Archive for the ‘News Watch’ Category

By the numbers: How they retire top executives

December 5, 2008

1,295

— number of words retiring News Department chief Phil Currie spent in yesterday’s News Watch honoring four Corporate executives leaving the company. (Rank certainly carries privilege: Two of these guys didn’t even work in Currie’s department.)

22

— number of words Currie spent honoring the other 2,000 or so newspaper workers losing jobs in Gannett’s mass layoff. (“Indeed, this week many other good people are departing, too, and their individual losses also are deeply felt wherever they have worked.”)

Consolation prize!
Those other good people forcibly laid off in the worst economy since the Depression can always take CEO Craig Dubow‘s advice for students seeking journalism jobs:

You may not count as much at Corporate, but you definitely count here! We’re tallying job cuts, paper-by-paper. Please post your figures on our list, or in the comments section, below. You may also e-mail confidentially via gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com].

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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]

Unity: Gannett attendance way down from 2004?

July 25, 2008

Updated at 11:05 a.m. ET to correct hed: Regarding my post about CEO Craig Dubow‘s low profile at this week’s mammoth Unity ’08 minority journalism conference, a reader says: “Another sour grapes BS post. There are a number of Gannett executives here in Chicago. At least 15. Instead of constantly bitching, people ought to at least have some kind of constructive words rather than always tearing down and then lying about the rest. This blog has been going from bad to worse. The company appears to have a major presence here, is a major supporter, and comments like this do not help any cause except the few malcontents.”

A “major” presence, eh? From the News Department’s ever-reliable weekly News Watch newsletter:

  • Yesterday: “More than 200 Gannett journalists and executives from across the company are gathered in Chicago this week.”
  • Aug. 13, 2004: “Doug McCorkindale, chairman, president and CEO of Gannett, welcomed about 300 people to a Gannett rally before the formal start of Unity.”

Upcoming today
Dubow and other executives are to host a reception for GCI attendees. Other top dogs expected at Unity, according to News Watch: Chief Financial Officer Gracia “The Knife” Martore; human resources chief Roxanne “Insurance Audit” Horning; USA Today Publisher Craig “Other Craig” Moon, and broadcasting division head Dave “No Snarky Nickname Yet” Lougee.

Earlier: At Unity ’08, the color of sponsorships is green

Related: Unity President Karen Lincoln Michel of Gannett’s Green Bay Press-Gazette says diversity is “taking a back seat” to industry woes

Your latest bitching (hah!), 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.

Who will replace ‘class act’ Eberle at Brevard?

July 3, 2008

Florida Today‘s next editor will have a tough act to follow, based on the comments I’ve read about Terry Eberle, the newly appointed top editor at The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla.

Eberle is a class act,” one reader said yesterday, after his move was announced. “Many Gannett editors at larger papers won’t give the time of day to editors at smaller papers. Eberle treated all as equals and was always willing to share advice. He doesn’t lead with his ego like many in top editing ranks at Gannett metros do. His record at Florida Today is a good one. He’s one of the best editors in the company — part of a cadre of quality folks that is diminishing in numbers by the day.”

A lauded editor, at a bigger paper
Eberle will now lead the newsroom of a somewhat larger paper: The News-Press‘ daily circulation is about 84,000 vs. 79,000 at Brevard. Sundays, it’s about 101,000 vs. 95,000. I don’t know the cast of possible Eberle successors at Today or at other Gannett papers. Anyone want to take some guesses?

Employees aren’t the only ones who’ve lauded Eberle’s work, of course. He tied for editor of the year in the 2006 Best of Gannett awards. Judges noted the speed with which Today switched to the then-new Information Center model. “In a year of extensive transition, Terry provided outstanding leadership. . . . It was a remarkable job,” their citation said.

He’s bound for another Florida paper that grew in stature within Gannett for its early work on the Information Center model. Under the editor Eberle replaces — Kate Marymont, now in Corporate’s News Department — the News-Press became the public face of GCI’s efforts to merge online and print news gathering: The Washington Post featured the paper in a fairly glowing page-one story, in December 2006.

