Monday, November 15, 2010

USAT | The numbers: Politics vs. the Red Carpet

[Choose your poison: Pelosi vs. Palin]

USA Today
has distributed revised newsroom flow charts, showing staffing under a recent reorganization to boost readership and revenue. The documents are dated Oct. 21-22; I obtained copies from a source. I believe this is the first time USAT's editorial staffing breakdown has been made public. Some of the key numbers:

reporters to cover Congress

reporters to cover entertainment

Related: staffing flow chart. Plus: content distribution chart

Earlier: Welcome to your vital, valuable media brand. Plus: Publisher Dave Hunke's Aug. 26 memo to staff on the reorganization

Can you name your Congressional representative? How about Bristol Palin's standing on Dancing With the Stars? Please post your replies in the comments section, below.


  1. It's no wonder so much firepower has been put into entertainment, given USAT's deteriorating advertising revenue base.

    So far this year, I've been told, USAT has recorded somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million to $30 million in entertainment-related advertising. That compares with approximately $40 million to $45 million three years ago.

  2. But, but----isn't congress entertaining?

  3. You know what is missing from those two documents you posted? Anything related to the opinion section.

    Anyone know what happened there? I see that Owen Ullman who used to be deputy editorial page editor now has a news side job, but other than that it is a mystery.

  4. Maybe Editorial Page Editor Brian Gallagher is retiring. He's about that age.

    And maybe editorial writing is seen as passe. Few people read newspaper editorials beyond the headlines. At the same time, many people read the letters.

    Readers are more interested in what their neighbors or fellow readers think than what newspaper people think.

  5. Happy Transformation Day.

  6. "Few people read newspaper editorials beyond the headlines."

    What are you talking about? I'm not sure you know.

  7. Regarding 2:29 p.m....I'm not employed in the news industry, so I don't think everything written in a newspaper is gobbled up like manna from the heavens.

    I do recall a survey some years ago that stated just what 2:05 p.m. stated, namely that there was no other part of the paper that was as ittle read as the editorials.

    As for myself, I read the NY Times daily, and I've been doing so for over 25 years. In all that time, I think I've read two editorials. I do read the opeds, though, and particularly like Rich's columns.

  8. I worked at USA Today at the very beginning, and certainly readers here recall that it was the newspaper for the TV generation. Entertainment coverage--TV coverage especially--was crucial. In fact, sports, consumer business reporting and entertainment news were the three legs that propped up the paper. For a very long time, the news section had no idea what it was doing. That improved dramatically but still, it's not surprising to read those stats. Indeed, try compiling that same data with The New York Times. There's a whole section of arts coverage there, too. That doesn't mean it's not a serious paper, obviously.

  9. As a USAT founder (or flounder, which I prefer), it's shocking to me how many of the original crew of '82 still are there. And I haven't even seen the roster for Sports, which used to have the largest group of originals. Plus, among the survivors are a few dozen folks who came to the paper in the early waves of loaners. So there are a lot of old-timers (or, to be kinder: keepers of historical knowledge) trying to evolve at cyber speed. No wonder they think the world only wants to read topics focused on the aging baby-boomers. They've looked out at their audience and can only see themselves looking back. And, knowing what a lot of the names I recognize were making in 2001, I can't even begin to imagine what salaries they're pulling down now ... even with pay cuts, freezes and furloughs.

  10. Re 3:23 p.m.....You have a point there. If the powers that be - Martore and Hunke - were serious about "transforming" USA Today into some kind of whiz bang marketing platform, you'd think that founders or nearly founders, would not be the ones put in charge.

    There is new blood, though, and I have no idea how it will mix with the old.

    News has always been USA Today's weakness and I suspect it always will be. The toilet paper story is more the speed as well as the quirky story from some unknown burg in the middle of nowhereville.

    The polls have been good, but it doesn't take much to bang out a story about the results of a poll taken by your own publication.

    Whatever they do I wish them all the best of luck. And I certainly hope their leaders are more ethical than the on-line bunch - referencing that so-called medical retread.

  11. Whoa, what a paltry editorial staff. Had no idea it was so thin.

  12. What about USA Today Sports?

  13. I have not seen the organizational chart for sports, although I would like to.

  14. 8:25pm is correct. When you throw out all the extraneous positions that are really marketing or something similar, USAT has no where near the number of people actually doing journalism that its competitors have. Even this list is a little misleading because some of those names are mainly or perhaps exclusively bloggers -- not doing actual reporting for the newspaper. And this was the nation's largest daily newspaper, and still is No. 2. It is very, very thin indeed.

