Friday, March 18, 2011

Mail | 'Top 10 to-do's for new digital chief Payne'

In a comment yesterday, Anonymous@10:50 p.m. wrote the following about Gannett's recently named chief digital officer:

David Payne has inherited a sprawling digital portfolio that is full of promise and a staff hungry for leadership. That's the good news. The bad is that Gannett is stalled in several critical areas -- mobile, social, group commerce -- and riddled with both infrastructure and organizational problems that will continue to prevent true innovation from taking root.

Here, a few action items for the first 30 days, starting with some basic (but essential) housekeeping:

10. Chrome as new default browser
It's scary how many PCs throughout the company are still running IE6. Any browser would be better, but Chrome is the most secure, fastest, and optimized for today's Internet. Mandate installation and advocate adoption company-wide. Also for consideration: switching from overpriced, under-featured Omniture to free, superior Google Analytics.

9. Sunset Saxotech as CMS
Most of Gannett is running a decade-old version. Transitioning to an alternative like, say, the open-source Drupal would give us a fully-featured, up-to-date platform, but also spur local developers to master PHP (instead of the extremely narrow world of Saxotech templating).

8. Mobile device purchasing plan
Part of the reason Gannett is so slow to embrace mobile is simply because three-quarters of the company uses ancient Treos and Blackberries. You can't expect salespeople to sell mobile if they don't have an iPhone or Droid -- and haven't even seen what our sites look like on them.

7. Reboot Mobile development
The bigger reasons why Gannett is stalled is the small Mobile team in McLean, Va., has a) failed to hire any mobile or app developers in over a year, despite being given a budget; b) required all local sites to shut down app development; c) purchased a mobile CMS (Conmio) that no one in the company can code for. Triple fail. Either clean house; turn over mobile development to Kevin Poortinga's team(s), or fund mobile developers at the local level.

6. Appoint a social media chief
Like many media outlets, we're prone to treating Facebook and Twitter as mere promotional vehicles -- and not the transformative platforms they really are. A social chief would lead development of apps, clients, and full-on integration with both.

5. Greenlight Digital's group buying plan
Gannet is falling far behind in a race led by Groupon, LivingSocial, and countless clones. This is the future of Internet marketing and e-commerce. As Deal Chicken has shown, we can still be a player, but the clock is ticking.

4. Double down on PointRoll
Push to hire HTML5 developers and transition company from flash-based ads to more universal, mobile-compliant. Work on coming up with templated packages that can be sold by local newspapers and broadcast (which currently don't sell much PointRoll, due to cost). Charge unit with spearheading interactive ads similar to AOL's new takeover designs.

3. Reward Odyssey Team
This was one of the most well-executed rollouts in recent memory. The team, led by Poortinga, has earned its stripes and deserves to hire the developers and designers necessary to continue iterating on the new design.

2. Take a long, hard look at Yahoo partnership
Chris Saridakis had good reason for objecting.

1. Stick to your guns on paywalls
Let The New York Times be the guinea pig. CEO Craig Dubow's wait-and-see approach may be the one digital stall tactic that actually makes sense.

Earlier: top 10 questions for Payne


  1. Those are all pretty good points, and bring to the company popular open-source solutions that allow for rapid local development.

    The Arizona Republic, however, is going to quickly find out that many of their multimedia features -- especially slideshows -- are broken when rendered in Chrome.

  2. Do you have a dollar figure on all this? Gracia hired Payne to bring in more revenue, not to see more revenue walk out the door. I doubt he would get much of this for costs reasons, and part of the reason we are in our troubles is a lack of investment in new computers. This has become very much a dollar conscious company.

  3. Yup, Gracia will save our way right out of business. Of course, she'll get a nice bonus for doing so.

  4. Holy crap. This is the most comprehensive, clearly written plan I've seen. Unfortunately I have no idea what all of it means, but whoever wrote it seems to have a much better grasp on digital than our CFO/CEO/COO/EIEIO does.

  5. Pretty good points.

    Some are fairly optional, like mandating Chrome as staff browser. (To reach the audience, our sites all have to work in Firefox, Safari and IE anyway, so what's the diff?)

