Friday, July 09, 2010

Urgent: Gannett said creating five 'super hubs'; centers to build pages for U.S. community dailies

In a dramatic escalation of its work consolidation strategy, Gannett now plans to establish five super hubs across the United States, where pages for most of its 81 U.S. community newspapers will be built remotely by teams of designers.

As part of this move, the company is also about to launch a single front-end computer system to be used by all the newsrooms for creating and editing story files, a $15 million CCI NewsGate system that's integral to running the five page production hubs, according to several of my readers.

The plan has been in works for months, and has been the subject of speculation among Gannett Blog's readers. One source told me late today that U.S. newspaper division President Bob Dickey disclosed the five-hub strategy this afternoon, during a meeting with employees of The Tennessean at Nashville.

Key elements have fallen into place relatively recently, however; the $15 million CCI expense, for example, was disclosed just three months ago, in Gannett's first-quarter 10-Q filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on May 4.

Nashville as test site?
Copy editing, which presumably would include writing headlines, will continue to be handled at the local newspaper level, I've been told. So, too, would story assignment and, presumably, decisions about "play" -- which articles and photographs, for example, appear on the front page, and in what order.

Choosing to unveil the plan in Nashville would make sense: One source tells me Nashville, which is headquarters for the newspaper division's South Group, will house one of the five hubs. Indeed, I believe the Tennessee city will be among the first to try out the new CCI NewsGate system.

The roll out of a unified computer system and five regional hubs comes as Gannett searches for new ways to cut labor costs when advertising revenue continues to fall, albeit at slower rates, during the global economy's agonizingly slow recovery.

Ramping up consolidation
It is in step with other consolidation efforts in the U.S. Community Publishing newspaper division that included establishment of regional photo toning centers; three large circulation customer service centers, plus the still-developing Gannett Production Centers in Des Moines and Indianapolis, where advertising artwork is to be created for all the community papers by January 2011.

Gannett has already established pagination hubs on a smaller scale in, for example, Louisiana and Wisconsin; some of those were launched last year. I do not know what will happen to those smaller hubs when the five larger ones are opened.

Many, many other questions remain unanswered. Beyond Nashville, I have not been given locations for the other four super hubs. It would be logical to open them at or near the other regional newspaper group headquarters, which are in in Des Moines; Indianapolis, and Wilmington, Del. Another possible location would be McLean, Va., headquarters for Corporate and USA Today.

Job losses unclear
USAT and the Detroit Free Press are not part of the community newspaper division, so I don't believe they are directly part of the new hub system. However, USA Today, Gannett's biggest paper by circulation, has for many years used CCI NewsGate.

Yet, it's also doubtful that some of the other big newspapers would be drawn into the new hubs; The Arizona Republic and The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., and The Indianapolis Star come to mind.

Another critical question for employees: the number of jobs to be eliminated in this new system. The entire consolidation strategy is about doing more work with fewer people in order to lower costs and boost profits. The new Gannett Production Centers, for example, could eliminate as many as 800 artists' jobs, according to a rough estimate I've been using.

Although Dickey reportedly told Nashville staffers about the plan, a formal announcement has yet to be made. That could come next Friday, when Corporate releases the second-quarter earnings statement, and briefs Wall Street analysts about ongoing initiatives.

Earlier: "Freedom begins at home" vs. "content as product"

What more do you know? Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write jimhopkins[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the rail, upper right.

[Image: today's Republic, Newseum]


  1. >>However, USA Today, Gannett's biggest paper by circulation, has for many years used CCI NewsGate.

    Wrong. The CCI system USAT and other newspapers use is not the same as Newsgate. Two different animals.

  2. Louisville has been using NewsGate for some time, and it is a fairly big paper in the Gannett chain. Does that mean that it would be exempt from consolidation under this plan?

  3. Good story but a possible correction. Although it has been discussed for years, I do not believe USA Today's CCI uses Newsgate as of yet.

  4. I don't see any reason why Detroit, USAT or anybody else should skip the fun of consolidation. Theoretically, pulling the work out of high-labor-cost newspapers should make a MUCH quicker payoff than dumping the copy editors out of Chillicothe, Lafayette or Fond du Lac.

    Can't wait to start seeing those six line "Bus falls off cliff in Chile" fillers reappear after a 20 year absence.

    I'm going to quit buying my paper a year at a time. I doubt I'd get a refund when they stop delivering.

