Archive for the ‘Information Center’ Category

Another shoe drops: Marymont takes Currie’s job

December 10, 2008

Gannett has finally gotten around to making the announcement, just moments ago, that you read about long ago, here.

WUSA: What’s as much fun as watching paint dry?

December 9, 2008

How about a live feed of construction work on the on-air set for Gannett’s flagship TV station? It’s being webcast by Mogulus, the video service GCI invested in back in July. Passing along the link, Anonymous@6:05 p.m. says in a comment:

“The newsroom has been torn apart for new furniture and configuration as it transforms into the ‘Information Center.’ Some question spending money on new furniture, even though it’s needed, when you are downsizing staff.”

Annals of bad communication: Layoff memo, part 2

December 9, 2008

After last August’s big layoff, I told the company’s publishers that employees want to see one thing at the very top of a layoff memo: How many of us will lose our jobs?

What they don’t want is a lot of literary throat clearing, or references to news we already know. And, yet! We now have before us one such memo — forwarded by a reader who says they got it today from their TV station’s general manager. (It’s 548 words; I’ve put the real news in boldface type.)

Team —

Sunday on Meet the Press, President-elect Obama talked about the economy getting worse before it gets better. We are making distinct efforts to develop new revenue streams and new clients. Every day we are experiencing wins in those areas and our sales folks are doing impressive things. But it is a big gap to bridge as numerous large and perennial clients cut their spending dramatically. Automotive advertising alone is down by staggering amounts.

Most of you are well aware of the expense cuts we’ve made. Your efforts to do more with less, really get behind the Information Center model and to carefully limit overtime have gone a long way to minimize the need to cut positions. Even so, we have eliminated some positions and will likely need to eliminate some more in coming months.

Obama also mentioned that some Americans will need to “take a haircut,” meaning pay more to help our country get out of this mess. We have a parallel here; it is a station-wide pay cut that we will need to enact January 1st. This step will go a long way to minimize future layoffs, keep more of us employed and maintain as large a workforce as possible. Here is how it will work:

All employees, including department heads and managers, will take percentage cuts in their base pay rate beginning January 1st. There will be no scheduled raises throughout 2009. Pay cuts will be on a graduated scale as follows

  • Employees with base pay less than $25,000 annually — 2% cut
  • Employees with base pay between $25,001 and 50,000 — 3% cut
  • Employees with base pay between $50,001 and 75,000 — 4% cut
  • Employees with base pay more than $75,001 annually — 5% cut

For the group of staff who are contracted talent, individually negotiated cuts will be made at the appropriate anniversary of their contracts in 2009. For commissioned sales account executives, cuts will be incorporated into their base pay, but they will be given incentives to overcome those cuts in the categories of new, online and developed business. I’m sure all of you can see that their success in bringing in new clients is our hope for the future and a return to higher salary levels for all.

We announce these cuts with the full knowledge that some individuals may find it time to move on in their careers. While we hope that does not happen, it is a risk we must assume in these extraordinary times.

This pay cut does not mean we will suspend performance reviews. There are some amazing and appreciated things going on that need to be discussed and celebrated. That individual feedback is more important now than ever.

We are hopeful that these cuts will be reversed in future budget years. For the time being, we can only do our very best to remain vital to our viewers, online users, clients and communities. No matter how hard the times become, we are the best positioned of any Maine media company to do just this.

If you have any questions on this, please don’t hesitate talking to either of us or your department head.

On behalf of your managers, our sincere thanks for all you are doing and will continue to do for our stations’ success. Together we will survive these tough times and thrive in the times that will surely follow.

Got a memo on your mind? Post it in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar.

[Photo: Memo’s Mexican Food restaurant sign, Seattle Weekly]

As Currie retires, debate grows over his legacy

November 22, 2008

In one of the least surprising developments in Corporate’s hush-hush executive reshuffling, top newspaper division content boss Phil Currie (left) has told colleagues in an e-mail that he’s leaving the company after more than four decades’ work.

