Sunday, June 20, 2010

USAT said shrinking D.C. news bureau next year; new, smaller office would house fewer employees

In another cost-cutting move, USA Today is closing its Washington, D.C., bureau next year, a reader says, and replacing it with smaller quarters, when most staffers move to the paper's main offices about 17 miles away at Tyson's Corner, Va. Staff learned about the development at a "big meeting last week,'' my reader says.

It's unclear what will happen to any remaining Washington correspondents for other, larger Gannett newspapers still sharing the existing USAT bureau, however.

The reported disclosure came the same week Publisher Dave Hunke warned staff of plans to reorganize the financially-struggling newspaper this summer, other Gannett Blog readers have said, in comments posted after a Thursday staff meeting. USAT has been roiled by a nearly 14% decline in circulation from a year ago, and an 11% first-quarter drop in ad revenue vs. last year. The paper's losses stem from a steep drop in the business travel market, USA Today's sweet spot.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. The only way you can get from the Crystal Palace (especially now, when the area is ripped up for Metro construction) to downtown DC in 15 minutes is by personal jetpack. Forty-five minutes is a better estimate -- and if you're going to the Hill, well, good luck with that. Enjoy your day of travel.

    Metro is not going to be an option for many years still -- and even when it is, the station really won't be all that close to the incredibly commuter-unfriendly location of USAT/Gannett. It's a horrible place from which to dispatch reporters for Washington coverage.

    Then again, as a cost-cutting measure, I get it; this moved seemed inevitable to me some time ago, especially given the acres of empty office space at USAT.

    Meanwhile, the talent drain continues. Certainly, there are all sorts of new media outlets in this country that are grateful to Gannett for paying to train journalists, then treating them so badly that they leave at the height of their talents. Oh, but it looks good in the quarterly report.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Yeah, that's just more of Jim's drones trying to spread rumors and bullshit.

    He likes those because they make the blog seem relevant. He's even been screening out comments that prove the rumors wrong.

  7. I think 1:24 is on the right track.

    Let me add another clue: Mr. 'sinecure' also says everyone's moving back to USA TODAY's 'OC'?

    Is that finance-speak, perhaps?

    So transparent.

  8. I have never heard more bitching and cavilling about walking three blocks as I have heard from those working at USA Today. We had this discussion last year about walking up to Tysons Corner shopping center. It has been the excuse for USA Today having its own cafeteria, one of the lavish benefits other Gannett employees do not enjoy.
    Here is the shortest walking route:
    Leaving USA Today, turn right and walk past Freddie Mac. It is one block to Park Run Drive. Turn left on Park Run and walk the second block past the Harris Teeter to Westpark Drive. Stay on Park Run for the third block, and the building looming right in front of you in the parking garage complex for Tysons Corner Shopping Center.
    If you walk through the center, on the other side is the new Metro station. It will open in early 2013, according to Metro, meaning you will be able to take the Metro downtown and back to Tysons Corner. The rest of Metro going to Dulles Airport will open in 2016.

  9. Cavilling?

    Those are enormously long "blocks,'' for those who are not in the area. And much of it steeply uphill.

    Not unwalkable, no, but quite a trek for a sandwich, or a metro.

    Just saying.

  10. Yes, the very definition of cavilling: The route I outlined avoids the hills, and the area was laid out by developer Til Hazel according to current urban dimensions for blocks.

  11. I'm reposting and edited version of a comment left at 9:13 a.m.:

    Yes, the Washington bureau has been fighting this for two years, and now has lost. Expect a big shakeup after it happens. Some of it already underway as political reporter Kathy Kiely is off for a year teaching at Princeton. IMO she will not be back.
    It is a large Washington bureau, compared to other newspapers which have dramatically reduced their Washington bureaus in this recession. Hearst, Newhouse and Copley have eliminated their bureaus, and others have cutback or consolidated their operations to save money. The Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times now rents space from Scripps to save money.
    USA Today had a bureau of 24 reporters and four assignment editors, plus Gannett News Service. As we all know, GNS is now part of Content One.

