Archive for July, 2008

Price hikes, buyouts lift Gannett Blog’s July traffic

July 31, 2008

[Boing! Visits and page views up, new data show]

Updated on Aug. 1: The three most clicked-on July posts, according to a new Google Analytics report:

Compared to June’s traffic, the number of unique visitors in July rose 21%, to about 17,500. Visits rose 36%, to nearly 75,000. And page views jumped 41%, to about 144,000. (A little context: Gannett employs about 46,000. And industry-leading blogger Jim Romenesko nabs 100,000 individual visitors a day.)

Thanks for your confidence. And please keep coming back!

Free offer!
Google Analytics
has the traffic data, available in a free report I make available to anyone, via gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]. See Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

[Image: Google Analytics]

In first since at least ’95, GCI dividend held steady

July 31, 2008

Updated at 8:01 p.m. ET. Citing “the challenging business and economic environment,” Gannett today declined to boost its quarterly dividend — breaking with tradition stretching back at least 13 years. (Dividend history.)

Meeting today, the board of directors instead approved a 40-cent dividend — the rate in effect since July 2007. Quoting Chairman and CEO Craig Dubow, the company said in a statement: “With a substantial current dividend yield of 9%, and in view of the challenging business and economic environment, we have decided not to increase our dividend at this time. Our strong cash flow and solid financial position enable us to maintain our ongoing commitment to return value to our shareholders.”

Had the dividend been increased today, it would have been the 40th such hike since Gannett went public in 1967, based on last year’s press release. (That makes me wonder if, in fact, today’s decision is the first time ever that the company has declined to raise the dividend. That dividend history, however, only goes back to 1995.)

Initially, investors were unfazed today. By the close, however, Gannett shares fell 1.5%, to $18.12, on a down day for stock markets overall.

Earlier: Connell says no dividend cut in the works, but . . .

Results weak, GCI revamping Information Centers

July 31, 2008

Nearly two years after launching a radical change in how its newsrooms distribute information, new top Gannett executives are revamping the concept amid weak Web traffic growth, an alarming decline in revenues, and a plunging stock price.

The Information Center concept emphasized digital delivery over print, and was a cornerstone of CEO Craig Dubow‘s turnaround plan for the 84 U.S. community newspapers. But based on GCI’s recent financial results, the closely watched experiment is failing its main mission: shoring up Web traffic and online ad sales.

Gannett has disclosed little about the scale or timetable for any changes to the model, which is still being applied to the 23-station TV division and the 17 daily papers in the U.K. Yet, details have started emerging in newsletters to employees, regulatory filings, internal documents, and in recent Gannett Blog comments. “Info Center 2.0,” as one reader calls it, targets younger baby boomer demographics — “which if you haven’t been clued into yet, you will soon.”

Listening to ‘fatbottoms drone’
Another reader wrote about an Information Center meeting Tuesday attended by the “high muckety-mucks” (though not Chief Digital Officer Chris Saridakis). “We’re listening to the fatbottoms drone on endlessly,” the reader wrote, apparently while still in the meeting. “Good thing we wasted a good portion of the day looking at screenshots we’ve seen eight times before, though. Very informative!”

Trying to tamp down such unrest, the company told employees late last month that any newsroom organizational changes wouldn’t be dramatic. “These steps are more evolutionary than revolutionary,” News Department chief Phil Currie (left) said in the June 26 edition of News Watch newsletter.

Currie’s department played a big role in developing the Information Center idea, which directly affected about 5,000 newsroom employees — or 11% of the workforce. But as one of its chief ambassadors, Currie is a font of disinformation — since he long ago jettisoned journalism in favor of Marketing Speak. (See Pop Quiz, bottom of post.) For example, word for word from his News Watch piece, here’s how Currie described the “next key steps” in whatever gets done with the newsrooms:

  • Identifying and understanding vital audiences at locations across the company and delivering effective content to satisfy readers, digital users and advertisers.
  • Engaging our audiences in ways that better connect our digital and print products with them — and the audiences with us.
  • Providing our audiences with more and better multi-platform public service journalism that will help distinguish our work from that of other media. Our audiences want effective watchdog work particularly in this time of turmoil at all levels of government and life. We will deliver it.

Huh? The first two are total gobbledygook. The third apparently refers to the internal findings of the Newspaper Division Print Task Force, which emphasized more hard news and watchdog journalism for the print newspapers, and their core baby boomer audience.

New management, weak financials
The Information Center strategy, and that task force report, were hatched under now-retired newspaper division president Sue Clark-Johnson. Her successor, Bob Dickey, is already putting his own stamp on the division, dramatically reshaping top leadership, and inevitably raising questions about the Information Center’s future.

