Tightening its belt more, the nation's biggest newspaper publisher has quietly begun testing a service that it expects will replace some Associated Press news stories on websites of its 84 U.S. community newspapers, a memo obtained by Gannett Blog says.
The Dec. 19 memo by an employee at the company's Gannett Digital subsidiary describes an "AP Feed Project" that involves USA Today and an unspecified number of Gannett's newspaper websites. The project, the memo says, is "a pilot (and eventual company-wide rollout) where we will ask newspapers to swap out their AP news feeds for the USAT equivalents. The cost savings for making this switch is estimated to be about one million dollars per year across Gannett properties."
That $1 million savings figure is clearly too low, I would think -- even for news that's only going to websites. Or, is the reference to news "feeds'' involve a very limited menu of stories, so relatively small savings?
In a statement, AP spokesman Paul Colford told me: "We have not received a cancellation notice from Gannett. We know Gannett, like many newspaper companies, is exploring content options during these difficult economic times. If a cancellation were to be filed, it would take effect two years from the time it was sent. We are serving Gannett and we expect to continue serving Gannett."
I obtained the memo from a reader who does not work at Gannett Digital. The memo is signed by a Gannett Digital rollout manager. I have spoken to that person on the telephone, and they declined to comment. (I am withholding the employee's name to spare them any additional grief.)
Midwest daily tapped for test
The Gannett Digital memo asks a paper in the Midwest to offer its website for the pilot test, so Corporate can "get feedback on the process before deploying to the rest of the markets." I can't reveal the paper's name because it might expose my source.
The memo continues: "Please let me know if you would be interested in helping us with this pilot and providing your feedback. The two steps on your side would be swapping out the AP feeds with their USAT equivalents (which I would provide to you), and making sure that your co-brander is updated with the latest design, which shouldn't require too much bandwidth on your end. We hope to begin over the next two weeks, with the understanding that turnaround times may be slower during the holiday season."
The paper said yes immediately; the test began, my source said, "when Corporate asked us to submit a list of every AP feed we use."
USAT as ContentOne's 'national head'?
The pilot coincides with the launch, now underway, of Gannett's new web-based news service, ContentOne. It's debuting during President-elect Barack Obama's high-profile inauguration.
CEO Craig Dubow (left) told Wall Street stock analysts last month that the service would "completely change the way we share content across the company." Dubow did not say ContentOne would replace the AP. But, he noted, the service "is the logical next step from our local Information Center initiatives, creating a national head to the local content gathering bodies."
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[Image: today's front page, Newseum]