What’s next: Papers merging? No cuts at USAT

Updated at 4:21 a.m. ET, Sept. 11. Developments after yesterday’s big reorganization of the newspaper division, where about 100 marketing, finance, circulation and other influential executives were laid off; updated as needed:

More newspaper mergers?
The elimination of so many operating committee jobs at certain newspapers suggests that some papers may be effectively merged with others in their regions. For example, The Journal News in Westchester, N.Y., gave up five senior positions — the chiefs of production, human resources, information technology, finance, and sales and marketing. (The head of the advertising department retired, too, but that position will be filled.)

“Almost the entire operating committee wiped out in Westchester,” a Gannett Blog reader here said yesterday. “Does that mean a merger with Poughkeepsie is a done deal? Will two executive editors be needed?”

USA Today escapes layoffs again
Gannett’s flagship newspaper apparently didn’t give up a single job yesterday, as near as I can tell — the second time it has escaped recent Corporate-mandated cuts. Last month, USAT didn’t lose any clerks, reporters or other employees when GCI eliminated 1,000 jobs at its community newspapers through layoffs and attrition.

To be sure, USA Today lost about 50 positions when circulation duties were consolidated in May. And the paper gave up 43 newsroom employees (I was one of them) late last year. At least three other big GCI papers — in Cincinnati, Detroit and Phoenix — also avoided further cuts last month, by persuading a sufficient number of employees to take buyouts.

Still, it’s noteworthy that USA Today, one of Gannett’s two biggest worksites (the other is The Arizona Republic) continues to withstand cuts roiling the rest of the company.

Related Gannett Blog posts

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[Image: yesterday’s Journal News, Newseum]

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27 Responses to “What’s next: Papers merging? No cuts at USAT”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I wouldn’t worry too much about newspaper mergers. The NJ Group was supposed to have merged two of its papers over a year ago and its still not done. In a state as small as NJ with many overlapping territories, even more merging could be done but they move at a snails pace…even with today’s technology! Too many cooks in the kitchen I suppose.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    That would be awful for the employees and readers in Poughkeepsie, they have a good product and a place in the community. The Westchester paper is horrible and has no place in the community. Local, local, local would of worked but the local people gave up on the changing identity of the paper, just look at the circulation numbers in the last three years.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    6:57, NJ is small and yes the territories overlap but I can tell you the readers are sticklers about their papers. When the Home News and the News Tribune were merged several years back, there were a lot of angry people in the community, because they felt coverage of their communities, particularly on the News Tribune side, would suffer. And it has. But then again, coverage has suffered greatly at every NJ Gannett shop for a while now, especially in sports, where the pro sports coverage is limited to AP.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Bring Sherlock back out of retirement to merge the two papers.
    He was the Master of screwing good people.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    I don’t think anyone at the Republic feels safe or believes the layoffs are over.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    I’m a former Gannettoid (left the company more than a decade ago). And for a number of years I have told people that I think the local Gannett papers will one day become one-section inserts into USA Today. Mark my words: If USAT survives, this will happen. Local paper subscribers will then become USAT subscribers and still get their local news — but at a greater newsstand price, if they choose to continue their subscription.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    12:41. Seems to make sense except for one thing. USA Today is not going to survive if they don't reverse the engines soon. The things going on there now to dismantle the newspaper (in the name of a bad economy and desire to build the web site), or at least the newsroom, are absolutely stunning to witness, especially in light of the fact the flagship is holding its own in terms of readership. But make no mistake about it, the paper, and all the things it was known for (tight writing, terrific graphics & artwork, smart design, timely news, great photo editing, etc.) is begin gutted in various ways. Eventually, the readers will notice.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    12:59 — This is 12:41. You’re right, and I should have said “If the paper survives because heaven knows the rest of MSM isn’t, and certainly changes are taking place at USAT, too.” It depends on a lot of different conditions down the road, including the strength of Gannett’s flagship paper. (Not to mention a willingness of local paper subscribers to eventually shell out $2+ for a combined product.)

  9. Anonymous Says:

    As good as this blog is at time, at other times it should be called, ‘I’m Jim Hopkins and here’s the fake news.’

    Example: The very Drudge-like headline, “USA Today under scrutiny”.

    By who? One person posting a question?

    There’s no doubt that everything in the company must be under review, but to have a misleading headline like that — with absolutely not one single fact to back it up — simply foments a hysterical atmosphere. There’s already plenty to be reporting and writing about without raising news fears based on nothing.

    Seriously, what justifies that headline. One person’s posting.

    This blog has plenty of real news. No need to make up fake news.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Oh, come on 1:27, we all know attention now turning to USAT. Jim is not making it up.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Bridgewater is all but merged with East Brunswick. Their websites were combined over the summer.