  5. It's 322 plus part-timers

  6. If they are leaving copy editing, headline writing, and story layout decisions to the local level, then what savings do they achieve? I guess that this is aimed at the copy desks, but they have already been recently decimated and barely exist anymore at local newspapers. I also don't see how this improves productivity. Some stories require more work than others, and this is going to be true if the story is edited at the newspaper or a regional center.
    I think this move is more important for the future than what Dickey outlines as the current plan. Clearly, they are moving to papers that will be regionally supervised and edited. That soon will leave just the reporters sitting in some suburban office mall office taking direction over the phone, and some ad salesmen. There are huge savings getting rid of editors and publishers. But how the Gannett concept of managers works under this system, I do not know.

  7. An earlier poster had said USA Today used this system. Perhaps they meant USAT is using the version of CCI in place when I left in January 2008.

    As to the figure 322 plus part-timers: Is that jobs eliminated to these five hubs, or something else?

  8. Since last fall, Louisville has been an editing and design hub, testing out the concept, by producing pages for Asheville and Greenville. I know the staff in Louisville has worked hard to make the concept work -- but now, will those two papers' pages be shifted to Nashville, and if so, what will that mean for employment of designers in Louisville?

    Would C-J pages be designed in Nashville? I find it hard to believe the current publisher and executive editor would go along with that. (They still have some clout. They opposed and blocked adoption of the USA TODAY Nation/World page there -- as did newsroom leaders at several of the largest Gannett papers.)

  9. I believe Louisville's status vis a vis the hubs may still be under review. Pride may nit trump practicality or the cost-saving benefits won't be achieved.

    Not to be underestimated: Does Martore like you?

  10. Similarly, Monroe, La., is the hub for the five Gannett papers in Louisiana, so now the folks who moved from the individual papers to Monroe to keep their jobs are proably worried. Louisiana went live with the consolidation less than a year ago.
    Hasn't worked so well here. Constant turnover in the production center. There aren't any "copy editors" left at the individual papers--just the section editors or news editors or such who read the stories before they're shipped. Reporters add all suggested hedes, pullouts, etc. to stories.

  11. CCI NewsDesk is the predecessor to NewsGate. NewsDesk is an older technology print-centric architecture while NewsGate is designed around multimedia that can feed just about anything.

  12. I know corporate was furious at the papers for turning down the USAT pages, and there could be some payback going on here for Louisville leading the pack. Louisville also lost its luster during the Derby, when it had production programs. That had angry advertisers calling corporate.

  13. I'm also confused about the cost-savings. Are these part-time editors filling jobs at the regional centers, or Gannett editors who are being reassigned? If they are part-time, do we know anything about the pay scale?
    Also are there knock-on effects? For example, are jobs jeopardized for reporters who consistenly need heavy editing? It looks like there won't be much time for coddling.

  14. RTC/Regional Toning Centers -
    The quality is awful. I've seen some images come back so far off they had to get re-toned 3-4 times. And then there's the time involved with all the back-and-forth.

    How can this save money?
    It certainly doesn't save time.
    But then, corporate does not value their employee's time, so I guess for them that's a wash.

  15. What does toning do to a photo?

  16. Jim, the regional toning center has some examples online on their Web site detailing what they do. I was unaware this was going on at a regional center, and thought this stuff was handled in-house with PhotoShop, or other software like that.

  17. The copy editors size/crop a photo, then ship it to the RTC to get toned for the printed page. You know, to compensate for the dot-gain of ink-on-paper.
    What they get back (eventually, sometimes right on deadline) is the image processed through some auto-exposure program (Agfa's Intellitune?). Sometimes, such as with a well-known sports team that has certain colored jerseys, the resulting image in the paper is quite off the mark, and the locals see this.

    I've seen some real disasters with RTC; but there's nothing the editors can do about it.

    Obviously, this works better with b/w images.

  18. Regional toning centers not only do Gannett papers' pix, they do pix for other companies' newspapers. One problem w/r/t these centers is that they tone photos according to various formulas -- "by the numbers," as some put it -- which works OK for run-of-the-mill pix, but if a photo needs special handling -- unusual lighting conditions, or subtle colors and shadows that need to be preserved -- formulas just don't cut it.

  19. re: 4:43 p.m. --

    Yeah, god forbid local newspapers should try to assert any autonomy -- or suggest that one-size-fits-all is wrong. Just eat this plate of sh*t you're handed, and you'll get a second helping soon enough.

  20. 7:31: Exactly.
    You should see what they do to a photo shot at sunset.
    They remove all the warmth from it, making it look like it was shot mid-day.

    My blogspot word verification for this post: dorighte, LOL!

