Friday, June 01, 2012

Asbury Park | Content is king: a minimum of one A1 story a month, one watchdog story a week, one iPhone video a week, and tweet 4-5 times a day

Paul D'Ambrosio, an editor at New Jersey's Asbury Park Press, sent the following memo to newsroom employees yesterday. "At the end of the day," he writes, "we want people to crave our stories and say, yeah, I’m going to renew my subscription. Free is over. Content is now king." 

From: D'Ambrosio, Paul
Sent: Thursday, May 31, 2012 3:06 PM
Subject: Reporter dashboard starts Friday
Importance: High

Metro Staffers,

As mentioned last month, we will start tracking key reporting efforts tomorrow, June 1. These are based on the Goals and Assignments metro staffers were given during the Content Evolution meetings. (If you don’t have the sheet handy, you can review the “ReporterAssignments.doc” at [XXXXX].)

The goals are pretty straightforward. Each metro reporter is expected to produce a minimum of one A1 story a month, one watchdog story a week, one iPhone video a week, and tweet 4-5 times a day on stories of interest to their Tier I and II towns. If you exceed the goals, and we want everyone to go beyond the minimum, you will get a higher performance rating.

Newest iPhone is this 4S
We have all been working toward these goals since the paywall launch, and your efforts in last few weeks have been outstanding. We have a much more dynamic A1 and, more watchdog stories that readers crave, and have had excellent feedback. You will get credit for A1 and watchdog stories you have done since May 17, so the June summary will really show your work over a six-week period. After that, we will track performance by the month.

You can view the “MetroStaffDashboard.xls” at the same above site. It will be updated several times a week. You will be able to see the running totals on the far right of the spreadsheet. (Breaking news, state, strike team, projects and sports staffers have their own department goals and are listed on the chart simply for us to get a complete view of what is happening on A1).

What you need to do: Keep up the good work and avoid an end-of-the-month rush. If you delay doing an A1 story until the 30th, chances are it won’t get in. There are about 110 A1 slots each month, so there is ample room for everyone on the front page. Talk with your supervisor early and often to come up with A1 story ideas so we can ensure everyone’s best work is put out front. If, for example, you have an A1 watchdog story, you will get double credit that day for having both a front pager and a watchdog piece.

Also, let your bureau chief know about iPhone videos you have uploaded. He or she will keep track of your videos for the dashboard. If you see a mistake on the dash, let me know and we will fix it.

And, to bury the lead, we will start a monthly rewards program next month. We will recognize outstanding work with Amazon and Target gift cards. What will these be for? We’re looking for those bell-ringer stories that stand above the rest, that get things changed, that get APP noticed in the state and nation, that demonstrate outstanding writing, or show extraordinary effort in landing a story. We’re open to nominations. Feel free to send along your suggestions at any time.

As always, please feel free to call Hollis, Sally, Flax, or me if you have any questions about the Content Evolution goals. At the end of the day, we want people to crave our stories and say, yeah, I’m going to renew my subscription. Free is over. Content is now king.



Paul D'Ambrosio
Regional Editor
Investigations and Interactive Data
Asbury Park Press

Earlier: GCI equips reporters with iPhones. Plus: Corporate wants all newspaper reporters producing videos again.


  1. "If you exceed the goals ... you will get a higher performance rating."

    No way, really, a higher performance rating? Sweet! My family will be so proud.

  2. What's not in the memo is how metro staff have been told not to go to meetings, yet we are expected to "own" our beats and not get beaten by the competition, including Patch. Because the news will magically come to us, especially when all our sources forget who we are.
    "Whatever happened to what's-his- name, that daily reporter"?
    And don't forget to report, shoot iPhone video, get still photos and live Tweet. Then write for the tablet, iPhone, web and print. Oh wait, we don't have an app....still.
    Stone, get ready to give more blood.

  3. Quotas...Welcome to the world of the advertising rep.

    We eat our young. Confessions of an ex-Gannettoid.

  4. What I would be interested in knowing is what constitutes "watchdog" stories?

    Can anyone give a few example of the "watchdog" stories that are now more plentiful at the paper, the ones the readers crave?

    Don't get me wrong, I DO think readers want more watchdog journalism, I just wonder what stories they are talking about here...

  5. I worked for the Gannett New Jersey group for about 12 years before moving on to a much better job, and knowing some of the editing personalities involved, I must say that the memo was filled with the typical, mindless cliches.
    As for "watchdog" journalism, reporters practice that by covering their beats as closely as possible, which means going to meetings and researching public records. That puts them in a position to detect unsavory activity when and if it occurs. It is foolish to say you can practive "watchdog" journalism by not going to public meetings.

  6. I love that, "content is king." It's almost insulting coming from an outfit that first destroyed existing content with fluff, mug shots, tits and ass, and then -- and this is the best part -- rendered itself unable to provide any consistent content now because there aren't enough staff left!

  7. A higher performance rating gets you a zero% raise as opposed to a 0% raise.

  8. Has this guy sold his soul? He was around when the paper was family owned and must know in his heart that he is now just spewing bullsh--.