Mark Silverman once accused me of burying the lead in an e-mail I sent to editors, so I won’t do it here,” Currie says. “I want you to know that on Dec. 31 of this year, I will be retiring. Given some vacation time I will be using over the holidays to be with my family, I expect my last official day in the office will be Dec. 19. I approached Bob Dickey about this in October, and he left it to me to choose the time of the announcement. I choose now.”

One of GCI’s most influential editors
A 44-year Gannett lifer, Currie did more than almost any other executive to shape the content of the company’s newspapers over the past two decades. He was not universally popular. Yet, Currie remained optimistic about the industry’s future, as this short February interview shows:

Currie has strong supporters — including Cincinnati Enquirer top editor Tom Callinan, who says in a comment today: “Before this thread dips below the home page and is lost to posterity: It is unfortunate that this good man who has done so much for so many and cared so deeply over the years is getting raked by anons who really do not know Phil. Say what you will about News 2000 and RLRN or whatever other Corporate program, Phil put readers first as well as the families of those of us who moved often. His legacy is rich with recruiting some very good journalists, advancing diversity and standing up for us when the bean-counters intruded into newsrooms.”

Currie’s legacy; what’s next?
When I worked for the community newspapers, publishers did not dare hire an executive editor — sometimes even a managing editor — without Currie’s blessing. He was a driving force behind Gannett’s more hare-brained quality control programs — from the original “News 2000,” to “Real Life, Real News.” Yet, his crowning achievement may be the now-failing Information Center business model, foisted on newspapers two years ago.

Kate Marymont will likely take on Currie’s responsibilities, a shift expected since the former News-Press editor in Fort Myers, Fla., got promoted to Corporate earlier this year.

(Confidential to Currie: That you would reference Tennessean top editor Silverman in one of your final e-mails only confirms you haven’t paid attention to what’s been happening in the field.)

Earlier: More video favorites on my YouTube channel

Please post your thoughts 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.

In new data, a stark portrait of digital’s newsroom

October 26, 2008

Two years ago this month, Gannett unveiled what it called the newsroom of the future: the Information Center, a strategic shift designed to bolster readership and advertising sales by emphasizing digital over traditional print distribution.

“Breaking news on the Web and updating for the newspaper draws more people to both those media,” CEO Craig Dubow told employees at the time. “Appealing to more and different readers helps bring us more and different advertisers.”

Now, new data show, Dubow’s Information Center strategy is failing to turn around Gannett’s biggest and most troubled business: the community newspaper division; its 84 dailies plus USA Today account for nearly 80% of revenue, and 65% of GCI’s 46,000 employees.

For the first time, Dubow is conceding that online advertising sales are now falling across those newspapers, following months of increasingly narrow gains. Online sales fell 7% in the third quarter from a year ago, Dubow told Wall Street media stock analysts in a Friday teleconference.

It was Dubow’s starkest concession that a cornerstone of his strategic plan was not delivering the goods, raising troubling questions about Gannett’s viability as the 102-year-old newspaper publisher steams into uncharted waters.

Newspaper losses accelerate
The fall in newspaper online revenue came despite higher website traffic, company documents show. Gannett captured 15.6% of the U.S. Internet audience last month, up from 15% in September 2006, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.

What’s more, the online revenue decline comes as newspaper advertising losses accelerate: Ad sales plunged $210.6 million, or 18%, in the third quarter from a year ago — the single-biggest drop since sales started falling early last year.

Meanwhile, Gannett’s purely digital businesses aren’t making up the difference, other data show. Digital sales totaled $77.6 million, up from $17.2 million in last year’s third quarter. This newly created revenue category comprises jobs site CareerBuilder, ad services company PointRoll, plus other ventures.

Tweak vs. fatal flaw
The bottom line: Gannett’s profit plunged 32% in the third quarter on a 9% decline in operating revenue, shaking investor conference, and guaranteeing another round of job reductions by year’s end, Chief Financial Officer Gracia Martore told the Friday teleconference.

