Thursday, June 10, 2010

Memo: Gannett centralizing all digital contracting; Digital Ventures chief Williams gains more power

Further centralizing authority over newspaper and TV content, Corporate has notified senior executives that all "content" contracts and licensing agreements will now be handled by Gannett Digital Ventures, according to a memo forwarded to me by a reader. A former USA Today employee has been promoted to a new position managing this new arrangement, according to the memo, which was signed by Gannett Digital Ventures President Jack Williams (left).

The memo has emerged amid speculation that Williams is expanding his reach across Gannett's digital properties in discussions over a new paid content scheme, one that could involve News Corp., owner of The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones & Co., according to a Gannett Blog poster. Williams's move follows the departure of Chief Digital Officer Chris Saridakis on April 30. Corporate has not said publicly whether it intends to replace him.

The memo's text

To: Publishers, General Managers, Executive/Managing Editors, News Directors, and Financial Executives
From: Jack Williams
Cc: Gannett Management Committee, Tara Connell, Kate Marymont, Rob Mennie, Saira Stahl, Jeff Webber, Barbara Wall, Craig McKinnis
Date: 6/3/2010
Re: New Company-wide Content Contract Policies and Procedures

As you know from our previous communication, Gannett recently created a company-wide “Content Acquisition and Syndication Committee” in an effort to begin centrally reviewing, coordinating and managing our content contracts and licensing arrangements for all U.S. properties. The purpose and advantages of these efforts include:

1. Leveraging the overall size and negotiating power of Gannett.
2. Consolidating and reducing the overall number of content contracts we maintain by negotiating single, company-wide contracts where today we may have multiple contracts (by unit) covering the same content.
3. Reducing our overall legal exposure and expenses.
4. Gaining better control and understanding of where Gannett’s content is distributed, how we’re compensated for its distribution, and allowing for better strategic planning and decision making going forward.
5. Helping individual units take advantage of content that may already be under contract and available for their use.
6. Providing a central contact point for all requests, questions, and assistance needed related to content contracts.

As discussed previously, to achieve these advantages, we will need to put new policies and procedures in place for:

1. Reviewing all existing content contracts to determine the number and type of contracts Gannett currently has in place as well as the needs and opportunities these imply.
2. How we handle all content contracts going forward.

The first part of this process began with the “Content Contract Survey”, which was sent to all U.S. properties last November. Gannett Legal is now in the process of reviewing all of the contracts gathered as a result of the survey. Since we have questions about some of the responses, or some appear incomplete, during this contract review period, Gannett Legal may need to contact individual units with follow-up questions to gather additional information.

The second part of this process is taking shape now and began with creating a new position within Gannett Digital Ventures to manage these arrangements and contracts: Manager, Content Contracts and Relationships. Craig McKinnis, formerly with USA Today, has moved into this position and will now become the central contact point on all issues relating to content contracts. In addition, the committee has worked on an initial set of Policies and Procedures to be implemented immediately as the new process for handling all of these contracts and relationships going forward. 

Attached you will find the new “Content Contract Policies and Procedures.” For how we will handle all content contracts going forward. Definitions, descriptions and examples of different types of content contracts or agreements are included.

We understand there may be some initial comments, questions and concerns regarding the policies and procedures outlined in this document. This is new to all of us and a work in progress. We anticipate that the procedures and policies will be changed some over time as we work out the best way to handle all of the possible relationships and include that in the policies.  We encourage your feedback and input to help us with this process.  With your cooperation and feedback, we will be able to refine and streamline this process over time.

If at any time you are uncertain on how to proceed with any content contract, partnership or other content agreement, please contact Craig McKinnis at (703) 854-XXXX or via e-mail at and he will be available to assist you.

Thank you for your cooperation in implementing and adhering to these new and important procedures – they will make a significant and positive impact on our organization.

Jack Williams
President, Gannett Digital Ventures

[Image: this morning's USA Today, Newseum]


  1. So much for letting a thousand flowers bloom. Now the Crystal Towers is grabbing control of digital and centralizing everything, what is the incentive for local newspapers and salespeople to peddle local digital contracts? To whom will the revenues be attributed? Is it going to be put in the books of digital in McLean, or given back to the local newspaper that put together the package? Jack Williams gets to claim credit for the digital sales others are making? I think this idea is very ill-conceived.