  9. Gotta love the Amazon gift cards. A great way to support the local stores you need to ads from

  10. Quantity over quality. Any smart reporter will be able to easily game the system.

  11. This guy sounds like a clown. And yeah, I'm sure those Amazon/Target gift cards are real motivators. How about REAL raises for outstanding performance. Oops, forgot, this is Gannett where only the top, do-nothing execs get raises regardless of their performance.

  12. Tweet THIS, Paul.

    What a Gannettbag!

  13. Dear Gannettblog reader who shared this:

    Thank you for the glimpse into my future. If possible, please share more, including examples of watchdog and A1 stories. What are Asbury's "passion topics"?

    On an unrelated note: ONE A1 story a month? That's it? How many reporters do youse guys have?

  14. So someone is going to spend time counting how many times each reporter has tweeted? And how many watchdog stories he/she has written? And how many of his/her stories the editors have decided to put on P1? And negotiating with reporters about whether a story counts as watchdog or should have gone on P1?

  15. Hate to tell ya, Paul, content has always been king, even before the interwebs began messing it up, except at Gannett, where the top brass forget it all the time.

  16. As someone who used -- thankfully! -- to work for Gannett, this is not surprising, though nonetheless disturbing.
    Gannett killed content. This is just so much crap.
    And, yes, instead of paying another (or two) reporter(s) to provide actual news, someone is getting paid to keep track of all this. Yeah, that's really going to increase circulation.
    Pay wall? There's no real to pay for the drivel on most of the Gannett NJ papers' sites.
    And as for the author, sold his soul is sadly true. I knew him when he was a real journalist, not just another toady towing the corporate line. But that was long ago.
    My advice, if you're in NJ: Get out while you still have some shred of journalistic integrity.

  17. Sure, 1:19 am, we'll just snap our fingers and jobs will magically appear. Just like glitter-farting unicorns.

  18. Pauls a great guy and was always above the standard. I understand what is necessary to keep your job, your sanity and your benefits. I don't envy his position and I respect his decision to do what has to be done. Don't blame the player blame the game.

  19. This memo is so typically Gannett. Let's assess performance by arbitrary numbers. I wonder when the last time this editor ever produced a story, had to tweet 4-5 times a day or dig through hundreds of pages of records to come up with a slam-bang story. The last time Gannett put numbers to achievement was about 20 years ago when it stupidly monitored Mainstreaming. God help the reporter if they fell short of mainstreaming. I remember a reporter doing a story on the weather and an editor going ballistic because he hadn't included a black weathercaster. Never mind there were none in our area. The reporter got chewed out and later asked me, "What am I supposed to do, call Al Roker?"
    This editor needs to remember that reporters are not motivated by management set numbers. They are motivated by support, excitment and enthusiasum for stories. They are motivated when they see that their editors care about them when they take the time to listen and talk over stories.
    This guy and his numeric standards are the type of management that has ruined news organizations.

  20. At least they've finally been honest and admitted there's a quota system now. No more arbitrary "You need more enterprise/A1!" Now reporters know what they need to hit. That's at least incremental progress. The paper will still be shit, but hey ...

  21. If our CMO can tweet 30,tines from the White House Correspondents Dinner you should be able to tweet four times a day.

  22. I have serious issues with the whole quota system. Newsrooms are driven by egos and it's way to easy for a talented reporter to be kept off the front page by a vindictive editor. Or a middling reporter to be promoted to the front page by an editor. But this is the new world we live in that values a quantity of tweets over a quality of stories.

    What's really tone deaf though is giving out Amazon gift cards. Amazon doesn't advertise in any of our products, they don't support our communities and they work hard to undermine the local merchants we solicit ads from. They refuse to pay property or sales taxes.

    Amazon is as much a part of our industry's problem as Google or Facebook. He should be giving out gift cards to local merchants. Ones that advertise in the paper and support the community. The people on Main Street that we rely on and that rely on us.

    Handing out Amazon gift cards is shameful.

  23. As a former editor I see this as a metric that I could use when it's time to trim the less productive members of my staff. So much of this Corporate BS is less concerned with creating a quality product, than establishing a CYA system for getting rid of the older newsies. Follow me here - as a reporter becomes more skilled (and older) they generally move to the more complex beats that require more background work (that's time that only shows up in the final product). On the other hand a young reporter covers cops and courts, which tend to generate plenty of A1 material. Cops and courts require lots of energy and effort, but don't require as much background work.
    So if I want to score high in this system give me the night cop beat and don't you dare ask me to write about the environment or health care or financial institutions.

  24. In defense of Paul, we all know this is coming from way higher up than the glass offices in NJ. Despite the cuts and the BS, there are still a lot of people at the APP who produce good journalism against the odds. But there are those who just came in form other GNJ properties who have attached themselves to the APP like a leech and are attempting to curry favor with higher ups and worm their way in to a position of power.
    The passion topics at APP are Watchdog journalism, Education and Food. Court coverage has been axed unless it is something big. Rumor is that the APP's original passion topics plan was rejected by corporate, so you have an idea of where this is really coming from.
    I hope the job/glitter farting unicorn directs one toward soon so I can get the hell out.

