Saridakis as savior? Not under CEO Dubow’s folly

Chief Digital Officer Chris Saridakis is now engaged in an 11th-hour bid to move Gannett more quickly into digital publishing — creating a raft of new jobs in hopes of making GCI more competitive against fast-growing rivals like Facebook, MySpace and Google.

Burdened with legacy costs (older workers, aging factories, greedy stockholders), Gannett’s theoretical advantage over those technology upstarts is its nationwide portfolio of brands — from The Burlington Free Press in Vermont to The Arizona Republic in Phoenix, and all those other papers and TV stations in between. Historically, these GCI subsidiaries were the No. 1 source of local news and information in their communities.

But as Gannett continues chopping into the muscle of its newsrooms, the company risks trashing those brands even more — reducing the company to a collection of websites barely distinguishable from the better-performing technology upstarts now taking away GCI’s market share. Do you think young people in Burlington and Phoenix have any regard for the Free Press, the Republic and other Gannett companies as trusted news sources? Do those brands promise anything approaching the coolness of Facebook or Twitter?

This is the dangerous folly of CEO Craig Dubow‘s dead-on-arrival strategic plan: That Gannett can refashion itself as a new digital giant, while simultaneously draining itself of human and financial capital to keep shareholders happy — just so Dubow and his overpaid team can keep their jobs.

I realize that Saridakis, 39, has many fans on this blog, praying the board of directors elevates him to CEO. His supporters point to his successful leadership of advertising services start-up PointRoll, now a subsidiary of Gannett, as evidence he could be the company’s savior.

But I challenge Saridakis to explain how he could have built PointRoll into a prosperous enterprise — while simultaneously hitting double-digit profit margins to pay ever-growing dividends. It wouldn’t have worked at PointRoll, and it won’t work now — if Gannett’s going to survive.

Earlier: In Saridakis, a new generation jockeys for power

Your thoughts, in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, use this link from a non-work computer; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

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17 Responses to “Saridakis as savior? Not under CEO Dubow’s folly”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head here. I tend toward the optimistic side, that we can transform the local brand into digital, except the present management is counterintuitive cutting the newsroom staff. We need to invest in more, and more experienced, reporters on the streets and editors in the newsroom. At my paper, the mojos never happened and we just have half the number of reporters now.

    I had been primarily online the past two years, but with staff cuts that aren’t replaced I’m not back to fully print … and am frustrated by being forced to pet a dying dinosaur and unable to create content to feed the beast that could sell.

    I also see advertising going after the big national ads and stupidly, stupidly failing to use the immediate vehicle of online advertising to its advantage. We need to get out of this “3-day ad run” idea and move to local local local 3-hour ad runs, if that’s what a company needs. My teenager can design an ad in 10 minutes, for chrissake.

    Ads are a local SERVICE, same as the news. Gannett won’t survive unless it puts someone who “gets that” as CEO.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Papers NEED to put into their New Media/Online Editor positions people who are already fully immersed in the web culture. These people need to know about Facebook, mySpace, Digg, del.icio.us, Twitter and Flickr and know how to use those technologies to leverage their brand. At the papers I’m familiar with this is not the case – newsroom still believes that news people are the best managers of the online product and that is not the case.

    And it’s not changing. A recent ad in our group for a site manager for a Moms product lists the coveted BA in Journalism (or Marketing) as the primary qualification. The important stuff – familiarity w/social networking, THE INTERNET, etc is buried in the middle.

    How do you expect sites and online brands to grow if you don’t hire people who know how to grow them? This is why some of us are hoping Saridakis can get things moving at the top.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    @9:22a

    have you ever tried to sell a national advertiser an ad on a newspaper.com? If you did, did it make up even half the revenue lost in preprints to circ declines?

    why would target buy 400 newspaper sites when they could run an ad on Yahoo, or launch their own facebook page?

    I wouldnt be so quick to deingrate those folks serving national advertisers, it may be yesterdays money, but its paying todays bills….

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Lets have a raffle to pick the date and hour GCI falls below $20. The winner gets a week’s free use of the publisher’s courtesy car. The weekly thorough washing and detailing at the local Cadillac dealership will continue uninterrupted, heaven forbid. You also might get one day’s use of your paper’s skybox at the local dome/track/arena.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Kiss it goodbye with or without Google and MySpace and Yahoo…and all the others.

    Your relevance got lost some years back. Along with those suck-ass promises of higher dividends.

    McClatchy, those fools, bigger fools than Gannett…under $7 a share. Gannett under $20 by the end of summer when gas hits $5 a gallon.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Gannett could drop below $20 / share before July 4.

    As of 12:58, GCI is down $1.17 to $20.50.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    The BOD should force the sale of the company before the stock price falls further.

    Murdock can’t buy them all.