    For the record, the Home News merged with the News Tribune well before Gannett acquired the HNT and Asbury Park.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Gannett has destroyed the quality of every paper it’s touched in NJ, and the customers have definitely noticed. Without exception, every paper Gannett has consumed has offered consumers less and less with each passing year. That’s why fewer and fewer people bother to buy the damn thing or subscribe to it. It’s that simple – people are a lot more savvy about these things than Gannett higher-ups would like to believe.

    If you don’t believe me, try this fun exercise: Go to your local library a pull up an issue of the Asbury Park Press circa 1995, two years before Gannett took it over. You’ll find tons of local coverage, local columnists, sports coverage, etc. Then look at today’s issue. Even combined with the hopeless mess that is the website, the pre-Gannett paper offers more stories of higher quality. It was worth buying.

    What Gannett did to every NJ paper is gut it, make its local voice generic, and then act surprised when many people decided they didn’t want to pay more for less.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Has Gannett ever purchased a newspaper and improved it?
    They buy them and gut them to be profitable.
    That’s how they always did things, trouble is now there’s no more guts to cut.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    Yes, yes, and more yes. They raped and pillaged throughout the country for the sake of big executive pay, stroked ego’s, fat stock incentives, and endless careers without retribution.

    There aren’t enough respectable “newpeople” left in the country to join Gannett with such a sordid, tainted reputation.

    Read this blog’s thousands of comments. Frankly, if Dickey had better choices, he’d change companies as well. And why did SCJ wait two years to not pull the trigger? All this mess existed during her reign.

    As an outsider of Gannett, they finally gored the golden ox.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    I honestly believe the higher ups care about the products and want to see success. Seems they just don’t have a clue about how much hard work goes in to putting out a quality product.

  16. Anonymous Says:

    2:37 What’s your point ya dumb ass. As you yourself noted the Home News and The News Tribune were merged well before Gannett took over. That’s old news. We’re talking about the Courier News and Home News merger as well as the discussion of any other possible NJ Group mergers. Try to keep up with us.

  17. Anonymous Says:

    Can we keep it civil?

    A lot of Asbury readers were pretty upset when the sports coverage was combined with Westchester’s. Instead of getting a unique and local slant, they got the anointed section from another region. The people within the department really resented the intrusion, and for a while a few years ago refused to take any Westchester copy just too make a point.

    If that’s the kind of shotgun marriage Poughkeepsie is asked to make, can’t see it working out well for anyone.

    Westchester was supposed to be the New York bureau for GNS, but the paper doesn’t travel with many local teams any more.

  18. Anonymous Says:

    In NJ, the CN was a Gannett paper from way back. It didn’t start to go downhill until the late 80’s. From there, every mandate Corporate shoved down our throats was a bad decision. Becoming an a.m. paper was a bad decision. Abandoning the east and focussing on western expansion was a bad decsion. Pulling USAT out to print in Rockaway was a bad decision. Combining the CN and HNT into one paper is another bad move. Even though the markets overlap, they are entirely different markets.
    It’s time for Corporate to step aside and give local maagement back to the local papers.

  19. Anonymous Says:

    2:37, the Home News and News Tribune merged in October 1995, after the News Tribune was purchased by the umbrella company of the Asbury Park Press. APP purchased the Home News in 1993. Gannett swallowed the Asbury Park Press and Home News & Tribune in late October 1997.

    Not so long before.

    But I digress.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    USA Today fared far better than the community papers in the last two Quarters of financials (posted on this blog and on the financial websites). There is no comparison in the two balance sheets.
    USA today does not follow the community papers just because they are both part of the Gannett family. That is like saying ESPN should lay off people because Disney is! Its a stupid assumption.
    USA Today is a separate division.

  21. Jim Hopkins Says:

    1:27 p.m.: In the interest of being hyper-cautious, and so as not to contribute to more unease at USAT, I’ve just tweaked the hed. But I absolutely believe that Corporate is scrutinizing USAT. Every paper’s revenue and profits are important to Gannett; but USAT’s is extra-important because of its size.

  22. Anonymous Says:

    “A lot of Asbury readers were pretty upset when the sports coverage was combined with Westchester’s. Instead of getting a unique and local slant, they got the anointed section from another region. The people within the department really resented the intrusion, and for a while a few years ago refused to take any Westchester copy just too make a point.”

    8:16 is right, to a point. It wasn’t just about the intrusion, it was a lot of things. Because of poor planning and even poorer communication, we couldn’t (and still can’t) get the Westchester copy in a timely fashion. And that was true regardless of whether it was a live game or a feature story. We very often felt like we were having to beg Westchester to send us the stories. Worse, in many cases, the stories needed significant editing. Leads were routinely buried and especially in the case of game stories, the real news of the day would be sent along as the top of a notebook instead of the lead to the game story. Their desk was overwhelmed and we would call and be told, “We don’t know when So-and-So is filing.” Using AP copy was the only way we could make deadline in many cases.

