An independent journal about the Gannett Co. and the news industry's digital transition
For Part 5 of this comment thread, please go here.
I think USA Today has given up covering news, and now puts together nothing but fluff. For example, take a look at the government shutdown story and try to find out where these cuts are going to come. The details are simply not there, and it is two days after the deal was made. So is NPR funded? Is the Institute of Peace dead? What happened to no-child-left-behind funding? All the story is fluff and Obama meeting with tourists at the Lincoln Memorial. Where's the beef?
Ken Paulson becomes ASNE presidenthttp://asne.org/article_view/articleid/1789/remarks-on-the-future-of-asne-by-ken-paulson.aspx
let's be realistic in the nj group. In all likelyhood, a few of the smaller newspapers are going to be toast. If you look around, most of the effort is being centered around APP and that is not going over in the Nor.thern group. Big advertisers pulling out...and NOTHING being done to stop it.
The News Journal in Wilmington launched the results of their months long research project with their new Sunday front page today. The changes orchestrated in concert with Magid Research - includes rails with short story highlights, boxes, story labels, color shadows, teasers and more. Did all those furlough savings go to good use and was it the best use of nearly a half million dollars in consultation fees? Increased single copy sales and home delivery subscriptions will be the true metric.
As I see it, we are in a death spiral. Ad and circulation declines prompt corporate to cut budgets for newspapers, which forces layoffs. But layoffs result in tepid and boring papers plus less coverage of news, which in turn results in more ad and circulation declines. You see where this plan is leading and more layoffs or furloughs at this time now are not going to stop the decline. There's no cheap way of doing this, but to stop the decline you have to do something dramatic and different. You are going to die either way, so why not?
The USA Today criticism is dead on. Our pathetic and weak-willed news coverage in a time of extreme partisanship and attempts to manipulate the public is one thing that has helped kill the paper's readership. I'm not say we should have gone partisan. No, not at all. But we should have tried harder to expose untruths. We should have been calling out the previous administration for its blatant misrepresentations, but instead we take the approach of an idiot caught in the middle. "I dunno which side is telling the truth. Durh, durh, durh ... YOU tell ME!" Well, American readers were saying one thing, to quote John Lennon: "Just gimme some truth." We were too afraid of alienating partisan readers that we fed their delusions. There should have been a front page "truth squad" column every day. We're not partisan, we're just telling it like it is. So you lose a couple people who don't want to hear that. We would have gained many, many more who did.Our impotent coverage killed us. "On the one hand ... and on the other." That's not news. That's a party guest trying to stay out of the host couple's screaming match. As a national newspaper, you can't stay out of it. Even our opinions page falls victim to this. Our opinions are toothless to begin with, and then we run "Their view" to oppose it. "Here's what we think, after careful deliberation and assessment of the facts ... aaaaaaand here's someone who just calls bullshit." WE should have been the ones calling bullshit.You don't see this in other sections. Sports doesn't say, "There are big doughts about Roethlisberger ..." and then run a sidebar saying "NO doubts about Roethlisberger!" Life doesn't review a movie negatively and then give the lead actor space to say, "Don't listen to this pinhead critic!"Decisiveness. Honesty. That's what we lack.The truth is the truth. That's what readers want. They don't want a newspaper saying "there is no truth." But that's who we are. "We're pussies! Just give us your dollar for our wafer thin paper. We promise not to challenge you in any way!"
12:32 -- That seems to be a Gannett thing, not just USAT. Every time I read the opinion page in my mid-sized daily it reminds me why I don't usually read it. Instead of running actual editorials, the paper runs thinly veiled news analyses that say things like, "While we understand the points of people on this side of the issue, we can't ignore the other side." Ultimately most editorials end up saying nothing, so I'm baffled why anyone would read them. Better to take a strong stand, make a difference and fire people up. Arguably you might even get more readers who disagree with your stances because -- even in disagreement -- they would want to know what "crazy" thing you were writing this week. I'm sure, however, some executive decided that taking a stand would make advertisers stop advertising.So, we water down the content, make readers stop reading, and advertiser then drop out because there's no audience. Understanding this takes forethought and critical thinking skills, of course. And I'm increasingly convinced that these things are missing in most executives at this company. When you have the smartest and most ethical people in your organization in non-management positions, you end up like G A N N E T T.
How long before the business community uses this company to develop a new verb? "Boy, we really Gannetted that one." "What ever you do, don't Gannett this project. It's too important."
We need to define the audience we intend to reach with USA Today, and tailor stories for them. The federal shutdown is an example. The Washington Post ran four or five stories a day on the run-up to this agreement, which is understandable since their audience is predominantly federal workers. But what does it mean to salesmen on the road reading USA Today over breakfast, or what does it mean for ordinary Americans who buy our paper. Should they be interested in what the politicians in Washington say they are doing? What is at stake for them. We used to have a voice that appealed to this group, but somehow we have lost it.