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

  16. Following is an edited version of a comment posted at 11:13 p.m.:

    USAT has lost most of its journalistic credibility in recent years and is running on the fumes of a brand that was getting close to being a fairly smart, value-packed publication.

    A constant flow of stories that one can read anywhere. News judgment more fitting for People magazine. A youth movement that might have spruced up digital efforts but has led to an abundance of silly errors (that go uncorrected) on a daily basis.

    I feel sorry for those who are true pros -- folks who are trying to maintain standards. They are fighting a losing battle. This is a brand that destroyed its core with layoffs, drove once-loyal and talented people out with a constant stream of ridiculous mandates [XXXXX].

    Frankly, most of the seasoned pros are just trying to ride it out a few more years while the younger people just want to get a couple years under their belts before they bolt from this sinking ship. The same disloyalty that Gannett showed to its most prideful employees will be returned by a new workforce splitting as soon as they can. What goes around...

  17. I've now got the USAT Sports department's organizational chart, and I've posted it here.

  18. The entertainment staff was closer to 30 before the transformation. They moved key people to News and Money.

  19. Favorite job title in the sports organizational chart: Fantasy editor. That's what I hope to be when I grow up.

  20. to Anonymous @ 1:56 on 11/15: Owen Ullman left the edit page years ago and has been on the news side now for many years as a deputy ME type.

    As for the five-person staff covering Congress, actually, I'm surprised it's that large.

  21. Entertainment production is more widely distributed geographically. L.A. and environs, NYC, Toronto, Austin, Nashville, various TV & film locations.

    Congress? Pretty much D.C.

    Surely there are economic considerations in play, but the nature of on-location logistics requires a larger staff to cover the prettier of these two sets of dunces. USAT is just serving its audience in any case.

  22. Jim, the reason entertainment is getting more edit support is a classice case of investing in your strengths. Entertainment has consistently been the largest advertising category for the paper over the past 6 years. And while revenue has slipped dramatically during that time, the entertainment category has dropped at a far lesser percentage than the whole.

  23. What is your point? You think Congress should have more? This is not an Apples to Apples comparison. The entertainment industry obviously requires more staff. What's the total number of staff covering federal vs entertainment? That might be more realistic. You sound like a politician with the way you pick and choose which numbers to compare.

  24. It appears the total number of reporters devoted to the federal government is about 20. But I'm not certain; that's why I linked to the original document.

    In any case, my purpose is to illustrate how the paper allocates resources. USAT can do more public service work -- and so improving the nation -- via strong government watchdog reporting than any number of me-too stories about the Bristol Palins of the world.

  25. Aha, Jim. USAT or any paper could do more public service. But the people have spoken, and People is still strong while Time, US News, Newsweek all falter.

    It's too damn hard to think about deficits when all you can spell is Snooki.

    Unless you can slap snark all over it and run it on Comedy Central, capital-N News ain't what it used to be... except to us old farts who no marketer wants.

  26. Jim, the purpose of USAT (or any Gannett paper) is not to "do more public service work," it's to make money. If USAT's coverage has some public benefit, that is useful only as a stepping stone to making more money, not as an end in itself. If it costs more to create that public benefit than USAT gains in advertising or circulation income, there is no upside for the company.

    We need to remember that in a publicly owned business, the mission of employees -- management and rank-and-file alike -- is to create value for shareholders. Anything else is incidental. If Gannett employees believe otherwise, they are mistaken.

  27. Interesting, but these breakdowns don't include the deputy publishers and others above. Do they have a role in daily operations? Are they strategic thinkers, or hands-on operators? When they talk to someone, who do they talk to?

  28. 3:18 pm: You've got better data than I do; it goes back further.

    But over the past year, I'm told, entertainment has fallen at about the same rate as overall ad revenue -- and maybe a bit more.

    4:42 p.m.: Absolutely, USAT must be profitable. A paper that loses money for very long can't publish journalism of any sort.

    I'm all for entertainment news so long as it generates enough advertising to pay for quality, hard-news reporting that keeps an eye on public and corporate officials. In the end, that's what will separate USAT from all the rest.

    The Los Angeles Times cranks out celebrity news like few others, but what do we remember? It's stellar reporting on government malfeasance like what happened in Bell, Calif.

  29. The threads like this one where Jim is getting beaten to a pulp are always the best ones.


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