Sunday, March 09, 2008

GCI discovers the answer is local news. Again.

Have you heard about the Gannett Newspaper Division Print Task Force? I hadn't -- until a reader slipped me a copy of its confidential new report, on the future of the company's print newspapers. It's now circulating among editors.

The group was led by Tennessean Publisher Ellen Leifeld. And after months of study, it reached this jaw-dropping conclusion: Print's future is all about local news and baby boomers, those 78 million Americans with deteriorating eyesight, spreading waistlines -- and a slightly perplexed expression when talk turns to avatars.

Newspaper division chief Sue Clark-Johnson sent the report to publishers in the last month or so. Although she's retiring in May, I suspect the recommendations will carry weight with her anointed successor, Robert Dickey.

Gannett spokeswoman Tara Connell declined to comment on the task force's recommendations, calling them an "internal matter."

The task force concluded that boomers are the ones "most inclined to be regular newspaper readers.'' And while Gannett still values the under-40 crowd, "we need to be realistic about the print platform. The primary audience of readers is over the age of 40 now, and that will not change.''

But you can already hear the collective oh shit, not again groan among editors as they read the first two of the report's 10 recommendations on pleasing boomers:
  • "Hard news and local news remain our greatest strength and are Boomers' top news priorities; therefore, they should be ours. If editors must cut content, hard news and local news should remain untouched.''
  • "Our watchdog role is perceived as central to our responsibility as a local newspaper. We must find a way to strengthen our watchdog reporting efforts.''

Confidential to the task force: Been there, done that -- got the Real Life, Real News t-shirt to prove it!

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[Image: today's Nashville Tennessean, Newseum.]


  1. the word "perceived" really bothers me

  2. Please post the whole report

  3. Unfortunately, I've only got a hard copy. Plus, it's 14 pages long. But, if I get enough requests, I'll scan it and try to figure out a way to get it to anyone who wants a copy.

  4. It's interesting that boomers are seen as the hope for print newspapers. I write for boomers and 50-plus readers, and the newspaper editors I've talked to aren't to excited about running columns for them.

    I have a blog called The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide at

  5. If Ellen Leifeld led the task force, she is a hypocrite of the first order. In Nashville, she has stripped away hard news and the paper's watchdog role. She shifted resources toward soft stories in an effort to get affluent women to read the print product (it's no longer a newspaper), and she is moving resources to the Web with hopes of luring people who use avatars. Hard news reporters are long gone, and are replaced with young reporters who are trained to shoot crappy video. Resources continue to funnel to the online environmental site, a moms online site, a travel online site and the paper's very own SHOPPING DIVA! Oh yeah, that's hot! At the same time there has been a reduction in the number of reporters assigned to cover news and watchdog stories. Ridiculous.

  6. I read that document -- or one similar -- some months ago. If I thought corporate management folks were committed to propping up Gannett's local hard news coverage, that would be terrific. But they aren't, because that would preclude the resource cuts that are sure to continue.
    (See: Wall Street thinks you're a bunch of slackers.)

  7. Curious George...why not any editorial prizes? For most of the years I spent with Gannett, we never seemed to win any of the major news prizes. If Gannett had focused more on content, and less on profit...things might sit better today. The Goliath of Greed has won once again.

    We never passed the "smell" test...I guess. Smells like a rat, looks like a rat, it's a rat.

  8. it worries me that someone leaked a confidential and proprietary company work product to this blog. our competitors are reading this and we are feeding them free info. if you do not like working at gannett, leave. there are many of us at this company who are working hard to do the right thing to make a living here. leaking proprietary company info is not right. jim, if you received digital copies of confidential reports, market research data, internal personnel matters, memos from strategic brainstorming meetings about the new product ideas the company is developing, etc., would you make it all available for people to download? the answer it yes...because, that's what "journalists" do...

  9. Jim, How does this report differ from the Newspaper Next 2.0 report and Real Life, Real News report?

  10. I never saw the Newspaper Next 2.0 report (was that what spurred News 2000?). And all I know about Real Life, Real News was what Phil Currie described in that 2003 News Watch story I linked to.

    One difference may be this: This new report focuses on the print papers; those two previous reports may have been about both print AND online.

    What can you tell the rest of us?

  11. Jim, The Newspaper Next 2.0 report focuses on online and revenue potential. On the new side it focuses on hyperlocal reporting. This all dovetails into the retention of the core market of Boomers and reaching out to the under 40 crowd using online. here is a link to the report.

    I have not been with Gannett for sometime but have many friends still there. From what I understand there is a rehashing of much of what has already been said in previuos reports throughout the industry. Local, Local, Local and changing the look, feel and targeting to maintain your core audance with print, while reaching out to new markets and demographics using online.

  12. It seems Gannett has schizophrenia. They need to reach out to younger readers, so you add more graphics, shorter articles, Gen X-interesting stories, etc. Except then they remember that older audiences are their core, and they don't like any of that stuff, so yank it all out. Rinse and repeat every couple of years.

    But I agree with everyone here. Gannett's been buying out veteran reporters, the ones who do hard news the best, in favor of younger ones, and cutting those 25-inch stories on tax increases to make room for the latest "dog bites man" story. How is that investing in the stuff older audiences like?

  13. What's hilarious about this is that I've worked on Gannett's pathetic attempts to connect with the "golden demographic" - 18 to 30-year-olds. Anyone ever hear of a NJ arts and entertainment section called Jetty? Yeah, I didn't think so.

  14. Gannett Wisconsin debuted a men's monthly magazine in the Appleton market a couple of years ago ... the concept and approach of which was vetted by mostly female executives. No surprise that it didn't even last a year.

    Six-figure salaries and highfalutin' degrees will never buy you common sense.

  15. TJ, well said: Six-figure salaries and highfalutin' degrees will never buy you common sense.

    That is what our esteemed executives seems to forget: That papers are read by common sense people as a majority.

    I see all these "super confidential plans" that are just a rehash of older ones that didn't go well. Now we are polarizing on the rich reader with articles on where to shop and do your nails.

    Yeah,I guess there's no room for good Newsroom people who publish good informative news and supply the reader with useful information. Gone are the days when you opened the newspaper and found interesting inspiring articles.

    And advertising: please, please, not more of these stale old "same ole, same ole". Gannett was asleep and missed the bus.

    Ah, I forgot to mention, we have to serve some more employees on the altar of Gannett so that the Executives can live a little longer lavishly!


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