Well, the criticisms here of USAT are valid. But, honestly, do people there/here actually feel that the product was anything but "safe" (boring) and uninspired for most of its existence? Folks, nobody ever confused USAT in its history with the WSJ or the best days of the Wash Post/NY Times or even the St. Pete Times and other great non-national newspapers. USAT has always been about appeasing to this safe, middling standard to reach a broad audience. The graphics have always been cookie cutter. The writing as generic as possible, without any semblance of voice, cadence, narrative and flow. Formula for section-front centerpieces seems to be: Hell with the writing. Let's just make sure we quote as many people as possible within this 40-inch space. Even if they don't have anything to state but the obvious.And guess what? You can blame senior management and the line editors and the copy desk for SOME of these clear shortcomings. But hardly all of them. The bottom line is that, aside from just maybe a very few, there just isn't a great deal of great talent there. If it followed the blueprint of other newspapers, for example, Life and Sports would be showcases every day for great writing and presentation -- packages that should grab you by the collar and dare you not to read them. Instead, these two sections are the two blandest in a very bland newspaper.
Can anyone in Life reveal more about the explosion between John Hillkirk and Susan Weiss this week? Heard he is on a bureau tour and was clueless when he found out from other reporters that his content chief was planning NOT to replace recently departed or demoted editors in books, movies, and music. What the hell is going on over on that part of the floor, and are other assignment editors next? Apparently there was some awful bandaid solution Weiss cooked up suddenly. I'm assuming she just doubled-up duties on others. My fear is that we no longer need to worry about losing our jobs, but rather gaining an extra job, or more. Does anyone know details? Is this going to be a pattern throughout the paper?
Did anyone see the USA Weekend distributed in Phoenix today? Photos on every other page were completely out of registration, including ads. Not by a little bit either. It was horrible. Does G have to make good on the out of registration ads? Or is an apology and promise that it won't happen again enough?
Finally left C-P last week and I'm HAPPY to be FREE! I was a dedicated web designer and my position, I heard, was eliminated after I resigned. I hope my friends leave before whole place gets buried completely. It was sad to see an almost half-empty building these recent times.May God have mercy in Cherry Hill. Jim, great coverage. Peace out, homies!
2:54 I disagree with you. USAT once blew away the opposition with its innovations, and was well-written and interesting. The front-page fact boxes, and the weather map are two that come to mind. Yes, it was packaging, but it was clever packaging and the McPaper criticism didn't hold. For people on the road, it also offered a connection back to their homes with state-by-state briefs. I think you don't remember how dull other traditional papers were in comparison to USAT, which also was a plus. I remember riding on the subway and hearing readers talking about how good the sports section was to the local opposition because it had statistical tables that weren't hidden in yards of agate type. It was readable.It may have been a brief period when it was innovative, but it once was that. I do agree with the majority opinion here that it is no longer that.
USA Today was once a newspaper that held tight to some ethical traditions. Today, it publishes inane speculation about who is going to be the next knocked off Dancing with the Stars, and the American Idol. That's not news, its base speculation, and you don't fool readers by presenting it in a legitimate newspaper.
Thought you might like to see David Carr's story about USAT executive compensation:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/11/business/media/11carr.html?hp=&pagewanted=all
7:11 What Carr says in the NYT sounds very familiar to readers of this blog.
One thing in the NYT I spotted that I have not seen is that the layoffs saved Gannett $33 million. I question if that is a real figure for all of the losses we've seen, and over what period. It is a smaller figure than I might have suggested.
5:52, no doubt -- for a time -- USAT looked refreshingly bright and energetic compared to other papers. And, hey, ain't no doubt anywhere that the weather page kicked major league butt. But ...... the writing was, is and always will be pedestrian at best save for a very small minority of staffers there who somehow can produce something with some sense of cadence, voice, narrative, etc. USAT doesn't and never did seem to particularly value these qualities. USAT was always in the business of producing information. The WSJ is in the business of producing information that's a pleasure to read.
7:54 That $33 million in savings, as Carr notes, is from furloughs -- not from layoffs.
It's reassuring that USA Today reporters are speaking out more about the destruction of journalism at Gannett, both here and in the NYT. It's true, there at A stories in the paper alongside a lot of C- and D stories. It's frustrating to those of us trying to produce good copy that mediocrity is so casually accepted. That's a failure of leadership at USA Today. I'm not surprised to see that Susan Weiss is now feeling that assignment editors aren't necessary. "Just run any old damn thing." That may as well be her philosophy.