    As a practical matter, shifting the bureau to McLean means very little. It is a quick freeway ride of about 15 minutes down I-66 to get from the Crystal Palace to downtown Washington, and there soon will be a Metro subway station at Tyson's Corner about three blocks from headquarters. Reporters covering the Capitol and White House already have working desks in those buildings.
    Moving everyone to McLean will give USAT greater control over what these reporters are doing. Some at the main paper have long contended that assignment to the Washington bureau is a sinecure. That will end when the bureau is moved back into USAT's OC.

  12. I'm reposting an edited version of a comment left by Anonymous@1:24 pm:

    Also, Jim's headline is a bit misleading. There will still be a D.C. bureau somewhere downtown, at a cheaper and less elegant location. But USAT is not closing the bureau as if coverage of Washington news is ending.

    Finally, tracking down who wrote the post about downtown being only 15 minutes away should be fairly easy. There's only one person at USA TODAY I know who knows how to use the word "sinecure."

  13. You know, 6:40, if you lost an argument over whether we needed a cafeteria way back in the 90s when we were building this overblown place in the middle of nowhere, don't try to rewrite history now by making things up.

    There is no way to get to Tysons II (which is what you are describing), without going uphill, and severely uphill in spots. Including your roadmap.

    It is doable, but would take a good 15-20 minutes up and 15-20 minutes back.

    The real problem is the vanity of Gannett back in the 90s to build a place we could not justify even when times were good. It's always been half empty and for everyone out in Gannettland who hasn't been here, it really is in the middle of nowhere, flanked by industrial parks and corporate offices and the highway.

    There are no stores, no restaurants, no anything.

    Building the building here is far more of a crime than any of the payroll and print site reductions now being targeted. And some of those leading the charge were right there helping to order the expensive stone and marble.

  14. I'm reposting an edited version of a comment left by Anonymous@4:54 p.m.:

    Here's a serious subject (how to relocate the D.C. bureau), being twisted, as usual, into a series of false posts XXXXX, finger-pointing (finance vs. editorial), and plain crazy talk (it takes 15 minutes to drive to Congress from Tysons).

    It is why the Blog remains the worst form of communication.

  15. I'm reposting a comment left by Anonymous@11:33 am:

    I don't think even Jack Bauer could make it from Tysons to D.C. in 15 minutes.

  16. Note: I would have removed or edited several of these comments earlier. I have been offline for much of the day, however.

  17. And I rewrote the headline to make clear that, under the current plan, the existing office would be replaced by a smaller one.

  18. Hearst still has a bureau in Washington DC. Its reporters file for Hearst newspapers. The bureau moved to different quarters that may be why you have some confusion about it closing. And, the previous bureau was very nice.

  19. ContentOne = One dude providing all the content?

    "Today in Gannett News: The population of greater Washington, D.C. stayed home as our ContentOne Stream Manager, Larry, had a bad case of pink eye and going to the office without someone to report on it is rather pointless for most politicians.

    "Larry - we're all hoping your stream is full force soon. Get better, guy!"

  20. The day of Washington bureaus are long gone, and I have always questioned why USA Today needed one when headquarters are so close nearby. Whether it is 45 minutes or 15 minutes away from downtown, it is within easy driving distance. The bureaus used to be prestigue flag-waving operations with Washington bureau chiefs and large offices at the National Press Club or in office buildings near the White House. The Chicago Tribune had a spectacular bureau that looked like the Starship Enterprise, with built-in TV studios and huge offices located in a reconverted department store. The current recession prompted many organizations to reconsider spending all that money on a Washington office few sources ever visited or saw. Some just served as bragging rights for bureau chiefs who are members of the Gridiron Club. The Tribune bankruptcy forced the Chicago Tribune to scale back their operations and close their office, although they still have a large presence in Washington. While a lot of bureaus closed, reporters for some of the newspapers affected just relocated to free spaces in the Senate Press Gallery. USA Today already has several desks in the Senate Press Gallery and could relocate there cost-free.