    Other points should have happened yesterday. And by "yesterday," I mean 3 to 5 years ago.

  6. They've cut back on our expense accounts, and someone expects corporate to fund this sort of investment program? I very much doubt it. This is the Tea Party regime: Anything that doesn't cut costs _ radically _ has no currency.

  7. Hell, even Microsoft is pleading with people to get off IE6. But that's an expense....

  8. Could we please add the word "tablet" to this list somewhere?

    A Credit Suisse analysis released this week sees tablets as being a $120 BILLION market by 2015.

    And... anyone with an iPad knows that no big media company (including Rupert's) has really gotten it right yet.

    That means there still is a window for Gannett -- if the company can focus and innovate.

  9. Chrome? Really? It's a great browser but it has almost no market share. Everyone would be looking at sites on a browser that almost no one uses. You may not like IE (although the new version is excellent) but *it* remains the industry standard by a mile.

    I like everything else here, though. I particularly like the idea of upgrading phones. The new generation of smart phones are transformative and many people don't understand what they can do until they get one.

  10. Jodi Gersh is Gannett's social media "guru" and does a wonderful job. She holds weekly conference calls on current and emerging platforms, and is very friendly to the many people around the company who reach out to her for support.

  11. This is nice manefesto but first things first. Jodi Gersh rocks. She's great, love her stuff, and learn lots from her.

    Many of the other things (browsers, handhelds, etc.) have nothing to do with Digital person. They are in the perview of other bosses.

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

  13. He's dreaming if this is a list of must-dos. I find most of these ideas attractive. But Payne is going to run into the same "let's think about it" response from corporate if he proposes any change. I contend that the central problem GCI faces is that corporate is risk-adverse. Saridakis said his major problem was he couldn't get a decision, and what makes us think anything has really changed?.

  14. Plato's old aphorism: "Necessity is the mother of invention."

    It means that, when the shit really hits the fan, even normally indecisive people can end up making decisions.

    We may be at that point, 11:06.

  15. Why do I suspect this was written by someone on the Odyssey Team? Oh yeah, the No. 3 action item.

  16. 12:33 I think we are at that point. Corporate has become increasingly erratic. I am willing to hear any arguments, but for the life of me I can't figure out what they got out of that expensive branding campaign for Gannett. These two recent hires also smack of despiration, and they seem to realize the basic error they made of not getting into cable as a provider, and the missed opportunities of purchasing something other than newspapers and TV stations. Now they realize they walked into quicksand.

  17. Crome: Ptui.

  18. I thought the new paywall announced by NY TIMES was interesting. $15 a month subscription with Face Page and 20 article's free a month along with any linked NYT's article from another website being free. BUT more importantly from print side. If you subscribe to NY Time's print. You gain access free to website. This theoreticaly could slow down circulation decline. If you are subscribing to print NY Time's. Why drop it if you now have pay $15 a month for access. When you already were receiving paid subscription.

  19. But look what they are also doing with the linking. They are signing up companies to sponsor readers so they can read a full story. So first you have to read the ad, then you can read the story you want. Very clever because it guarantees advertisers that their ads are being read.

  20. How about starting with ensuring that everybody in the company even knows what the Internet is, and how to use a frickin' browser?

    I'd say go with Firefox, rather than Chrome. Damn good point on picking a better CMS. Saxotech is a complete piece of crap, not to mention a waste of money.

    8:15 a.m. asked what the dollar figure would be. We're talking about free software here, instead of stuff that costs millions a year. Yeah, there'd be some development and training costs, but nothing that wouldn't be paid back in year two.

    But Gannett would rather piss away money on garbage like Omniture, instead.

    As a former employee, I can't say there isn't a bit of Schadenfreude in watching the company further spiral down the drain. I don't see much chance of a future for such a pack of utter bumblers and back-patters.

    The only plan at all seems to be giving bonuses to those who fire the only people who do any work.

    Classifieds are coming back. Auto dealers and department stores aren't coming back. Grocery stores are long gone. Print ads are never going to return to their heights, but that's where Gannett's placing its bets.