Someone pointed out last night that this is not the first time the NYT has reported on Gannett. Last night's poster added this link from a story about 2009 layoffs: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/27/business/media/27gannett.html?ref=gannettcompany (because of NYT paywall you may have to be a subscriber to reach the story :)
Maybe my math is off. Is this saying that the average pay in the company is $1,000 per week?Given the enormous salaries paid to the executives, the actual average must be much lower.Wow!"Jim said...7:54 That $33 million in savings, as Carr notes, is from furloughs -- not from layoffs."
Hillkirk is a frigging idiot. He has no understanding of how the paper gets out or the poor decisions made by editors, or the bad calls made by the inept on line crew. They don't need replacement editors. They ha e ample editors on staff who could take up the slack. They have nothing to do. Put them to work..
Susan Weiss ran the Life section for years. If she feels the dept. Can run effectively w/o certain eds then so be it. Hillkirk the Designator should have been better prepared to answers bureau questions. That's on him, not Susan. What does this guy do all day?
Oh please. 80% of the editors in news and on line don't know or do jack.
If you are an underling atUsa TODAY, I feel sorry for what "management" is doing, destroying the paper. The few talented reporters and assignment editors here will bale out as soon as possible.
What is wrong with Gannet is what is wrong with the print media business in general. There is no strategy, no real innovation (beyond "re-imagining" formats, as if new formats are going to bring back readers and advertisers)and a heavy focus on the operational end of the business without thinking about what made print media successful in the first place - relevant, well written stories about subjects of interest to the reader. Investigative reporting in local newspapers, which in my opinion is integral to our country's political and economic health, is all but dead. Likewise is the art of painting a picture with words. It's not necessarily the writers who are at fault here, but ever shrinking news holes ever more timid editors and ever more isolated senior managers who depend upon computer analyses and number crunching to make their decisions.In short, accountants and investment bankers are what drive newspapers these days and they don't understand that this business is not only about numbers, but about the connection between the newspaper, its readers and its advertisers. Unless the powers that be grasp the importance of this relationship and how essential it is that it be fixed, sad to say, there outlook for print media in this country is gloomy indeed.
Carr's story is getting a lot of comments on Twitter. Do a Twitter search for Gannett.
Every Gannett employee who made less than $1 million last year should stay home from work May 2 and 3. Let's do it.
If Gannett Thought Police want to find out who in Life is reading Gannettblog, they should listen for uproarious laughter tomorrow morning and run over to find Life staffers reading 9:55's comment.Susan Weiss "ran" Life for years? Yuh, she occupied space as the nominal head of the section, but anyone who has worked there will candidly tell you that the section functioned IN SPITE of her, not BECAUSE of her. If anything she was an obstruction most of the time. The people who actually run Life, and care about putting out a good product, would beg, plead, nudge, and push her to make critical decisions, but it was (and remains) her style to remain in a state of paralysis. She hates making decisions because then she is responsible. This thing about not replacing editors is EXACTLY her style. Wait and see, try to save a few bucks, shift the burden to others, nevermind if the product suffers (even more) because of it. You may argue that some editors don't pull their weight, but the assignment editors who oversee books, movies, TV, music, and the people team hustle their asses off. The fact that some of these positions have been left vacant has created confusion and hardship for the reporters trying their best to cover those beats. Susan leaving the positions empty is a total sign of disrespect to the reporters trying to make USA Today into a product people want to read.And the fact that she scrambled to gin up a quick fix after Hillkirk called her out is a sign of how little she thought this through. She did what she always does, which is hope no one notices. Now that she's the paper's No. 2, she can't hide her weaknesses as a manager. She got to the position because of the work others did in the section, and only successfuly managed up, making the executives think she was responsible for their successes. She was a credit stealer.Now they should rename the Peter Principle the Weiss Principle.So for 9:55 to imply she knows what she is doing? HA HA HA HA. It is either Susan herself writing that, or maybe one of her lickspittles. But I doubt that, because she doesn't have any left.
This is depressing.
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Weren't the Design Studios supposed to maintain the design integrity of each newspaper? Just noticed all of Gannett's New York newspapers are using the same typography for things like bylines and headlines. Newspapers that had been designed with uniform typography, like the Binghamton, Ithaca and Elmira papers, now look like a mishmash of styles lacking cohesion. (Rochester has always capitalized its bylines and continues to do so, but using the uniform font where it looks hideous.)
I don't see how fewer editors makes things worse for reporters. If anything,, it should make it easier for those who can generate and execute stories, 12:57. You may recAll a central point of the transformation, a leaner, meaner management team. Maybe that hasn't happened in all sections. But obviously, if Weiss feels there are self driven reporters in life, there is less need to replace editors. So shut up and do your job. Accept the fact that any new hires will be nominal. That's the gannet way, except for upper management. So is taking credit for other peoples work.
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."
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