  21. Corporate cafeterias like the one at Gannett are common place in the DC metro area.

    Tysons II is expensive and the food is not that good. There are a few high priced restaurants and a lame excuse for a food court that is also expensive.

    Tysons I is not as easy a walk. Furthermore, a lot of Gannett employees grab lunch in the cafeteria and bring it back to their desks.

  22. The Senate Gallery is NOT cost FREE by any means. USAT still has to pay for the network connection and phone lines, so the reporters can access any kind of network.

    And being a former Gannett employee, the commute to Tyson's is NOT an easy commute. During the holidays alone, it can be a hour one delay just trying to leave the parking lot. To go from Tysons to the Hill via Metro is an hour and 25 minute trip. Period! This is one of the many reasons why I left.

    And the hills surrounding the campus are ridiculous. And this coming from an employee who's in really good shape. :)

  23. I made that walk from HQ to the shopping mall and nearby hotels several times, when I visited the Mother Ship. It was kind of nice, although I was never there during the hotter summer months.

    The problem I see: It's impractical to make that trek if you hope to grab lunch and take ir back to your desk.

    As to the Tysons-DC commute: No paper serious about its news coverage would put congressional, executive branch or judiciary reporters so far from DC. Press conference and interview opportunities are too sudden.

  24. For those of you unfamiliar with Crystal Palace's horrible location, commuting to or from DC is pure hell -- timely and costly. Those who live within 5 miles of that hell hole have no clue what goes on outside the bubble with those who drive or use public transportation. Damn Metro and Fairfax Connector: lousy service and fares about to go up 15%.

  25. There are press rooms all over Washington where reporters could be stationed. As papers have shut down their Washington bureaus, that's where the regional reporters are now hanging out. In the age of laptops and cell phones, it really doesn't matter where reporters are located. I know one reporter who has set up his operation in the House Rayburn Office Building's press room, and reporters are working out of their homes since their bureaus shut down.
    There are big press rooms in both the House and Senate and while newspapers have to pay for their phones at desks (which are free but assigned by the galleries on the Senate side), there are banks of free phones in both places. They even have staffers assigned to take phone messages for you. Many of the press rooms in federal agencies are empty because newspapers have eliminated traditional agency reporting.

  26. Workers at the Arizona Republic have to walk more than a block in 110-115 degree summer heat to get to the restaurants around Arizona State's downtown campus.

  27. This is a minor point in the scheme of things, but I'm amused by the fact that no one here has mentioned packing a lunch or supper. Or is that only something we hicks in the hinterland are capable of?

  28. I know one place where employees have to walk a whole 200 yards to get to a place for lunch. That's too far.

    Typical newspaper employees -- whine, whine, whine.

    If you cannot walk a block and back, then you are an out-of-shape blob who needs to stop bitching and start exercising.

  29. Again, the corporate cafeteria is standard practice in Northern Virginia/DC/Maryland. Everybody does not want to pack a lunch - just like some people laugh at spending money on lunch. I'm pretty sure any building designed to hold a couple thousand people would have a dining facility.

    Far more people would quit if they did not have that cafeteria.

    Walking to the malls would get old very very fast for 70% of the employees (keep in mind 90% of all statistics are made up on the spot)

  30. Regarding Jim's comment that no one serious about news coverage would put the staff so far from D.C......Ha! I remember when Westchester closed its NYC office and told the reporter to cover the city from the Harrison suburb.

    The reporter wisely left for greener pastures in Manhattan and left Westchester in its customary "catch-up" mode.