Advocates of the Information Center model might argue that the newspaper division’s revenue losses would have been even worse without a big change in how Gannett gathers and distributes news. Rather than abandoning it, they’ve begun revising the concept.

But a mere tweaking will not address the Information Center’s fatal flaw: It was to be launched while Gannett simultaneously reduced employment in the newspaper division. Dubow didn’t make that clear in his original Information Center memo. It became obvious over the past two months, as GCI cut more than 1,000 newspaper jobs through layoffs and other means.

You cannot do this simultaneously and succeed: build an innovative digital start-up (the websites, moms microsites, Metromix, etc.) while also putting out 85 traditional daily newspapers — all at Internet speed, but with fewer employees, shoveling as much cash as possible to investors.

Gannett is now spreading the Information Center strategy to its TV stations and U.K. newspapers, even as the company plans more job cuts amid a likely global economic downturn. In Friday’s earnings statement, Dubow made clear he won’t turn away from that strategy. “While our results this quarter reflect the difficult and volatile economy both here and in the U.K., they also highlight our determination to move forward with our strategic plan,” he said.

And, yet: Is it determination — or desperation?

Please post your thoughts 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: yesterday’s News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., Newseum. The paper was one of the test sites for the information center concept]

Blog: Newsquest’s Herald primed for a strike

October 23, 2008

In an e-mail, a reader describes cutbacks roiling The Herald group — three Scottish dailies that are part of Gannett’s Newsquest division in the United Kingdom. The budget reductions come “despite record levels of profits last year, on the back of three rounds of redundancies (buyouts) that have resulted in a one-third drop in editorial staff over two years,” my reader says. “The papers are literally being destroyed — steeply declining circulation, unfeasibly tight budgets in all areas, internecine internal politics, staff replaced by casuals, then pressure on managers for hiring casuals.”

The Herald staff has already been out on strike to prevent compulsory layoffs once, the reader notes — and it looks as if they might do it again, the All Media Scotland blog says. My reader’s e-mail concludes: “It has been very interesting reading about the U.S. experience on your blog. We get a shadow of Corporate’s policies, but we feel them far more deeply. In fact, we are still plodding lamely down the discredited Information Center path, hampered by poor software and a badly botched roll out of new production systems.”

[Image: a recent screenshot of the Herald’s homepage]

Carroll: Gannett Digital now in ‘major’ hiring push

October 10, 2008

The digital division will eventually include more than 100 technology and IT staffers, more than doubling the number before the late 2006 launch of the Information Center model, according to an interview Jennifer Carroll gave to PBS’ Media Shift blog. Carroll, a main architect of the Information Center strategy, was named Digital’s vice president of digital content in April. From the Q&A:

Media Shift: Many newspapers complain that it’s expensive to get good programmers or that it’s difficult to recruit them because they’d prefer tech companies or start-ups. Has it been difficult to hire them at Gannett?

Carroll: We’re right in the middle of a major hiring period at Gannett Digital for exactly those kinds of people and we’ve been very impressed by the response. Some are coming from start-ups, some are coming from existing online companies, others are those that we’ve gone out and recruited in the past couple years. We have been a lot more proactive about being in places we weren’t before, like tech conferences and R&D sessions. We’ve tried to learn and grow so we can stay ahead instead of running to stay in place like everyone else.

We’ve done a lot of hiring over the past three months in all these areas: product development, audience, technology and operations. At the same time, the economic realities that are affecting all sorts of pockets across the United States, including in real estate, have forced newspapers to make reductions so we are putting a premium on innovation and growth to support some of the work that our local newspapers are doing. We are taking on the R&D role that they don’t have the staff to do.

[Hat tip, Romenesko. Image: today’s Des Moines Register front page, Newseum; Carroll singles out the paper for praise]

In new Indy job, ‘silos’ and ‘accountability channels’

September 29, 2008

As Gannett replaces traditional newspaper jobs with new digital positions, job descriptions change dramatically. This is an advertisement for a new senior editor at The Indianapolis Star, posted Sept. 19 on JournalismJobs.com.

