Wednesday, October 06, 2010

USAT | In new reorg details, 35 editorial jobs cut; but what's up with advertising, other departments?

The approximately three dozen editorial jobs axed leave another 100 positions unaccounted for paper-wide, assuming USA Today remains on target to reduce overall employment by about 130 -- the estimate Publisher Dave Hunke gave in late August, when he first outlined the paper's long-awaited reorganization. USAT has a total workforce of about 1,500.

I remain especially interested in what's happening in the advertising department, since ad revenue losses appear to be the crux of USAT's financial woes. At current rates, USAT is on schedule to have lost as much as half its ad revenue base -- up to $150 million -- in the past three years. That rate is about the same as Gannett's overall publishing ad revenue losses since 2007.

But USAT's footprint, bigger than any other GCI paper save perhaps The Arizona Republic, magnifies the dollar losses enough to take a big bite out of GCI's total annual revenue. The still-unfolding reorganization almost certainly fails if it doesn't boost ad sales.

Yesterday, in a carefully worded memo to newsroom staff, senior editors suggested that much of the new staffing structure will be in place by Oct. 18, or soon after. That's when editors will make final picks of workers for still-open positions on a new investigative unit and in other areas, the memo says.

'Bloodletting was a mess'
At least one Gannett Blogger said yesterday's editorial "bloodletting was a mess from start to finish." Commenting last night, Anonymous@10:13 p.m. wrote:

"Editors and reporters were demoted, re-assigned, transferred in an ad hoc fashion. In most cases, senior editors (DMEs) had jobs protected and were essentially assigned to oversee assignment editors doing the same tasks. Other AEs were told early in the day that they had autonomy over their teams, only to be told later in the day that they were no longer autonomous, but 'teathered' to former DMEs and senior assignment editors. . . .

"The cuts? It doesn't look like any editors will actually be out of a job -- at least in Money, Life or News. At least three to four reporters are out of work. And at least two office secretaries will be, too. Of course, they can 'reapply' for jobs, but they aren't qualified for the handful of jobs that were posted in the wake of this sham.

"We waited months for THIS mess? It was handled in the most amateurish way possible. Shameful."

Following is memo's text
It's signed by Editor John Hillkirk; his new No. 2 manager, Susan Weiss, and newly named distribution manager Chet Czarniak.

All: The newsroom reorganization moves into its next phase starting today. Here's what's happening:

Chet and Susan are meeting with the "team leaders" who will oversee the teams on the content as well as the  distribution side. In Sports, Monte Lorell will be doing the same.

The team leaders will reach out to everyone who will be joining their teams in the new structure. In several cases, the teams are similar to what we have now – in other cases, they represent a combination of News, Money and Life beats. On the distribution side, there are new teams dedicated to the website, print and emerging platforms.

In some cases, the team members have not been decided. For example, we're forming a new Investigative unit on the Content side and we're looking for four reporters to join that team; on the Distribution side, we're looking for a new Homefront Editor and a new Social Media Editor for Mobile/Apps.

To see which positions are available, go to this website later this afternoon (when it will be activated) and follow the instructions: http://XXXXX. You may apply for up to two positions before Friday at 4PM. Interviews will be conducted next week and selected candidates will be notified by the beginning of the following week.

As part of the reorganization and to reduce costs, we are eliminating around 35 newsroom positions, the majority of which are currently vacant. Some positions that exist now aren't part of the new structure. The people in those positions will be notified today and will have an opportunity to apply for up to two positions in the new structure.

We appreciate your patience and your professionalism as we continue to work through this process. We will be phasing into the new structure over the next few weeks.

-- John, Susan and Chet

Related: Read the Associated Press' story

Earlier: Welcome to your new vital, valuable media brand

USAT staffers: How are other departments outside editorial being reshaped? 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 front page, Newseum]


  1. Yes it is true, Tony Hill and Lori Erdos will be "retiring" according to Mr. Hunke. Looks like editorial isn't the only group getting knocked around in this round. Sales is too.

    Looks like some confidential information was left in the copying machine in the finance area of USA Today (which happens to be located in the Gannett side of the Crystal Palace... how ironic).

    This place is a total mess.

  2. I hope that Anon @ 7:53 AM is not correct. Tony's and Lori's direct reports are good, but not good enough to produce in top form without the experience and connections of the two VPs to guide them. Where are they supposed to get leadership and direction from once Erdos and Hill are gone? Gordon Lee Jones, III? Please. That guy could not lead the way out of the office in a fire drill.

