Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Memo: Meeting set for top editors on producing 'unique, high-impact journalism' with smaller staffs

News Department Vice President Kate Marymont has sent the following memo to editors of Gannett's 31 biggest U.S. community newspapers:

Friends:



How can we create unique, high-impact journalism with smaller staffs?



I’d like to invite you to an editors meeting at corporate Aug. 16-18 to discuss this tough question.



A team of editors has worked for more than a year to identify how news and information for every platform needs to evolve. They will be sharing what they’ve learned.



There are many corporate initiatives underway to give local journalists the ability to focus on local storytelling -- the CCI rollout, the Design Studios, a reconfiguring of how we use ContentOne, etc. We’ll be sharing what we’ve learned and talking about helpful strategies.



The goal of the meeting is to support quality local journalism.



Details:



We will cover the cost of the hotel and meals during the meeting. Details on making your room reservations and other logistical information will follow in a separate e-mail. You will need to arrange and cover the costs of your own travel and send [XXXXX] your itinerary.



We will begin at noon on Tuesday, Aug. 16, and end by 2 PM, Thursday, Aug. 18.



If you have a conflict, let me know. We’ll need to talk through who would be a good sub from your site. I do want all of the top 31 sites represented.



Thanks.



Kate

61 comments:

  1. Yes, more layoffs. Why haven't we heard recently from My Boss, or is this just part of his or her projection of 5000 total layoffs. I think the latter, but I'm just a know-nothing.

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  2. Passion topics to the rescue!

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  3. Jim,
    Make sure to run the follow-up "logistics" email. We need to know if editors on this junket will be picked up by a stretch limo or will have to cab it. Also, can the editors avail themselves of hotel spa amenities that aren't included in the room rate? Nothing like a stress-busting rubdown and purifying mud pack to rid oneself of a full day of corporate bullshit. And is it true that editors will be asked spontaneously to recite passages from Gannett's branding and passion topics campaigns and the soon-to-be-unveiled We Will Survive slogan for bus advertising?

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  4. Translation of the memo: Dubow and friends have totally screwed over this company in trying to keep it a viable news organization. We're now asking you editors to save us from ourselves. Good luck. God bless. What was that song the band was playing right before the Titanic sunk?

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  5. Which are the top 31 sites? Why does Gannett continue deluding itself that some formula or initiative dreamed up @ corporate will keep or woo readers and advertisers?

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  6. 9:21: It's "Nearer, My God, To Thee." At the CNN launch in 1980, I remember Ted Turner saying that he'll play that song whenever the end of the world is coming, which will be the "final report."

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  7. I'm sure taking a cool million away from Martore and Dubow's bonuses would go a long way towards paying travel considerations for editors.

    If this is, you know, actually important.

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  8. Another Gannett cluster f*ck waste of time and money. A bunch of clueless morons will pontificate and spew tons of bullsh*t. Will be a good time for the attendees to catch up on their sleep during the "presentations."

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  9. Doing "high impact" journalism with smaller staffs. Yeah, like balancing the budget by cutting taxes. I think sometimes I have fallen into an alternate universe.

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  10. If you can always do more with less, just think how great the GCI papers will be when they have the opportunity to work with no reporters at all....

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  11. Just think how much more we could do if we had less at corporate.

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  12. If only anyone cared anymore.

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  13. Hey. Kate marymount is actually doing something. Wow!

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  14. The amount of brainpower in attendance will be stunning. Cant wait!

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  15. They'll be enough brainpower at the sessions they'll be able to change a light bulb. Really, doing more with smaller staff. I think not. We are already seeing examples of stories that newspapers aren't covering: The weak APP coverage of the near drowning as related on yesterday's blog; the failure of one of the company's major newspapers to do any digging on the state rep with the Viagra, the exotic dancer, the Kentucky temporary tags etc. Someone yesterday even noted one of the smaller Wisconsin papers still had a weather warning up on its web site hours after the storms passed. So, Kate, what great ideas do you have? We'll see next month. In the meantime, nice to hear from you. You've been pretty quiet through all the carnage.

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  16. Doing "high impact" journalism with smaller staffs. Yeah, like balancing the budget by refusing to cut spending. I think sometimes I have fallen into an alternate universe.

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  17. This will be a great opportunity for the 31 editors to showcase their brown-nosing talents and their ability to drop the maximum number of Gannett buzzwords in open meetings. True Gannett loyalists will demonstrate a hunger to follow the footsteps of Kate Marymont, Sue Clark-Johnson, etc. onto the corporate ladder. A failure to do so will be tantamount to insubordination and lack of initiative.