    The only damn good the company is now is as an object lesson in what not to do. Whatever Gannett does, I'm doing the exact opposite.

  21. Sounds like Resnic except for the browser and social items. Maybe B.T. or K.P. looking for a pat on the back and to grab a little land. Sharks are alive and well in Digital.

  22. Actually sounds like the dev team in Indy. Hopefully Kevin will address this situation with his team

  23. My personal preference is Firefox however the software Gannett required me to use for my position would not run on it. I was forced to use IE. I did keep it updated.

  24. Gannett is positively not going to put a dime into its newspapers. Not gonna happen. The newspapers are on schedule to die.

  25. Couldn't agree more with the comments about Jodi Gersh. She's one of the bright, shining stars in the company. But I agree with the author of this post that there needs to be somebody in a position of authority leading the company's Social strategy.

    Ergo, promote Gersh to this role.

    It makes no sense for her to be a cog in ContentOne when she could be doing so much more.

  26. Whoever wrote this post, I wish they were running Gannett's digital division.

    Glad to hear that somebody at least has a plan!

  27. I remember in Westchester the word came down that we all had Twitter. Funny, but no one told us why. As it turned out, some reporters started doing it, while the editors, at least the top ones, did zippo. Maybe they didn't do anything because they didn't know why!

    Of course, I'm sure that situation has drastically changed now that that editorial has been weeded out again. Right?

  28. 8:15 a.m. you want dollar figures?

    With #7, mobile ad spending is projected to be $1 billion in 2011. App sales at $15 billion in 2011.

    #6, social, Facebook now gets more traffic than Google, serves more ads, and is fast on its way to earning more revenue. Social gaming is expected to bea 2.8 billion market by 2012, and Zynga (founded in 2007) has an estimated value of $5 billion.

    #5 Groupon is expected to go public later this year with a market cap of $25 billion. They're bringing in $1 billion in revenue annually. Newspapers that were quick to market with group buying, like the Arizona Republic and San Diego Union Tribune, are bringing in anywhere from $200k to $600k per month.

  29. the first of these is silly -- no executive can or should try to change what browser employees use -- but the rest are decent ideas.

    as a former digital staffer, I can confirm that Gannett blows millions on aged, overpriced crapware. from saxotech to omniture to sharepoint. throw in chargebacks on the likes of planet discover and homefinder, and you're talking about a huge expense being choked out of community publishing and broadcasting. if mr saleh and mr paine cut all this fat, there'd be no need for furloughs in q2 -- or the rest of the year.

    its shameful that saridakis didn't kill off the crapware when he knew full well how wasteful it was.

  30. Shouldn't social be a part of Digital or Marketing?

  31. Did I hear ContentOne sent people to SXSW? What value is that for Gannett? Maybe they were on furlough.

  32. Want to know how Patch, which now has a larger news-gathering operation than Gannett, operates at 1% the cost? None of the useless "enterprise" software and contracts mentioned by 5:34pm. Aside from Omniture (which some idiot at AOL pushed on us), we either built everything ourselves or used a free alternative. Oh, plus we also got rid of presses, drivers, Crystal Palace, and do-nothing executive suite. It pains me every time I hear about my old friends getting laid off, knowing that company has chosen to waste its money on that stuff rather than actual reporters.

  33. 6:19 what value is it for Content One to send the kids to SXSW? I dont know but I'd rather see the digital guys there...its about product development and product partnerships, Not kids tweeting how much fun they had at the parties. Move social to CDO...PLEASE! Gracia needs to get serious about Digital acquisitions in social and mobile.


  35. How about Gannett lifts its draconian permissions policies in regards to technology so its employees are actually able to, you know, use innovative technology? Knight-Ridder and Tribune had far more permissive technology policies and it didn't cause the end of the world.

    Wait a minute... Knight-Ridder doesn't exist and Tribune is in bankruptcy...

    NEVER MIND. Keep the draconian tech policy...

  36. "This was one of the most well-executed rollouts in recent memory. The team, led by Poortinga, has earned its stripes and deserves to hire the developers and designers necessary to continue iterating on the new design."

    This is 100% false.


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.