  25. Please correct "form" to from and add a "me" in between toward and soon. Use this as the case to keep our copy editors.

  26. I agree, 11:07 p.m., what strange metrics. We have editors who tweet 20 to 30 times a day, reporters who write two A1 stories a day and shoot video almost every day, sometimes twice a day for something like proms or graduations.

    Do the people at the APP think they're working hard?

  27. Purely from an HR perspective, I think an argument can be made that establishing minimum numbers takes some of the arbitrariness out of the annual performance review process.

  28. 10:59 I have no doubt that this memo from D'Ambrosio is, indeed, meant to be included in some sort of Content Evolution/Passion Topics assessment package that will be sent to Corporate for approval.

    This is happening at all the newspapers -- and it's a very detailed process.

    At one Gannett newspaper, this resulted in a multi-page written assessment by Corporate, laying out all the paper's weaknesses regarding its Content Evolution strategy.

  29. You have to wonder which genius at corporate is calling the shots on this.

  30. I've also known Paul a long time. Don't understand all his defenders. He's always been a pompous twit. He's just deluded enough to think he did more back when he reported. The corporate mentality that you can set "metrics" for great journalism is beyond clueless. Let's just hope this is short lived and someone wakes up. I'm not optimistic. If journalism is dying, Paul is one of the guys yanking on the plug.

  31. I was a longtime reporter for the once proud Asbury Park Press. I left quite a while back when it was clear Gannett was killing it. It's hard to understand where all these "watchdog" stories are going to come from, when staffers no longer cover towns on a regular basis. The Press is a joke now. You can't have the few members of the investigative projects team drum up a "watchdog piece" a couple of times and month and expect that to keep a dying newspaper alive. So glad I don't work there anymore and feel badly for the people who still do.

  32. I despise these byline count things. It just adds tripe to the pile. But I'm stunned that 1 A-1 story a month is considered a goal. I'd consider it retirement....

    And @453 I agree that barring reporters from attending meetings is a pretty dumb policy. Not saying all meetings should be covered, but one of the values we give readers/viewers is our coverage and analysis of policy development - so they don't have to go to all these government meetings. And even if a meeting doesn't produce riveting daily copy, it will almost always produce better sourcing, more authoritative coverage, and far better contextual understanding of the issues. Plus, you can live-Tweet them and rack up big Twitter scores.

    Thanks to the person who posted that memo. Priceless.

  33. 4:03 Agreed that a single Front Page story a month sounds weak. If I was a reporter on a traditional beat, I would hope to be there at least once a week.

    Plus, if today's print front page is representative of most, there's not a lot of competition. I count exactly three stories.

    All the other editorial is simply promoting other stories.

  34. The discussion here has improved -- thanks to us, the Gannett Blog Liberation Team.

    GBLT forced better dialogue to take place.

    You're welcome.

  35. Anonymous says "I've also known Paul a long time. Don't understand all his defenders. He's always been a pompous twit. He's just deluded enough to think he did more back when he reported. "

    Well, your analysis would carry more weight if you put your name behind it. I stopped working at the Press shortly after Gannett took over from the Plangere/Lass families. I've known Paul a long time and without even knowing your name, I KNOW he is a better journalist than you could ever hope to be. In my experience, the folks who don't like Paul are people who have jealousy issues with his success. He's won just about every major journalism award, short of the Pulitzer Prize. I haven't worked at the Press in a long time, but knowing the man as well as I do, I would give him the benefit of the doubt.

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

  37. Does this mean Paul is the new Gary Schoening? Gary took the early retirement package leaving the managing editor position open.

    What about Local Editor Sally Pakutka? If she oversees local news coverage why is the investigations editor sending out this memo?

    What's the chain of command there now?

  38. What hasn't been discussed much here are the "champions" who were hand-picked by the EE to help in implementing this whole new content evolution initiative.

    Paul is obviously the "watchdog" champion, but there are also champions for food, education, social media, entertainment and design. And yes, that is how they are referred to. (If they are "champions," not sure what that makes everyone else.)

    Interestingly, there is no champion for "local news."

    Yet these "champions" are basically empowered to now order up stories for the metro staff to do. The education champion was a metro reporter. The social media champion was an online producer. The food champion is a daytime copy desk supervisor, etc. The upshot is that this seems like a lot of favorites being played.

    There are far too many cooks stirring the soup, and there is no clear sense of who is in charge or what the chain of command is. The situation has become unmanageable.

    It's probably a safe bet that Paul is an unofficial #2 without the actual title, although the GM/editor from the Daily Record seems to be vying with him for that spot. None of this, of course, has been officially explained to the newsroom staff.

  39. Just one A1 story a month and one watchdog piece a week? The Home News Tribune in East Brunswick, the Courier News in Somerville and the Daily Record in Morristown each have less than five reporters. Guess how many A1 and watchdog stories they're expected have to churn out every month? Their gift cards must have been lost in the mail.

  40. All the years he's been in the business, and the idiot still doesn't know how to spell "lede."


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