    The biggest irony was that it was touted as a cost-cutting move, but the only paper it really cut costs for was Westchester, because APP (and the NJ Group) was forced to pick up a significant part of the salary tab for Ian O’Connor, whom Westchester stole from one of the NY tabloids.

    The really sad part is the end result has been an eviscerating of the sports section. A week ago, it was a whopping 6 pages. That’s six pages for a paper that sits equally far from New York and Philly and has fans of both markets. That’s three baseball teams and three NFL teams right now, plus horse racing and college football. High school sports open this weekend, and there are nearly 50 high schools in the two counties they cover.

    We dropped coverage of the Nets (NBA) and the Devils (NHL) completely and because they are NJ teams, Westchester doesn’t cover them.

    Yet for the last three years, a photographer and reporter have been sent to cover the National Pop Warner Championships, with a heavy emphasis on the cheerleading, at Disney.

    And then they wonder why readers are leaving in droves and why the section gets ignored at APSE.

  23. Anonymous Says:

    Some answers and facts about (re:10:15) questions and comments concerning the perceived decline of USA TODAY print graphics, and contributing factors to that decline:

    – 5 of the 13 former print artists have been reassigned, almost exclusively at this point, to the web site.

    – 1 of the former 13 print artists took a buyout several months ago.

    – All 6 of the above staffers (approximately 50 percent of the former print art staff) are or were some of the most productive and experienced informational graphics artists on the USAT newspaper staff. The numbers back that up.

    – 5 of the remaining 7 print artists are considered illustrators more than info graphics artists. Illustrations generally take more time to complete than small or mid-sized graphics.

    – Most of the 7 remaining artists are spending some of their time contributing to the web site or learning new skills, which is time spent away from newspaper work.

    – 3 of the 4 print graphics editors, who helped generate graphics, edited graphics and illustrations, managed the staff, helped design key pages, etc., left within the last 18 months, either taking buyouts or leaving on their own prior to buyouts.

    – Several other related supporting editors and visual staffers, some attached to photo and/or technology, took buyouts and left several months ago. Some section editors who were tied to generating graphics also left and were not replaced.

    – Vacancies in the art department from further back (3-5 years ago), prior to buyouts and the merger, were not filled.

    – Online is now the priority for USAT and all Gannett papers. Digital graphics generally take much longer to create and require other skills and larger teams, which therefore might account for the fact that 10:15 hasn’t seen much visual growth on the site, plus a decline in print graphics.

    A bit of an editorial comment: As anyone in visual journalism knows, merging print artists onto an online platform is far different and much more complex than merging reporters or copy editors. Takes time, resources and the acquiring of complex skills. It is not a relatively seamless process like writing a story for online vs. print. Something has to give in a visuals department that is trying to serve two platforms. Each platform has very different timetables, deadlines and demands, not to mention overall cultures. Barring a major hiring spree to bulk up the web site, there is virtually no way to merge both without something or someone taking a big hit. So, in that regard, 10:15 is correct in his or her observations.

  24. Anonymous Says:

    Dead on 12:04! I am one of the refugees from USAT, and believe everything to be true that you stated based on my years there. I admire your objectivity and probably was rooting for a bit more color and commentary. 🙂 When I was there, emotions were running high. I imagine things are even more critical now with print fading away, so you did an admirable job in not turning things personal. I am assuming you are still working in print? I still have emotional ties to USAT Photos & Graphics, and am saddened to hear the news from the old 'hood. Sh-t happens, and biz goes on, but it shouldn't have happened the way it is.

    As for this idea expressed by others of local papers being wrapped around USAT, that just seems too far fetched, especially since its obvious USAT is being minimized in a bunch of ways, not just in graphics. I think Gannett is trying to get out of the print biz entirely.

  25. Anonymous Says:

    Print graphics, page design and illustration will all be gone soon at all GCI papers. Everything will be geared towards the web and the early attempts of web graphics is below average. Look at the NY Times flash graphics, they are doing it right.

  26. Anonymous Says:

    10:38 — Do you remember “Somersetization?”

  27. Anonymous Says:

    For the record, USAT has been consistently eliminating positions since the early part of 2001. That’s when some of the regional markets began consolidations.

    There were 26 regional markets at the beginning of 2000 and now there are 17 although that is an illusion; there are only six fully operating markets after the business center deployment.

    So don’t say USAT hasn’t been under the microscope for years now. It hasn’t been just the recent editorial buyouts.

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