Wisconsin weighs regional copy, design desks

Gannett’s 10-paper Wisconsin Newspapers group is considering a plan under which copy and pagination work would be merged into a regional operation, likely resulting in “significant” job cuts, an internal company document shows. Publishers discussed the idea at a meeting last Wednesday that addressed several topics — including consolidating work, according to a meeting agenda I’ve obtained.

The document describes “two possible consolidations. 1) regional copy desk and 2) page layout.” It says executives are “looking at severance costs, which are significant. They will be meeting to walk through the process. At this time, we’re not sure if there are any showstoppers.”

Gannett spokeswoman Tara Connell declined to comment, calling the subject an “internal matter.”

The Wisconsin talks are the first concrete evidence I’ve seen of such a move within Gannett, although the company may already operate regional editing desks elsewhere. (See question, below.)

Consolidating all copy editing into giant regional or statewide desks has emerged as another way for newspaper publishers to cut labor costs at a time when revenue is falling. But critics say copy editors can’t do their jobs well when they work far from the communities their papers serve. (Mayor Smith? Smyth?) Gannett business partner MediaNews Group is a prominent proponent of consolidation.

A Gannett shift to regional editing would not be surprising. The company has made clear that it’s now favoring newspapers in its portfolio that are clustered together. Proximity makes it easier to share resources, a factor in GCI’s decision last year to unload five papers.

Some Wisconsin papers already share copy editing functions, a Gannett Blog tipster says. Geography makes the 10 Wisconsin newspapers good candidates for consolidating work: Eight of them are small afternoon dailies, within about two hours of each other. The biggest among the 10 is the morning Green Bay Press-Gazette, with 55,081 weekday subscribers, and 77,765 on Sunday.

Is your newspaper considering a move toward regional editing? Use this link to e-mail your reply; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the sidebar, upper right. Or leave a note in the comments section, below.

[Image: Sunday’s Post-Crescent at Appleton, and the Press-Gazette, Newseum]

9 Responses to “Wisconsin weighs regional copy, design desks”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I own a few weekly papers and we paginate them centrally for quality control purposes. However, I’m not sure what kind of cost savings Gannett can expect when its papers have similar deadlines. You’re not going to get one individual to lay out more than one paper at a time. Sorry Gannett, not possible unless you are going to radically alter deadlines and make some papers suffer in terms of breaking-news ability.

    The one paper of mine that is located where the pagination is done also happens to be consistently laid out better than the others. It helps when the sports editor can walk into the room and suggest things, etc.

    Copy editing can be done from anywhere so this might makes sense. But again, how many stories can be edited at any given time by one individual?

    The “cutting its way to profitability” strategy is a sure sign the company is being run by legacy executives. There is a lot of management talent at Gannett I’m sure, but they aren’t useful while buried beneath management dinosaurs.

    Just my 2 cents.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    This consolidation may save money but will of course hamper quality. It takes us quite a while to break in a new copy editor so that the person is familiar with this area and used to the idiosyncracies of spelling local leaders’ names, streets, neighborhoods, etc.
    Of course good editing (or any other quality issue) is very low on Gannett’s radar. (It’s all about the ad revenue, baby.)
    Consolidation begs the question, how much of the money it supposedly saves in production costs will eventually be lost when subscriptions are canceled because the paper can’t get a basic local story’s details right?

  3. Anonymous Says:

    My newspaper already has a regional copy desk – we edit copy and do page layout for four area newspapers. It might be a decent idea if we weren’t understaffed – there have been plenty of days where three people edit and lay out four A sections combined. And whenever any person leaves, it creates an avalanche of work for the others until a replacement can be found and trained.

    I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Gannett is known for Expense Management.

    We should have a strategy first before we go too far.

    Managing expenses is a key to any business, but that cannot be the business strategy that is going to turn around the company.

    I believe the creation of Gannett Digital was a smart decision and a good start. We need something bigger and better to survive. Print advertising is dropping way faster than growing the online advertizing (This revenue line is what has been covering all the expenses).

    We need to grow this line. At one point we are going to realize that cutting too much expense may limit our abilities and cause us to stop growing our revenues.
    We need a strategy and we need technical people on the board who understand the technology and able to introduce new products that will help the company turn around.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    What you will wind up with is very formatted pages, with the same design on every section front … plug in story A to hole #1, etc. … horizontal photo here, vertical photo goes there … identical headline treatments. Much like … USA Today! All the stories will be edited to approximately the same word count, so they will fit in their respective holes. Journalism continues to wither.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    I believe that the Gannett daily in Manitowoc, Wis., already has most of its news pagination done up the road at the Green Bay Press-Gazette. That was done about the time that the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter unveiled its “redesign”… which basically was adopting all of the Press-Gazette’s headline and cutline fonts.

    Now most days the HTR looks like Press-Gazette lite, and it has the appearance of being hurriedly paginated so that some poor designer can get back to work on the Green Bay paper – no “extras” for readers, no local color – just vanilla pages. Take a look on Newseum and see for yourself.

    In the whole “local, local, local” push, the emphasis always is on reporting. What’s overlooked is what copy editors and page designers add to the “local” equation – knowing how to play stories, what headlines work best for the local audience, and – most importantly- knowing all the local nuances and style when editing stories.

    It may make economic sense to consolidate pagination and copy editing, but it’s going to come at the expense of papers’ accuracy and local identity – two of the main things newspapers need to rely on in finding their place in the changing media world.

    Sign me, an ex-Wisconsin Gannett journalist who has been there.

  7. rknil Says:

    Ah, yes, the “evaluation” of journalism — what matters is the way dollar-sized pages look at the Newseum.

    I’m starting to think it doesn’t really matter what Gannett or any other robber baron chain does. Pseudojournalists already have lost their way, with their obsession about page design and other trivialities readers don’t care about.

    I guess as long as some designer gets those hairline rules just so, we can expect the readers to come flooding back any day.

  8. Rich Heidorn Jr. Says:

    Outsourcing copy editing is absolute foolishness.

    Knowing the difference between “lie” and “lay” is only part of the copy editor’s responsibility. Knowledge of the region — local history, politics, personalities, demographics — also is essential to the job.

    As a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, I was often annoyed when the copy desk interrupted my dinner to ask questions. But I felt better knowing I had a safety net. I wrote thousands of stories during my career there and I can’t count how many times The Inquirer’s meticulous copy desk saved me from making factual errors.

    When I entered web publishing several years ago, I insisted on having strong copy editors. They are essential to building credibility, and credibility is essential to building an audience.

    My newest venture, the TreeHouse Media Project (www.treehouse-media.net), is facing squarely the economic pressures that are roiling journalism.

    We do have to keep costs in line — but not at the expense of quality control.

    Rich Heidorn Jr.

  9. Andy Vogel Says:

    I was with Gannett Wisconsin when they merged some reporting functions in what they now call Gannett Wisconsin “West.” They merged for several small towns in Marshfield, Stevens Point, and Wisconsin Rapids. They are geographically close, but are very different towns that need local focus, but perhaps it doesn’t make sense in print.

    The only reason to keep a small town daily for Gannett Wisconsin is for the revenue. Otherwise they would have switched to an online only model like many of the weekly small town publications of the Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee.

    In both cases, journalism is not served and the motivations are not for reporting, editing, or quality. They are entirely on the business model side.

    As soon as Gannett figures it out these will turn into online newspapers with a weekly edition in print.

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