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  4. How typical of Gannett! Let's keep the layers of editors - many of whom produce next to zero on a daily basis - and thin out the troops.

    I actually believe that as far as the newsroom goes, many editors and reporters could have been axed with little or no impact on the quality of the product.

    It's nice they're starting an investigative unit - we'll see how long that lasts and what it produces - but the digital age is quickly swallowing papers and USA Today is not an exception.

    The emphasis needs to be on the Web, not on print. The company needs to suck it up and accept lower profits and a tighter bottom line. That, unfortunately, is the future and as that old saw goes, the future is upon us.

    AND....The fat cats in the Crystal Palace's executive suite, as well as the honchos at every commmunity site, need to share the pain of their troops.

    People get cut. Jobs are lost. But the big salaries and the useless jobs remain. Why?

  5. I am more confused than ever! USAT is a complete mess, and it's not due to our being unwilling to embrace change. It's because the people in charge don't have the managerial or organizational skills to usher a workable reorganization plan. They were promoted based on sketchy credentials and now can't rise to the serious challenges we face. They have difficulty honestly communicating with staffers, particularly ones outside their inner circle. One or two are bordering on illiterate. In some cases, they simply lack integrity. Others have an awfully hard time identifying or developing talent under them. It's why so many good people have left. This is a place of many managers and few true leaders. That's why things are so disjointed. Meetings are scheduled, memos distributed, but nothing of substance is ever said or accomplished. It's clear that there is no real plan. But I will credit the people in charge with one thing, they are very good at creating the illusion that they have the right stuff to get the job done. They are very accomplished in laying people off without any concern for those folks on a human level.

  6. Any reorganization that doesn't thin out the ranks of "assistant" this and "deputy" that editors is preordained to fail. You invest what money you have in news gathering. Salaried editors who don't routinely assign stories, work with the reporters, and edit the articles do little or nothing to add value. Many of them could go with no harm to the product.

    (One rule of thumb as to whether someone should be let go: If that person is out sick or on vacation, does someone else have to step in and do that person's job? If not, well, you can figure it out.)

  7. This is absolute chaos. They put together this plan on the fly, and it is obvious they don't understand how a news operation works on the Web. Most Web sites have very few editors and are put out on a shoestring. Under this plan, USA Today's operations will have a huge stable of editors and few involved in the production of content for the Web site.

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  9. The usat reorg is far worse than what is being reported here.

  10. Surprisingly, not many comments about the 35 layoffs, especially considering some of the slimy tactics being used by USA Today heads to not only get rid of more payroll now, but to put the writing clearly on the wall for others to see. USA Today is now officially being run like every other Gannett property over the last three decades. Low managerial ethics and bullying, scare strategies, the promotion of people with zero concern for their colleagues. You name the backwards, small-time, mob-like managerial strategy, it's now part of the USAT reorganization plan and general way of operating. But what has worked in the swamps of Louisiana or the jobless heartland won't work at a national paper based outside of Washington. This divide and conquer plan, while saving a few bucks now, will eventually fail in an epic manner. USAT can't compete with other national media when it's run like this. Stick together USATers. Don't let managers turn brother against brother. Hopefully, someone in corporate will eventually see the sins of the last couple of years, and who is really responsible for how bad things have gotten, and try to return some sanity to the Crystal Palace.

  11. They will be doing layoffs across ALL circulation markets tomm.

  12. This from the AP on the Wall Street Journal site:

    "USA Today spokesman Ed Cassidy declined to say how many people currently work in the newsroom. USA Today Editor John Hillkirk didn't return calls."

    What the heck? So USAT is now afraid to state how many employees work in the newsroom? And John Hillkirk doesn't return calls? This is a company that touts its journalism? What a joke the nation's newspaper has become.

  13. If they wanted to demoralize an already demoralized staff, I could conceive of no better way than this reorganization. It has been nothing but confusion in the last two days as people try to adjust to a radical new system. Was there no consideration of this, or about how they are going to put out a newspaper in the next two weeks? Just unbelievable incompetence.

  14. Dude, do I still have a job..heh, heh.

  15. Tony Hill was a longtime, solid contributor, how foolish to force him out. Guess his salary was too much for Hunke and the finance staff to resist. When are these geniuses going to learn its the quality and depth of product content that sells ads? Too many reporters have been scared-off or fired while two layers of do-nothing editors remain. Why are the simple truths so difficult for this leadership to grasp? Content in print or on the web needs to be generated by experienced journalists. That's why USAT is losing right now, "its the content, stupid!!" USA Today has been bleeding talent for 3 years and even in this job market its almost impossible to attract solid talent scared-off after they google Gannett and find this blog. To paraphrase producer Aaron Sorkin in a recent interview when asked to describe Sarah Palin, "(this leadership)is jaw droppingly incompetent". You want to sell ads? Give the advertising employees something to sell for Pete's sake!