Dickey, 50 (left), has no time to waste, given Gannett’s deteriorating position. Second-quarter net income plunged 36% from a year ago, to $233 million, on an unexpectedly bigger drop in ad revenues. That was a far worse performance than the second quarter of 2006, just before the Information Center was introduced. Net income that quarter fell just 8.3% from the year before, to $310.5 million.

What’s more, Web traffic growth has been anemic, and penetration has been flat, GCI’s monthly statistical summaries show. Last month, Gannett recorded a combined 23,076,000 unique visitors on its U.S. websites, including USA Today‘s. That was 14.1% of the Internet audience. In June 2006, just before the Information Center was rolled out, GCI had 22,238,000 such visitors — 14.2% of all.

Meanwhile, online ad revenue growth rates at the domestic community dailies are apparently now so dismal, Gannett no longer publishes them. No wonder investors are losing patience: The company’s stock is now trading around $18 a share — down more than 60% from the second quarter of 2006.

Earlier: At Gannett headquarters, the band plays on

Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

Pop Quiz: Phil Currie or oil industry flack?
Someone wrote the following: “In troubling times in our industry, we are not about to retreat. We continue to march forward, counting on getting closer to the people who count on us. And we are saying, ‘Yes, [                ] does matter, and it remains a must.”

(No-duh answer, here.)

[Image: this morning’s Florida Today, Newseum; Today was one of the original 11 test sites for the Information Center]

Gannett Blog Style Committee Final Report: Dubow

July 30, 2008

We have finally resolved a question brought by the Names Subcommittee (chaired by the Hon. Judith “Judge Judy” Sheindlin), and co-sponsored by the Diversity Subcommittee. That question:

For the sake of brevity, may we relax the so-called nickname rule for Gannett’s CEO — given its length? (The nickname’s; not Dubow’s!)

Amid some trepidation, the Committee agreed to the subcommittee’s request — with the understanding that on first reference, whenever practical, Gannett’s CEO should be identified as: Craig “Former Atlanta TV Ad Salesman” Dubow.

You may now return to your Information Center.

Final Jeopardy: Pubs and OC members edition!

July 30, 2008

Imagine you’re on America’s Favorite Quiz Show, and I’m the host (hi, Alex!). I supply the answer — and you supply the question.

Now, here’s the answer:

June 2008 payroll — minus a percentage at each property

So, what’s the question?

This annoyingly cryptic post is mostly for publishers and other operating committee members. Please reply by e-mail from a non-work computer via gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]. See Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

[Image: Sony]

Heading to the beach, so blogging must wait

July 30, 2008

Sparky wants a head start on what’s shaping up to be a keen beach day. See you later!

[Photo: a view of the Mediterranean from my chair at Es Cavallet beach]

Montgomery paper in ‘unauthorized’ op-ed flap

July 29, 2008

The Montgomery Advertiser was one of two Alabama papers that published an op-ed piece attributed to Charles Steele Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. But the prominent civil-rights leader says he did not write or authorize the piece, according to The Washington Post‘s In the Loop: On K Street. “The episode opens a small window onto an open secret of lobbying,” columnist Jeffrey Birnbaum writes today. “Public relations firms regularly solicit authors of opinion-page articles, draft the pieces for them and place the articles in publications where they will have the most impact — all for a fee.”

The purported Steele commentary criticized pending federal legislation that would reduce credit card fees and suggested that retailers stand to profit from it, Birnbaum says.

Birnbaum says editors declined to comment at the Advertiser and at the second paper, the Tuscaloosa News.

Earlier: In Montgomery, watchdog reporting on a budget

[Image: today’s Advertiser, Newseum]

After Barron’s bombed, Gannett’s stock rises

July 29, 2008

Updated at 10:13 a.m. ET. GCI shares were up more than 2% in initial trading today.

Earlier: Despite a favorable plug in a new Barron‘s story, GCI shares closed yesterday at $17.20, down 23 cents, after Dallas Morning News publisher Belo Corp. disclosed disappointing earnings.

What I’m doing now: Checking e-mail, fanning self

July 29, 2008

Updated at 9:42 a.m. ET: I used my MacBook Pro to shoot this photo in the living room, cooling myself with a bright orange and yellow fan. I’m now drinking a second cup of Peet’s Coffee & Tea Aged Sumatra, which recent house guests (hi!) brought from San Francisco.

Related: Current weather in Ibiza, Spain — and McLean, Va.

Plus: Rochester D&C would be mouse-free!

July 29, 2008
“My cat could do a better job.”

— a Gannett Blog reader, not so thrilled with Indianapolis Star General Manager Ali “Advertorial” Zoibi, the newly named publisher of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.