Thursday, July 15, 2010

SND design group voices doubts about GCI's hubs, citing risk that 'publications will be compromised'

Prompted by Gannett's new pagination hubs, the industry-leading Society for News Design has cast serious doubts on what it fears could become an "assembly-line solution" for design and production at the nation's largest newspaper publisher.

"This plan,'' SND says in a letter published today, "is similar to others that have sought to template publications and centralize parts of the creative and production process, or, in some extreme cases, eliminate design and graphics departments."

The letter was signed by the group's president, Kris Viesselman, who also is managing editor and creative director at The San Diego Union-Tribune, and by SND Executive Director Stephen Komives.

One passage animates an issue raised by some employees: that outsourcing design decisions across state lines, and often hundreds of miles away, risks undermining Gannett's local-local strategy.

"Without a firm understanding of the communities we serve," the letter says, "it seems inevitable that these publications will be compromised. If our information is not seen as authoritative and unique, we lose our diminishing competitive advantage in the crowded information marketplace, where many things are free."

The full text of the letter is on SND's website.

Earlier: Design guru Apple's eight reasons why hubs aren't all bad

Related: spreadsheet lists 78 papers and their assigned hubs

[Image: today's Indianapolis Star, Newseum. The Star is one of 21 newspapers assigned to a hub based 114 miles away, at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky.]


  1. Couldn't have said this better myself. The more things that go away from the local edge the more you lose market share. But it appears none of this common knowledge will ever sink in to Gannett Corporate. Go figure!


  3. Gannett corporate doesn't care about anything but the short term because nobody who's in charge now will still be with the company in 10 years. But ... this may lead to short-term profits. That's the problem with our Wall Street system of business. Most executives don't care about the long-term health of either their businesses or industries. They can get rich and check out long before they completely fall apart.

  4. (From a former Gannett employee) Just because some believe we might be emerging from the recession doesn't mean the news business has bounced back. Revenue continues to be down and costs continue to grow. Gannett should be credited for exploring ways to reduce costs without damaging its most valuable product: local content. Stop living in the past, folks.

  5. After seeing much of this kind of thing first hand, I truly believe it's not about making a profit (generally, these consolidations cost the local paper more than keeping their own people), but about appearing to be more profitable. "Hey, stockholders, look, we've laid off all these people to be more profitable!" but they don't report how much the outsourcing truly costs until next quarter or next year - at which time they offset the bad news with more consolidations doing the exact same thing.

  6. Hey 8:37 a.m. From what part of Gannettland are you from? Without sacrificing local content? In Westchester, they eliminated full-time coverage of some of the biggest communties because they weren't getting the advertising.
    Nowadays the void is filled by having other reporters step away from their regular beats to fill in when there's a story in the abandoned communities that just can't be ignored because TV and other media are all over it.
    Meanwhile, the ship continues to teeter under a management heavy structure that contributes little to nothing.

  7. I do find it amusing that SND has waited until now to issue a letter like this. They should have done it 12-18 months ago when designers and copy editors were getting whacked left and right by a lot of media companies.
    Where was it when Tribune, Media General and others unveiled their plans? Let's face it, if you're a highly-sought designer or one of the best on the market, you're not going to be designing at a Gannett paper, and if you are after seeing the crap you have to deal with you're looking to exit for the door as soon as possible.
    If one of the hubs was located in Indianapolis I highly doubt that letter gets written. The head of visuals there is a former SND President and ran the SND contest for nearly a decade. Chicago has been producing pages for the other Tribune papers, and their designs have been more cutting edge and forward thinking than Gannett, but the Secretary/Treasurer of SND is the head of design at the Chicago Tribune and the moves are benefitting his people.
    While they still try to speak of relevancy, SND got caught up in self-congratulating each other. It's a highly cliquish network where if you're in tight, you get honored. But the second you leave that newspaper they stop winning even though the designs are the same or somewhat better.
    SND thinks by this letter that they are making a great stand. They should have done it a long time ago instead of waiting until it had a direct impact on one of its high-ranking members.

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  9. It's too late to complain or fight.
    The signs of this coming were in the make just after Wisconsin started to make it look like a good idea. They launched another one as a testbed and have been talking about a consolidation like this for more than two years. Ann Clark was been ineffective taking editors concerns back to the home base on this and making sure the company would hear unilateral concern. For years the mood has been "Don't tell us your problems.. Solve them yourself and you've just have to do whatever your regional VP and pubs say. Without saying it they meant: "Don't pitch a fit or throw up concerns or we'll put you on the RIF list. We can probably run your newsroom with one top editor."
    A model could have been explored to gain similar efficiencies through a bottom up solution rather than a secretive top-down push. BUT, corporate knows best. But that would not have given them the headlines they sought.
    Remember when a variety of people were brought together as a think tank to tackle Gannett newsroom strategies? Those were the good old days.
    This will be a cost-cutting success for 2011 that will first succeed because local knowledge will be enticed into the centers. With turnover and discontent, it will become a post-2012 apocalypse.
    Buy stock now, sell in July of 2011.

  10. In an update posted yesterday on this letter, SND writes the following:

    Kate Marymont, vice president/news in the community publishing division of the Gannett Co. Inc. responded directly to me regarding the open letter I penned with Stephen Komives, SND’s executive director, following Gannett’s announcement of the formation of centralized design centers. Ms. Marymont is charged with guiding the plan.

    She provided some insight on Gannett’s strategy and also extended an invitation to SND.

    “I think that your goals and our goals are not so far apart” and “I hope that SND will work with us,” she wrote.

    Ms. Marymont and I had a brief telephone call and agreed to propel the conversation. Next week, we will begin that dialogue.

    Additionally, you’ll find a Q and A between Jonathon Berlin and Ms. Marymont on in the next few days.

    We are encouraged that Gannett is seeking input from SND leadership – as advocates for quality visual journalism – as they shape their company’s future. Obviously, their actions will have a significant impact on our industry and newspaper readers.

    We will provide updates on our progress. — Kris Viesselman

  11. Re: 7/16/2010 10:54 AM --
    In 2009, during one of the two week-long furloughs, my paper spent more money hiring freelancers to do my job than they would have paid me to do it myself!
    Sad fact.

  12. "One passage animates an issue raised by some employees: that outsourcing design decisions across state lines, and often hundreds of miles away, risks undermining Gannett's local-local strategy."

    So are we certain that Gannett is still holding to that strategy? It seems that a lot of things aren't done the way we used to do them. I'm just wondering if it's because their strategy has changed, but no one has shared the rationale with the little people (like me).
    No one wants to speak plainly about this.
    It would be really nice if someone could just say, "Hey people. This is our new focus and this is how we want to get there." We aren't hearing that in Ohio (or at least I'm not). Need to know, I guess?


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