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  18. "producing 'unique, high-impact journalism' with smaller staffs"

    Isn't this a question that should have been worked out, over and through long before this?

    Corporate's thought processes are absolutely stunning!

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  19. Yet another waste of money, which could have been used to hire news staff.

    They should hire KrissKross, who wear their pants BACKWARDS, to entertain.

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  20. Why do they need a two-day meeting to discuss what we already know is going to happen, and what local pubs and editors have already prepared for. You think they are going to invite strippers to this meeting to keep from falling asleep?

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  21. And yet another meeting dedicated to the top 31. So the remaining 50-some mids and smalls, who REALLY have much smaller staffs, are left to eat their own young and limbs and rot off the vine of any support that were ever possible. All attention to the top....zero support for the bottom. Over and over and over again! This company is in total free-fall!

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  22. So they fire a bunch of people who actually write stories. Then, they pay to send the company's highest paid editorial staffers to Virginia, feed them and put them up in hotels for several days to talk. This is classic Gannett. "We don't have any money to pay employees because it has all been earmarked for pointless meetings." Eliminating the cost of this one powow (and there are many throughout the year) would have allowed the company to retain one or two actual journalists or salespeople. It's shameful on many levels. The most noteworthy being that we are supposed to be a high-tech media and information company. If we aren't capable of having this type of meeting via videoconference, we're already so far behind that there's no hope. Enjoy the free food Kate. Some of the people who would have helped you execute this plan are struggling to buy theirs.

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  23. To the staffs of the NT-31 papers (Non-Top 31): I am so very sorry to be the one to tell you this, but... the company decided a couple of years ago that you ain't worth the time, money and fuss. That's why you have editor/ad directors/GMs and not publishers. That's why you don't get included in company meetings. That's why you get forgotten about in conference calls. While your margins remain good, the actual dollars you have in play remain low. So, even though Muncie has a much higher NIBT return than Indianapolis, the audience the Star wields and the cash flowing through that ledger makes them and the other T-31s worth the most of corporate's attention.

    For example, at corporate, we track the NT-31s as a single entity, rolling up all the numbers into one spreadsheet as if the combination was a single site. Of course, the NT-31s still have their own unit numbers (for now) and Evan still digs into them when he sees Group performance taking a dip.

    But, harsh reality here: The NT-31s will soon be like bank branches in strip shopping centers. They will have a sign, a front counter, maybe a person or two -- but all other real functions will be at the main office somewhere else.

    Sure, we will always look for ways to spotlight a few of you folks: You get your share of the President's Rings, for example, and one or two of the Freedom of Information finalist spots. Hey, what about Guam! Let's give them a shout-out 'cause they are interesting and fun! Keep hope alive.

    But, truthfully, your value to the company has been relegated to giving street cred to the National Network Footprint of Gannett, so we can say we have XX properities in XX states serving XX audience. So, we really need to get your expense numbers as low as possible. Fewer FTES, just enough lifeblood to keep you alive but not strong enough to do much more than that. Keep your salaries low, your expenses lower, your management lowest.

    So, long answer to a short question: The NT-31s will get the Passion Topics rollout in webinars, Powerpoints and conference calls -- with regional training for those clustered near T-31 sites.

    Now, if you want to start another thread: How many of the NT-31 sites more money (not just percentage NIBT, but total cash) than some of the T-31s? I bet there are a few of those small sites that do better at the end of the day than a few of those so-called larger-market sites.

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  24. Everyone should read every word of 1:08's comment.

    Also, the reference is to Evan Ray, who is the mini-Martore -- finance-wise -- in U.S. Community Publishing.

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  25. 1:08 -- Great post. The question is, why aren't all Gannett sites getting this thing rolled out through video conferences, etc. There's no real advantage in shipping the highest-paid editorial employees halfway across the country so they can B.S. face to face. There is, however, a huge bottom-line expense when we are supposed to be making a shared financial sacrifice to save the company.

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  26. I have no doubt papers can still produce big packages, crunch public records and make them seem like they have an impact.
    Profiles of DUI convicts
    What companies are getting tax breaks
    how much public employees are making
    Breaking down prison populations and costs.

    but really these are just journalism exercises more suited for a journalism class than for an institution charged with reporting on what is happening today in a community. Numbers are easier to find than stories.

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  27. I think a fundamental issue Gannett corporate may be missing is advertising and the economy “coming back” is a fallacy. Even if the economy improved, the newspaper industry is a fraction of what it was and is no longer the value it was and at the current rate, continues an accelerating decline. In addition, if the economy and jobs improved what would be left after what would certainly be a mass exit from the industry.