    Maybe Big Al can buy DesMoines or Louisville.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    Why the leadership in this company can’t figure out that they should split off the two divisions – digital as a public entity – and U.S. Community Newspapers as a private company or ESOP or whatever, defies logic. What are they waiting for? The newspaper side of this business is the drain on the stock. If digital is the be-all-savior, let it be the publicly traded stock that Wall Street apparently wants, sans the newspaper baggage.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Bankrupt. Wait until the debt markets looks at Gannett’s ability to service debt. Then they will have to sell off pieces of the pie.

    Then Dubow and others can get jobs selling cereal or helping Ford to close plants.

    …but the feet will drag.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    National ad sales. Oh please, how many machinations have they gone through…shall we bring back Gannett Media Sales…or maybe Gannett National Newspaper Sales…

    gone, how many ways do you need to spell it.

    Curley closed Manhattan. He must have needed a few more oils for his office.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    I agree Jim. I feel sorry for Saridakis that he has to work with this management team. I wonder if he just enjoys banging his head on the wall.

    Dubow doesn’t get it and should be thrown out.
    Cutting the news rooms is counter to their “content” story.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Anon 11:51 – I love when people post dumb shit like this. Knowing how to use Facebook et al does absolutely nothing in terms of putting out a newspaper or a website that people will read, pay for and place ads. What management needs to do is put more effort into covering news in a way that makes it vital for people to read, and putting in online in a compelling and easy to use format.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    @5:04PM: I’m not Anon 11:51, but I agree with those sentiments posted. One may not need to know how to use Facebook, but the world of the Internet is a vastly different place than the world of print.

    I work at a particular Gannett subsidiary that does all of its business online – and while the rest of the company is floundering, we’re doing particularly well.

    Online presence requires an entirely different mindset than print ever did, and those who fail to grasp that will fall by the wayside… which is exactly what Gannett has been doing.

    “Compelling and easy to use” is great, but only if understood within the context of the culture of the Internet. We’re playing by their rules now… the Techno-crats’, that is. Not Dubow’s, not Murdoch’s, and probably not your local publisher’s (save for a few enlightened souls).

  14. Anonymous Says:

    I had a chance to speak to the Chief Digital Officer at one of our regional meetings and I think he is incredibly candid and a straight up guy. I am sure if given the reigns to run this company he would be the one to make the tough decisions and “transform” it.

    As a side note, if you send him an email, he usually responds within a few hours and also follows up with good insight. Pretty amazing. How many bloggers have actually sent an executive an email and actually got a response (without it being “canned”)?

    Unfortunately, he is probably smart enough not to take on the CEO job here since Dubow has done a fine job ruining the company.

    Many of us at our papers have discussed that we have seen and heard more about Saridakis’s vision than we have heard or even seen Dickey our new leader, Dubow our failed leader, Martore our bean counting leader or anyone else from the executive team.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    Don’t forget Jim this guy was also the co-founder of double- click a company he took public and that was recently acquired by Google for a few billion $.

    I think you are correct that he won’t survive with dubow at the helm. I get the sense they are just barely supporting him.

    I am still scratching my head as to why he would even take on this job.

    I have not met him but he certainly has plenty of fans on and off this blog!

  16. Anonymous Says:

    Just what has he done to transform this company in a positive way? He might have been great at the purely advertising vehicles double-click or pointroll. But his experience at those startups hasn’t led to any success at Gannett, which some of you apparently forget is supposed to be a news provider supported by ads. We got Saridakis and we got fewer reporters, fewer stories, fewer, smaller pages, and more information centers. More gadgets and gizmos. And they all suck big-time. News is now an afterthought. And still we continue to bleeeeeeeeeeeeeed advertisers. His plans didn’t work. In fact, the experiment failed miserably. Now — look around at your newsroom. Look over at those empty desks and say it with a straight face that this has been a positive change for the company. People who have real guts need to stand up and demand change. The readers and advertisers demand real journalism. We’re not sheeple.

  17. Anonymous Says:

    I am Anon 11:51, and I stand by my claims. The Online Editor doesn’t need to be able to go to a council meeting and write a tight 300-word story. This person does, however, need to understand RSS feeds and newsreaders, the different blogging software out there (and therefore why Pluck stinks for that kind of thing), and how people these days get their news. And a bit of SEO to boot. I’d like to see a site manager who actually knows how (and cares) to surf the web on a cellphone, so s/he understands how headlines should be written for the web.

    With the closed-mind hiring practices the newsrooms have when choosing their online VIP, Dooce (queen of the mommy bloggers who’s often covered by national media and makes enough money off of her blog to support her family) wouldn’t even be eligible to be the site manager for an insignificant local Moms site.

    I agree we need more reporters. We need more marketing people too. But a person should NOT be overseeing the web site just because he has a journalism background.

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