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

  22. What took these idiots so long? You get one story, say the BP debacle. One person copy edits it, writes a suggested headline and the story is chopped to size depending on the ad stack by each individual rag.
    This is basic cut-corners journalism at its best.
    The whole A section, take away the little local crap being produced, can be done by one person and shipped to all the drone-papers nationwide. Singleton has done this for years in Cali. It just takes Gannett 10 years to figure it out.
    Sports can be done the same way. All the local geniuses have to do is put together a front and half a jump page.
    This can be done with every section of every one of Gannett's rags. Hello, wake up and smell the burning.

  23. 7:33 Looks to me as if one-size-fits-all is where we are going at breakneck speed. We may not like it, but it's happening. Maybe as Jim suggests there will be an exemption for the bigger papers, but I doubt they can stand in the way of this express train.

  24. Realizing that the majority of Gannettblog readers have an editorial focus, what did you think would happen?

    Your classified sales, circulation, toning, press, prepress, and finance all left long ago.

    Start saving your money now, you can probably start your own newspaper next year. Lord knows, you can make a lot of money in this business if you just don't get greedy.

  25. This whole thing sort of sounds like it makes sense at first. But it completely falls part once you start thinking about it.

    Let's say there's a fatal train wreck that kills 15 people in Ohio. The Ohio papers, naturally, would play that on their front pages, using a local story, a wire story or a combination local-and-wire story. But what are they to do when the mass-produced Nation page features that story as its lead, too?

    Another example. Because he's from Delaware, Joe Biden gets A1 play in Wilmington every time he farts. So what happens when he's on both A1 and A3 visiting troops in Iraq?

    Unless you mandate that A1 has to have all local stories, this system simply isn't going to work without back-and-forth between the local editors and the regional centers. That basically negates the entire benefit of mass production. And which Gannett papers out there have the luxury and staff to produce A1s with all local copy seven days a week?

  26. It happens now, and I believe the local papers put a reefer from the A1 story on Biden or whatever to the lame USAT story on the inside page. In other words, they just live with it.
    It's not like anyone -- journalists or readers -- is expecting quality at this point.

  27. My thought is that this will mean fewer local stories on A1 not more. How can that few sites produce so many papers unless they run virtually the same front and just have a slot for the top local story and photo.
    The USA Today page isn't that big of a deal. They do sent a budget so you could run a different story or analysis on the front than the Nat-World page has.

  28. 1:42 p.m.: Spot on.

  29. What you fools don't realize is, putting the USAToday pages in the Gannett dailys is a free full page ad for USAToday.
    There is no broader conspiracy.

  30. Underpaid and overworked7/12/2010 12:24 PM

    They're worried about savings and yet they can hand out a total of about $3 billion to five execs, one of whom was sidelined for four months.
    Wow! I can't want to hear the same lame ass explanation during my review about how great my work was and how they're sorry there is no money for merit increases, but their hands are tied by corporate.
    Is there any wonder why the economy is slow to recover when executive sponges are soaking up any money that might be used to reward hardworking front line employees.
    I'm sure the execs will get another fat bonus for a successful roll out of the new front end system, while ignoring the "little" people who got it done.
    very dishearting and disingenuous, McLean!

  31. I believe that today's "daily", 7 days a week, newspapers are not in step with the public's, nor most advertiser's needs or desires.
    Gannett should set the standard for the future and have each of their newspapers be of the finest quakilty but published only two or three times weekly.
    The bright guys can easily figure this out and once again we might have MORE, MANY MORE, LOCAL stories, personal interviews by reporters, etc.
    I could expound on this for a considerable number of pages if Gannett wants to hear more.
    I was employeed by a Gannett paper (The Palladuim-Item) in Richmond, Indiana for many years in display advertising.
    Roy W. Brown
    310 Rose Hill Lane
    Richmond, IN 47474

  32. Once the customers come second .. it's all downhill from there. Executives need to sit in readers homes once a month and listen to what they have to say about the papers.
    The puzzles and the habit will only carry so far. Seriously, sit with readers and just chat with them (not handpicked). Drop into Gannett towns unannounced and stop at the YMCA or coffee shop for an earful.

  33. While the standardized national page obviously has some drawbacks, the truth is, it'll work for 95% of the papers 95% of the time. For the boundary cases, just ship the local paper the page files and let them find an appropriate story to swap in.

    Theoretically, Gannett could use the savings to fund more local coverage and reporting positions, and it would actually be a net gain for readers.

    Probably won't happen, but it's not a bad idea.

  34. Tons of people love USA Today, but I personally finding the mag a bit of a bore !!
    Anways keep posting on this great site..great reading here !!

    Thanks GW WilliamsBless You all


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