    As for the Marymont “How can we create unique, high-impact journalism with smaller staffs?” I’d ask a question- With the consistent dramatic reader losses and continued revenue declines, will there be anything left in a few years? I know someone will argue that’s a negative, skeptical attitude. But someone please show a business plan projecting the past three years forward three years which leaves a business in place.

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  28. "Everyone should read every word of 1:08's comment."

    For f*ck's sake, that's not a big revelation. Every single person who works at one of those sites could have told you that a long, long time ago.

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  29. Why does Carolyn Washburn have to fly to DC to brainstorm about maximizing local news coverage when she's sitting on the hottest story to hit Cincinnati in years: the DWI arrest of a state representative carrying on with a 26-year-old stripper with Viagra in his system. Here, Carolyn, this is what the other Gannett editors will tell you what to do: Interview the stripper and do a photo slide show of her; interview regulars at Concepts Show Girls for some color on the rep's outings there; interview the ex-stripper who posted on CincyMomsLikeMe that the rep's was a texting lech; see if she still has any of the texts; ask the strippers if they have any racy photos of the rep with any of them; get copies of the rep's state expense reports to see if he was reimbursed for visits to strip clubs. Easy.

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  30. "Every single person who works at one of those sites could have told you that a long, long time ago."

    This might be news to you, but not everyone in the company works at one of those sites.

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  31. Hey 3:11 -
    I bet they already assigned that...to one of their unpaid interns!

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  32. I'd like to know which sites are in the Top 31 and which are Non-Top 31 ...

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  33. Translation of Marymont's memo:

    You are expected to do even more with even less.

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  34. I second a call for a list of the Top 31. Thanks.

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  35. "This might be news to you, but not everyone in the company works at one of those sites."

    "To the staffs of the NT-31 papers (Non-Top 31):"

    This might be news to you, 3:27, but critical reading is your friend. Not big on comprehension, are we?

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  36. How incredibly tone deaf can corporate be?

    We are telling staff that they need to conduct more interviews by phone or email because the 31 cents per mile they save may mean their job.

    Then we turn around and ignore technology and commonsense and choose to fly people to the second-most-expensive-lodging area in the country instead of just sending out an email?

    Hell, here's the text: "Local local local is dead. Long live Passion Passion Passion!"

    Maybe there is a really good reason to fly all these people - but the airport Comfort Inn in Des Moines would have been a hell of a lot cheaper, and the editors could have toured the Design Hub AND GIADC at the same time.

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  37. GIADC - Gannett Is A Dying Corporation?

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  38. 3:11 Yes, and what other area politicians have been haunting the strippers at Concepts?

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  39. 4:44 is correct! Plus, if the people being flown to the meeting a really valuable and smart, how can their respective papers do without their services on the 2 travel days? Think of the salary expense being spent on this meeting. I wonder if they'll be eating at Subway? Just imagine how much will be spent bringing these people together to discuss further layoffs to save money!

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  40. All: I think I've got a list of the T-31 papers and maybe also the NT-31s.

    I'll look around over the next 24 hours. Assuming I succeed, I'll post them prominently.

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  41. Editors will come back home and tell their staffs: "It's all within reach."

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  42. For their entire careers, Gannett editors have been hypnotized into saying "That's a great idea, master" when they are summoned by their corporate puppeteers. I wouldn't expect anything different this time.

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  43. GIADC = Gannett Imaging and Design Center, the new name of the GPC and RTC combo.

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  44. The only good thing about Marymount's memo is that it at least acknowledges that staffs have been downsized. Almost every other pronouncement from Gannett editors and publishers since the most recent layoffs has been gobbledygook examples in reality avoidance.

    Of course all this will be the usual "target" what you cover, we can't do everything, passion topics effort to do less with less.

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  45. I have an idea! Those 31 editors should assign a reporter or two full-time to big stories and long-term projects. Forget the beats that aren't being covered. Forget the creation of a class system in the Local Information Center.

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  46. 11:07 AM wrote: "'Producing unique, high-impact journalism with smaller staffs'

    "Isn't this a question that should have been worked out, over and through long before this? Corporate's thought processes are absolutely stunning!"

    Nah, it's just another example of the GCI executive motto: "Ready, Fire, Aim".

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  47. 4:44 The government reimbursement rate for mileage and using your own car is 51 cents:
    http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/100715

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  48. I share everyone's sentiment. But there might actually be some things we can do to achieve what Marymount is talking about.

