Detroit to address reports of ‘significant changes’ Big print, circ shift rumored | Stock plunges 12%

Gannett’s Detroit operations early next week will address newly published accounts of a secret project, designed to save the city’s two struggling newspapers. Speculation is focused on a rumored plan to end home delivery of the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News for all but two or three days a week.

This would make the 300,000-circulation Free Press and the 177,000 News by far the biggest U.S. papers yet to drop, or effectively drop, a day’s publication, Editor & Publisher is now reporting. Such a switch, I wrote this morning, would represent an enormous gamble by Gannett and its partner, MediaNews Group, to stanch multimillion-dollar losses in a city whose economy is cratering around the auto industry crisis. Hanging in the balance are the jobs of perhaps 2,000 employees.

Wall Street investors weren’t happy: Gannett’s stock plunged 11.9% this afternoon, closing at $7.59 a share, down $1.02. Meanwhile, the widely watched S&P-500 index fell a smaller 2.9%.

Hunke: ‘Reposition’ for growth
In a memo regarding a plan reportedly named “Project Griffon,” CEO Dave Hunke said the Detroit Media Partnership has been “exploring various scenarios” to “ensure two strong newspaper voices in the community.” Gannett has controlled 95% of the partnership through a joint operating agreement, reorganized in 2005.

Hunke’s memo: “In the past 24 hours you have no doubt heard a lot of rumors and several news reports about significant changes at the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News. Clearly, over the past months we have been exploring various scenarios to reposition the companies for growth and to ensure two strong newspaper voices in the community. We plan to share details early next week with you, as well as with readers, advertisers, unions and the community. In the meantime, let’s continue to focus on doing the best job we can and on building the strongest relationships we can among ourselves and with our customers.”

Tuesday announcement?
Hunke’s memo follows my post this morning, speculating that an announcement on Project Griffon could come as early as Tuesday. Looks like this story has legs after all.

A tipster says the vice president of circulation also advised employees: “Just wanted to remind everyone that all inquiries from media should be directed to Susie Ellwoods office.” (Gannettland is an even smaller world than I thought: Ellwood and I worked together at The Arkansas Gazette in the late 1980s, when Craig Moon — now USA Today publisher — was the Little Rock paper’s chief executive. Of course, back then, she had a different surname.)

Earlier: Motown, Project Griffon — and that secret PM code

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.

[Image: this morning’s Freep and News, Newseum]

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