  31. For those fearful of the wildlife lurking in the hills around the Crystal Palace in McLean, there is a clear alternative to walking to the nearby mall: you can drive the three blocks. Parking at Tysons is free.
    This is hardly the food desert some here portray. There are an array of restaurants on offer with differing prices. You can relax with a martini or mojito at Wildfire, an eclectic Chicago-based restaurant with a menu offering horseradish-crusted filet, cedar-planked salmon and the traditional roasted prime rib.
    Those seeking lighter fare can grab a sandwich at the Corner Bakery Cafe or the Daily Grill. The Ritz-Carlton hotel in the middle of the mall offers a traditional white tablecloth restaurant and grill, plus an exclusive French pastry shop. There is also a Legal Sea Foods of Boston branch, a Lebanese Taverna, Maggiano's Little Italy, P.F. Chang's Chinese Bistro, and a Cheescake Factory. Finally, if you just want a quickie, pick the mall's Piazza di Giorgio, which most of us would recognize as the food court.

  32. You guys have spent at least as much time debating lunch as you've spent on the pending layoffs and reorganization at USA Today. How come?

  33. It would be more accurate to say USAT is considering its options to reduce the cost of a Washington location before its lease expires. Since the lease was signed in 2001, the staff has shrunk so there is no longer a need for so much space. In addition, times have changed and cheaper alternatives are available.

  34. Because where to eat we know about. Who knows about the rest?

  35. Today: Lunch. Tomorrow: Bathrooms.

  36. The next day: Parking lot cookouts.

  37. The lunch issue is symbolic. The meal subsidy given USA Today employees in the Crystal Palace cafeteria is a real sore point for many of us who have seen our papers squeezed of their last breaths for nickels and dimes. USA Today goes its merry way while presses are shut down and sold off at community papers, and corporate abandons a winning paper in Hawaii. What is worse is that now we are in the midst of consolidations that are dismantling copy desks and costing our friends and colleagues their jobs in mid-career. In case you haven't noticed, there is not much of a future out there for those over 50. But look at the comments here from people complaining about walking three blocks, or relating their troubles of driving through rush-hour traffic through construction zones to get to work. I've been there, and I know what the discount is in the cafeteria. Yes, it would be more expensive to buy lunch at the market prices in nearby restaurants. Mind you, that is what most of us pay if we don't bring lunch from home, because we don't have cafeterias at our papers. These comments strike me as examples of the imperious "let them eat cake" attitude at USA Today, which for more than a decade was subsidized by the community papers. They never released the figures, but I'll bet corporate spent spent more than $100 million on that building and the modern art. But it is not good enough for some because it is in the suburbs, remote and the streets around it are hilly. Some of us have lost our buildings. Did you know we have rush hour here, too?
    Maybe some savings in the Washington operation would save some community paper jobs and head off some of these truly half-baked ideas coming out of corporate. But we see on C-Span how USA Today spends $2,000 a table for the White House Correpondents Dinner, and unaccounted amounts more for the secretive Gridiron. It might reduce some of the pressure if the Washington bureau saved money by relocating to cheaper quarters or took advantage of free space.
    I used to be proud working for a company that through cooperative efforts produced an innovative product like USA Today. Now I know what it feels like producing an ungrateful child that grows up to be selfish and profligate.

  38. Haven't you people heard of bringing your lunch? That's what we do out in USCP land.

  39. @5:36 There's a meal subsidy? A piece of fruit costs $0.99 and a turkey sandwich costs $5.50. Add a drink and you are looking at $8 for a pretty basic meal. I'm grateful for the on-site food options because the building is inconvenient to leave but I still bring lunch every day because I can't afford the expense of buyng it.

  40. Soup N Salad6/21/2010 11:19 PM

    No way is there a meal subsidy at HQ. We pay Sodexo prices, which are about the same across several other Sodexo cafeterias in big offices the Tyco area. The food is all pretty insipid, and even American basics like pizza or burgers are cold, gooey and kind of gross.

  41. Don't forget about the Crystal Palace executives and their assistants still being served free lunches from their pick of the cafeteria menu every day!


Jim says: "Proceed with caution; this is a free-for-all comment zone. I try to correct or clarify incorrect information. But I can't catch everything. Please keep your posts focused on Gannett and media-related subjects. Note that I occasionally review comments in advance, to reject inappropriate ones. And I ignore hostile posters, and recommend you do, too."

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.