Related: Eberle’s November News Watch article on how new technologies are shaping decisions by editors to publish once-verboten stories — like news about bomb threats at public schools.

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.

[Image: this morning’s Today, Newseum]

Currie is now 100% composed of Kool-Aid

June 27, 2008

Case in point: In his News Watch article yesterday about this week’s Information Center teleconference, News Department Senior Vice President Phil Currie (left) has the gall to write the following: “Riding a wave of accomplishment and innovation, Gannett Information Centers soon will move to the next level of operation that builds on an impressive base and capitalizes on success thus far.” (Emphasis added.)

How about backing up that lede? The only specific example of “accomplishment and innovation” I could find in Currie’s piece is a reference to the mom’s sites. Puh-lease. Nearly two years after Gannett finally began merging print and digital, that’s the best he can offer?

Earlier: Lost readers: Why we gave up on News Watch

I would love to know how much Currie gets paid. $250,000? $300,000? 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.

Beck: Inside the Argus Leader’s Clinton ‘maelstrom’

May 30, 2008

Top editor Randell Beck faced a “maelstrom” after that Argus Leader editorial board meeting with Hillary Rodham Clinton, where she created headlines mentioning Robert F. Kennedy‘s 1968 assassination. The newspaper in Sioux Falls, S.D., did a great job: It quickly published video of her remarks, plus a transcript, drawing a surge of readers when the video spread to cable and broadcast TV.

“Visits were up nearly 40% from the previous month,” Beck writes in yesterday’s edition of the weekly News Watch, published by the News Department. “Unique visitors jumped nearly 160%. At last count, the video had generated more than 1.2 million viewed minutes.”

Beck says he learned three big lessons from the experience: Streaming video works. Editors must be ready for a video to go viral. And the medium’s transparency is a good thing.

Gander? It’s Goose — again
As we discussed the other day, News Watch could be a rich multimedia showcase for Gannett’s best work — an online classroom to discuss outstanding journalism. (I’m not afraid of competition!) For example, look at Beck’s piece yesterday: He’s writing all about a video, plus associated stories — without News Watch providing so much as a single link, so readers could easily watch and read on their own. Hello! Linking and embedding aren’t hard. Look what I’ve just done here:

(Confidential to Phil Currie: Little annoys the community newspapers more than Corporate’s piling additional digital work on already overstretched newsrooms — when you guys can’t seem to use the most basic technology tools yourselves.)

[Image: this morning’s Argus Leader, Newseum]

Lost readers: Why we gave up on News Watch

May 20, 2008

An employee at a paper in the Midwest told me that he stopped reading the weekly News Watch for the same reason I (mostly) stopped. Under chief honcho Phil Currie (left), the News Department spiked two features in the newsletter that we liked most — an easy-to-shop list of job openings at each of the 85 dailies’ newsrooms, and a rundown of new hires. “When they were listed,” the reader said in an e-mail, “it was a weekly must-read to get a bit of a feel for the company, for other sites — maybe think about other opportunities. Now, as you say, it’s just Kool-Aid for the executives.”

For me, the newsletter’s roster of reporters, editors and other employees moving into new jobs was my local-local Gannett news fix: I liked seeing where former co-workers landed.

I noticed the change when Gannett substituted its CareerBuilder employment website for the old list of jobs that, at a glance, once showed openings companywide. I suppose that move was designed to promote CareerBuilder, while also reducing costs associated with creating the special list for News Watch. I don’t know why the newly-hired feature was dumped, though.

Hello, Gander? It’s Goose, calling
News Watch desperately needs a revamp to make it more, well, 21st century. I’m thinking of digital improvements like those we recommended last week for the Daily News Summary. Interactive tools so readers can offer feedback. Video showing how, say, an artist created a graphic. How about a team News Watch Blog edited by the News Department? In other words: How about the News Department using the very digital tools it insists the community newspapers adopt? (Don’t have time for all that time-consuming Internets stuff? Well, tough shit! And welcome to our work-off-the-clock world. Hah!)