  16. 10:20 a.m.: Regarding USAT's newsroom headcount, I believe the total is now somewhere in the range of 350 to 375 staff -- 25% to 30% lower than three years ago. Here's how I got to that:

    In December 2007, when I took my buyout, newsroom staffing totaled about 500. With my buyout group (43 people), and two rounds of layoffs (about 20 and then 26, in Decembers 2008 and 2009) the number was reduced to about 400. Take away these 35 positions in the reorganization, and you get about 365 current staff.

    That doesn't count any positions that were vacated by staff leaving for retirement and other jobs. So, the number could well be lower than 365.

  17. So how out of date is this?

    "Staff Size 411 Editorial, 1,495 Total USA TODAY"

  18. By USAT discarding experienced people, it is hurting all products (print and digital) in tangible and intangible ways. Businesses that treat people like numbers create some bad karma that manifests itself in a variety of ways that shallow bean-counter types just don't comprehend. There aren't many deep thinkers in the usat executive offices, but if there were, they'd see that getting rid of loyal and talented employees in order to boost stock prices is, at best, short-sighted. The destruction that has taken place at usat in recent years will slow down any progress it wants to make beyond print by creating a climate that is neither healthy or productive. No speeches, parties, anniversary awards can replace good old-fashioned decency. There is no turning back from the damage that has been done here. The cutbacks of the last three years were cruel in how they were done and went too far in terms of numbers. In some cases, those who were lost were some of the best, most hard-working people I've had the pleasure of working with. To this day, I am dismayed at the process that sent many valuable people packing. People who helped me do my job. The recession has been hard on most companies, but how usat has navigated its way through rough waters has been disgraceful.

  19. I can only hope to get a job with a competitor of USA Today's and screw them out of as much money as possible. I don't think I'll have a hard time. USAT brass is doing the best it can to make that task as easy as possible.

  20. Just got the axe myself today from circulation. At least its finally over- riding a sinking ship is no fun.

  21. 12:19 - sorry to hear that. Keep your head up....better days are ahead!

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  23. Following is an edited version of a comment posted at 11:38 p.m.:

    Bob Fleming, a USAT news editor, passed away today at age 53. By all accounts, he was a decent human being and solid journalist. Our sympathy to his family. Its definitely an occassion for reflection.

    Has [CFO Martore] ever actually been in the newsroom? When was the last time anyone saw Dubow walk among the rank and filers? Five years as CEO. Maybe its time.

    Leadership starts with those who have vision, empathy and the ability to inspire. Where are any of those qualities on display at the Crystal Palace?

    1. Rest in peace, Bob. I just found out yesterday that you passed away about 18 months ago. Sounds like your work situation was very stressful from all the posts here. No doubt, you're in a better place.

  24. Why so few comments? Because this company has been doing this same crap to people for more than a decade. For years, USAT's employees were just immune to the blood-letting that was occurring at all the other papers. Welcome to the club.
    And by the way, digital won't work. There's no successful advertising model. It's very sad what's happening to true journalism. We are destined to a world of uninformed talking heads on cable TV.

  25. @5:03 AM: You don't see Hunke in the newsroom, either. Not ever.

  26. Does anyone actually see Hunke? Or does he only materialize into human form once a quarter for those update meetings?

    "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. The Great Oz has spoken."

  27. Unreal that USA TODAY circulation goes through a major overhaul on Thursday and Jim has nothing to report. No crowd sourcing, no updates, no new threads, nothing. What is Jim doing?

  28. @12:21 He's actually kept in a carbonite box like Han Solo. When the staff needs to be injected with an earnest, high-energy talk he is released. Now you know what the blue ball really is.

  29. 8:21 p.m.: I'm sorry you're disappointed. I've been waiting for a detail or two to build a post around. In the meantime, I have hoped that people like you would step forward with information. What can you tell us?

  30. I think the Rolling Stones said it well:

    "Just as every cop is a criminal and all the sinners saints.

    As heads is tails just call me Lucifer, 'cause I'm in need of some restraint.

    But if you see me have some courtesy, have some sympathy and some taste.

    Mind all your well-learned politics, or I'll lay your soul to waste."


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