  2. I have no inside knowledge, but doesn't this refer both for content we're shipping out AND to money we are paying for other people's content? i.e. what we are paying to the syndicates, other newspaper companies, the weather channel, art services, wire services?

    Makes sense if we contract that as a unit. A lot more bargaining power.

  3. The trouble with this initiative is there is not one uniform contract law in this county, but 50 variations, according to the states where the contract is drafted.
    The other question I have about this initiative is why do they need publishers if they are centralizing the contracting local newspapers are currently doing. Or, perhaps that is the idea and the days of Frank Gannett's idea of local autonomy for the newspapers are truly ended.

  4. Odd this is not managed within ContentOne.

  5. Is this the project that My Boss detailed in a post this week, saying: "There is a big deal that Josh Resnik and Jack Williams are working on with News Corp. Apparently, Gannett and News Corp will be joining forces to build an industry-wide paid content "portal"."
    I don't really know, but it looks to me that they are trying to locate any conflicts with a national strategy that might exist with contracts local papers have made with others.

  6. Craig McKinnis is one of the smartest and best guys USAT/GCI has. That he's in this position is good for everyone.

  7. The only strategy is that there IS no strategy. Anyone who knows anything about Gannett "digital" knows that.

    Thank God USA Today was allowed to develop things on their own (iPhone, iPad, website). If they had waited for GDY (Gannett Digital Yesterday), they'd still be chasing the new world of dial-up.

  8. McKinnis indeed is a savvy and straight shooter who looks to getting things done rather than worrying about how it looks. He'll be effective and is a big plus for this effort.

  9. Say what you want about JW, but he was the one behind GCI's strategy with, and All three are now number one in their respective digital space and make up for most of the losses within the print space. Every publisher back in 1998 hated his bedside manner. Every publisher hates his bedside manner in 2010. Heck, I don't like his bedside manner; but I love selling the above digital products in non Classified Venture markets and increasing my share of the business. The newspapers I compete with, that don't have CV products, bleed from aggressive gci sales folks selling into their markets. It's like taking candy from a baby. Jeez, give the guy a little credit...

  10. Just another step toward making the local papers irrelevant and letting weeklies take over.

    I suppose we might get better rates on some of the syndication that most papers are running, but if the upshot is that some papers have to drop things readers like and replace them with crap that we bought collectively at a good rate, the papers will get even worse than they are now.

    The argument behind local autonomy is that readers in different markets often like different things. If that wasn't true everyone would buy the Wall Street Journal and there would be no reason for local papers.

  11. i believe this also covers any art services used by creative and sales staff - of which our site currently has none. they were all cancelled.

  12. Enjoy your injection of crap fonts and boring layout via USA Today news and sports pages? Hey, how about that - everyone else in the world realizes that local, local, local differentiation is the way to build audience, but in Virginia we're going to recreate the mass message/mass media model.

  13. This is the first step in the eventual News Corp and Gannett/USAToday paid content agreement.

    There are some big implications for Digital Sales for newspapers and USAT.

    Jack Williams has been meeting with Jon Miller at News Corp to discuss one delivery mechanism for all local content and for USAT to combine news operations within WSJ and sales within News Corp.

    David Hunke has been removed from the process and now Jack Williams has taken over all content agreements and production.

    Content One has been removed from any Digital initiatives and Tara C is going to announce her retirement in the next few weeks.

    It seems like they are having trouble finding a new Chief Digital Officer and I also heard that several people have been called and no one is interested in looking at the job seriously.

    Dubow is upset that it is taking Martore so long to find a new CFO and head of Digital.

  14. Wow. Tara's gone. So much for loyalty, lavish loyalty in this case. Content One has been lagging, so it comes as little surprise, although she was a Dubow favorite.

  15. My Boss has been a very good source. Of course, until any announcement is made, we'll never know for certain about Connell's future.