Position: Executive Editor/Digital and Custom Content
The Executive Editor/Digital and Custom Content will lead the Indianapolis Star‘s initiatives to become a next-generation leader in digital and niche print and on-line content. This individual will work with the Information Center Editor and, attuned to advertising, marketing, information technology and research and development goals and support, break down silos, develop new content and content management systems, and engage in strategic planning.

This position will have a strong awareness of the audiences we serve, their lives and their roles in the geographic, cultural and economic make-up of Central Indiana. It will lead the Information Center’s efforts to address the information needs of niche audiences and provide multi-media tools and other products to serve those audiences. Our goal is to reach more audiences with custom content delivered on more platforms, and this position will play a key role in that. This position also will be a leader within our Interstate Group of Gannett newspapers (metros Indianapolis, Louisville, Cincinnati and smaller to medium-sized papers in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin) for multi-platform custom content.

The position’s channels of accountability are:

  • Optimal presentation across all digital platforms of news information and special projects including First Amendment projects, multi-media, databases, calendar information, community conversation and reader/user interaction.
  • The development of new niche websites to bring together communities of users as we build our role as metro Indianapolis’ prime source of community news and information.
  • The integration of advertising and marketing initiatives into our digital and print operations, including new technology systems and advertising approaches that boost revenue while ensuring the independence of the information-gathering process from conflicting advertising and marketing influence.
  • Strong custom publishing print and on-line products that meet the needs of information consumers and advertisers.
  • Strong, audience and niche-focused, themed products for the core newspaper.
  • Attention to budget, human resources, diversity/mainstreaming, ethics and other key goals of our company.

In recognizing the new realities of the digital era, this position will focus solely on the above accountabilities. While it will have necessary involvement with budget, operations, story editing and planning, and other aspects of the information center, it will not have day-to-day accountabilities for those functions. The position reports to the editor and vice president, Dennis Ryerson.

Who controls the new jobs?
How does a new job like this get created? Did a digital or print person have the most control over the final version?

Please post your thoughts 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.

[Hat tip, Ruth Holladay; image: today’s front page, Newseum]

WUSA-TV extends record — for highest turnover!

September 22, 2008

Gannett’s flagship TV station abruptly appointed yet another news director last week — the latest in a string of six general managers and eight news directors since 1996 at the CBS affiliate, a reader tells me. “I suspect that is the national record,” the reader says.

In a memo on Thursday, General Manager Allan Horlick told staff: “It is with great pleasure that I would like to announce that Lane Michaelsen has joined WUSA-TV as vice president/Information Center. Lane’s journalistic credentials and successful career track record speak for themselves, and I know you will all join me in welcoming Lane to his new position.”

In fact, Michaelsen’s credentials don’t speak for themselves, given his predecessor’s mysterious exit, my reader says: “Big questions surround the overnight departure of Mike Ward last Monday. Ward reportedly quarreled with General Manager Allan Horlick over a restructuring of the newsroom that included the firing of an anchor as well as other changes.”

My reader’s note continues: “Lane has served as a Gannett news director in the past. Credited with improving ratings at both Little Rock and Tampa. Though in both cases cutbacks at other stations as well as new and successful syndicated shows (one that replaced a newscast in Tampa) must be taken into account. Most recently, it was Michaelson who traveled the country instructing newspaper reporters in the art of videography. He is a proponent of ‘one-man-band’ journalism, where one person does it all.

“Since almost every move at WUSA and every manager at WUSA has been continually second-guessed by those in McLean, Va., it makes sense that the second-guessers are now running the place. Michaelson insisted the decision to take the quickly vacated WUSA job was his alone. Most guess it was part of a corporate downsize and that Ward was the odd man out.”

D.C., Tampa, Little Rock staffers: What more do you know? 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: recent screenshot of WUSA’s homepage]

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]