employees?

    In a related note It's my understanding that UW hospital made something like 60 million dollars last year over op costs however no one has been able to tell me if the employees get payed out of the fees charged for health services ect or are wages/compensation payed with tax dollars?

    1. It depends on who they work for... UW Health is comprised of many legal entities. UW Medical Foundation (UWMF) pays salaries out of the fees collected, no taxpayer dollars. UW Hospital - same thing, everything comes from fees collected.

      The Medical College itself is a taxpayer funded thing, so the medical college professors are paid via the state for their professor salary - which is reflected in one of the databases that was published.

  8. When are the public workers going to learn that the only way to fight these assholes is to withhold their labor? Don't pick up the garbage or plow the streets around this sorry excuse of a paper?