  16. Regarding My Boss' post, the reference is to Jon Miller, the former AOL CEO, who was named News Corp.'s chief digital officer in April 2009.

  17. Why would anyone with serious skills want the Chief Digital position at Gannett. I get the feeling Saridakis took it so he could sell off some of his ventures for a tidy profit and then split. The other major players in the industry probably have brighter futures where they are. Gannett needs to find an up-and-comer who is being underutilized where they already are and that won't be easy because Gannett leadership doesn't like creative thinking.

  18. I'll take that chief digital job, do an admirable impression of Gannett corporate leadership, wipe myself with my current paycheck and quit. (Oh wait, you ask - I thought at Tyson's they neither shit nor got off the pot?)

    It should only take an hour if the squeezin's hard, and I guarantee my results will be quantifiable, measurable, and in line with other G-Digital products already 'in the pipeline.'

    I'm not even greedy. I'll take half of the current standard 'go away' money we dump on losers - and the stock will be up 50¢ by noon.

  19. Getting someone serious and knowledgeable to become the chief digital officer is going to be incredibly difficult. The first hurdle is that anyone looking at the job is certain to get hold of Saridakis to find out his views. I bet he has a boatload of stuff to convey about his brief year or so at Gannett.
    Then there's meeting with GCI's crack executives, talking golf with Dickey, back problems with Dubow, and cooking with Gracia. The lasting impression is the over-the-hill gang.
    Finally, there's the realization that Gannett is still an assortment of fiefdoms, each with its prickly power base. Tread on the wrong foot, and Dubow wants to know what happened.
    I think their hopes of getting a first-rate digital executive are thin. Watch as they rush to fill this job with someone inexperienced and weak.

  20. My Boss is correct...Seems like Miller is firt purchasing Skiff and now adding the content...Free content from NY Times..

    News Corp. Buys Skiff as It Preps for Paid Content
    June 15, 2010, 4:30 am

    The News Corporation’s $11.5 billion offer to buy the rest of BSkyB isn’t the only deal the media company has been eyeing this week.

    The company controlled by Rupert Murdoch took several significant steps on Monday toward preparing to charge readers for access to its content online, including the acquisition of an electronic reading platform called Skiff. The media conglomerate also said it had made an investment in a company that was developing pay models for newspapers and magazines, The New York Times’s Brian Stelter and Jeremy W. Peters reported.

    Also as part of it’s pay-content move, the News Corporation named one of its strategic advisers, Jon Housman, to the new post of president of digital journalism initiatives.

    The moves reflect the belief of Mr. Murdoch, the News Corporation’s chairman and chief executive, that consumers should pay more for what they read online.

    Skiff is a company that the Hearst Corporation established last year to develop an online store and an e-reader for publications. The News Corporation indicated that it was not buying the hardware plans; instead, it was interested in Skiff’s ability to deliver compelling rich media layouts for newspapers and magazines on the Web.

    Separately, the News Corporation said it had made an investment in Journalism Online, a company co-founded by Steven Brill, L. Gordon Crovitz and Leo Hindery Jr. that wants to enable publications to charge for content.

    The terms of the two deals were not disclosed.

    Jon Miller, the chief digital officer of the News Corporation, said in a statement that “both Skiff and Journalism Online serve as key building blocks in our strategy to transform the publishing industry and ensure consumers will have continued access to the highest quality journalism.” He declined a request for an interview.

    Speaking to investors last month, Mr. Murdoch said that the News Corporation was in “final discussions with a number of publishers, device makers and technology companies” about digital delivery of news and entertainment.

    “We will soon develop an innovative subscription model that will deliver digital content to consumers wherever and whenever they want it,” he said.

    The News Corporation owns properties like The Wall Street Journal that charge for access online, and those that are entirely free like The New York Post.

    Mr. Brill said that the News Corporation and Journalism Online had been discussing how to work together for several months.

    “What brought the discussions really to a head was what we saw, I think, mutually. This was one of those situations where there was almost a complete complementary relationship between what we’re doing and the kinds of things they were thinking about doing,” Mr. Brill said.


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