Consider last Thursday’s edition: The top editor at the Pensacola News Journal, Dick Schneider, writes about his paper’s asking readers for money-saving ideas to help them through rocky economic times in Florida’s poorest urban county. Schneider’s content is OK; it’s the one-dimensional presentation that’s nuts. His piece is basically a text document; I count one embedded link, to a three-week-old Schneider column in the News Journal, inviting readers to participate.

His News Watch piece doesn’t include an e-mail address, so readers could contact him with feedback and follow-up questions. What’s more, the article is illustrated with what I finally realized is a screen shot (inset, above) of a Gannett News Service story that appeared in the Pensacola paper, apparently as part of its new money coverage plan. Want to read it? Don’t look in Schneider’s article for this easy-to-add link; the News Department didn’t include that, either.

Do you read News Watch? Got any other examples of ways the News Department and Currie could improve their digital support? Leave a note, in the comments section, below. Or use this link to e-mail feedback; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

Marrying trends: New wedding mag is green, too

May 17, 2008

[See DATABASE story tip, at the bottom of this post] Rivals for advertising revenue are launched 24/7: Alternative wedding magazine Bond published its inaugural issue with a “green” theme — just in time for a bombshell California Supreme Court ruling Thursday, declaring a ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. At $8.95 per issue, San Francisco-based Bond is like a coffee table art book. It offers loads of luxe ads from well-known marketers like Dior (top); noirish fashion shots (cover image, inset); celebrity Q&As (Margaret Cho), and editorial spreads (bottom) on fancy food, like individual princess wedding cakes, $30-$50 each, from local French baker Miette.

Need story ideas? Try reader databases
I wrote about news photographers becoming wedding paparazzi-for-hire in a 2001 USA Today story, “Wedding photos, hold the cheese.” I got the concept while mining an online database of thousands of readers; I built it for my beat, entrepreneurs. These databases are invaluable for newsrooms of all sizes. [More: my News Watch article]

Your thoughts, in the comments section, below. Use this link to e-mail feedback, tips, snarky letters, etc. See Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

We’ve trained a million — no, a billion on video!

March 5, 2008

Turns out that even Corporate is having trouble staying on message about the online video program that’s caused so much comment on this blog in recent days, here and here.

Consider these dueling figures on the number of journalists who’ve become videographers — one from CEO Craig Dubow, the other from news division Senior Vice President Phil Currie:

  • Dubow, 2007 Annual Report, Feb. 28: “More than 800 journalists are shooting video for their newspaper websites.”
  • Currie, News Watch, Feb. 21: “in the past two years we at Gannett have provided equipment and trained more than 600 newspaper journalists — reporters, photographers, editors — to shoot and edit video.”

Don’t these guys work near each other? Couldn’t they have just flipped a coin? Use this link to e-mail feedback, tips, snarky letters, etc. See Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the sidebar, upper right. Or leave a note in the comments section, below.

[Photo: Dr. Evil, who couldn’t keep his numbers straight, either]

Editor to editors: Video is ‘time-consuming’

March 1, 2008

Herald-Dispatch Executive Editor Ed Dawson offered an “editor’s view” on video training in August 2006, when Corporate rolled out its video-training program in a series of News Watch articles. From Dawson’s piece: “Video can be time-consuming, so editors will need to make sure that staffers have time to do the projects and hone their skills.”

That message didn’t seem to get to every editor, based on all the comments rolling in on recent Gannett Blog posts about video production challenges — here, here and here.

But maybe Dawson’s advice is moot? Nine months after he wrote that, Gannett sold the Herald-Dispatch to GateHouse Media. (Was it something Dawson said?) Then, after just three months’ ownership, Gatehouse sold the paper, to commercial printer and office supplies maker Champion Industries. Are your heads still spinning, former Gannettoids in Huntington, W. Va.?