That would be a big shift in a century-old policy laid down by co-founder Frank Gannett (left). He mandated local autonomy over news coverage, from school boards to presidential inaugurations, the company's history says: "It was his belief that a newspaper best serves its city if its publisher, editor and all its employees are locally oriented and understand the city and its people."
Today, Gannett's newspapers and websites are still produced by people who live and work in the communities they serve: from Rochester, N.Y., to Louisville, Ky., to Salinas, Calif. Importantly, this has meant local folks choose the stories, photos and other content appearing in print and online.
But that is now changing under ContentOne -- a fact CEO Craig Dubow revealed early last month to a high-profile conference of influential Wall Street stock analysts. The service, Dubow said, creates a "national head" to the "local content-gathering bodies,'' and is the logical next step from the Information Center model adopted two years ago.
Which editors choose news?
Consider ContentOne's debut as news central across all 85 sites for President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration. A week ago, Corporate gave each paper a "turnkey'' microsite -- like The Courier-Journal's, in Louisville, Ky.; here's a partial screenshot:
Readers get to the Obama page via an illustrated link (inset, left) embedded on the Courier's homepage; all the Gannett sites adopted these in the past week. Kentucky readers are encouraged to think the page was created by editors in Louisville -- the same ones who pick stories for the rest of the site, and for the daily print paper.
For example, readers are greeted by the paper's logo in the upper-left corner, and a little bit of local news right below -- just like on all the other sites. All the other stories and features were selected by Corporate, as promised in its planning memo: "It will be delivered to you and your readers under your local branding."
(Broadcasting division employees might compare this to the establishment, now under way, of centralized graphics and master control engineering functions at regional centers.)
Finally, check out the list of stories in the middle of the page, near the bottom in that screenshot -- under the heading that says in red type, "inauguration headlines." This identical list of stories appears on all the Gannett Obama sites I spot-checked. That leads to my:
- Which editors choose those national Obama stories on behalf of all 85 websites -- and where do those editors work?
- Many if not all these stories are soft, and lack hard news. Is that a policy? If so, who set the policy -- and why?
- Does Corporate plan to extend this consolidation of editing decision-making to other national news pages on community paper sites -- such as business, sports and popular culture?
- How many copy-editing and webpage-building jobs does Corporate expect to eliminate during 2009 under ContentOne?
- As ContentOne evolves, what steps has the board of directors taken to safeguard the community papers' traditional editorial autonomy?