    I believe most papers spread themselves too thin trying to be the paper of record and get all the minute drudgery that no one ever read anyway into print. And at our site, you can bet that every Sunday and Monday you're going to read all about whatever 5K, picnic, hunger walk, barbeque or ice-cream social took place over the weekend, complete with a compelling anecdote about how 5-year-old Sally had a great time and said something mildly cute.

    Our papers are loaded with fluff and drudgery that serves only one purpose -- filling space.

    There are some days when the shit hits the fan and you truly need a big hole for news.

    But far too much reporter time is wasted churning out half-hearted stories to fill a pre-determined and illogical space. Even more so now that there aren't that many of us still employed. And what use is it if no one reads it anyway?

    Gannett editors, here's a suggestion for your agenda at this meeting: How can we give the few reporters we have left the time to work on stories that will actually have an impact at all?

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  49. Oh you naysayers! Don't you remember what happened at The Tennessean when its staff got smaller? It got deeper and it improved its local news reach and established itself even more persuasively as the source of all useful information.

    That's what Silverman said:

    "The news changes will help The Tennessean continue and deepen the newspaper’s legacy of public service journalism, improve the breadth and reach of local news in Nashville and its suburban counties, and continue to establish The Tennessean as the region’s primary source of digital news, information and engagement."

    If only Kate & Co. were asking the editors to share their NEWS JUDGMENT - with impunity - instead of kissing up to them for a few days, hoping they'll just swallow more of that nasty one-size-fits-all passion potion.

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  50. It's a small thing, but since many of you are journalists, can you spell "Marymont" correctly? It has no "u."

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  51. I still can't believe the editors actually have to pay for their flights to this meeting.

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  52. 2:14 -- I don't think the editors have to pay. Their property has to pay, meaning the money will come out of local budgets, not corporate's.

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  53. Haven't these people heard of conference calls and webinars? The amount of money being dumped into travel for discussions is ridiculous.

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  54. I'm close to assembling a list of the t-31 newspapers. It took a bit more research than I expected.

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  55. What happen to the publishers, and editors of these newspapers, if they DON'T GO TO this meeting? Will they be fired?

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

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  57. I'll try this again without the profanity. Sorry.

    Kate was the one who promised to have by the end of April the "local staffing analysis" and the numbers of people who get to keep their jobs at each local site when the Regional Design Center goes online. Still waiting, with no indication when it will arrive.

    Maybe Kate will use this opportunity with all the top editors to share that information, 3-4 months after it was supposed to be delivered.

    Or maybe Kate is so absolutely clueless that she has no idea what's going on or how to do what Gannett has said it will do.

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  58. There is a difference between cutting taxes and cutting tax rates. When cap gain taxes were 39% people did not sell shares as frequently as they do at 15% rate. The government only taxes the gains when the shares change hands. 15% of $100 is a lot more money than 39% of $0.

    The same is true of all economic activity, tax it more and you get less of it and at some point you lose revenue because you have fewer dollars to tax than the increased tax rate gets you back.

    Sort of like increasing circulation rates and selling enough fewer papers that you generate less circulation revenue than you would have at the old rate....but you do save a lot of newsprint.

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  59. I was one of the unfortunate 700 recently laid off. I must say that driving home, I felt a sense of relief in knowing I'd never again have that horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach while driving to work in the morning that there's no way I can get X done by the time Y wants it and that in going right up to deadline to do it, I will get lectured about it.

    No, I've not yet found a new job. But it doesn't matter. I've escaped from North Korea with my life and sanity intact. And it feels GREAT!

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  60. “How can we create unique, high-impact journalism with smaller staffs?” Marymont

    Further proof that Gannett hasn’t a clue as that important question should have been answered soon after the first round of layoffs began a few years ago.

    It’s a good thing many of Gannett’s suits have their cars fueled regularly by their staffs, else many would apparently drive them until they ran out of gas before even considering in advance where to get more.

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  61. “How can we create unique, high-impact journalism with smaller staffs?” Marymont

    1. Ignore most PR people and their puffs, even the useful ones.
    2. Ignore routine coverage of local news people actually want to know, like what is my town board doing to me now?
    3. Ignore reader pleas for coverage of events that are important to them.
    4. Ignore politicians.
    5. Ignore News 2000, local local, moments of life, First Amendment and everything else we've been told was so dear.
    6. Work hard to identify those few high impact stories that you can pour your remaining resources into.
    7. Pray that nobody else starts an actual news service in your market.

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