Friday, August 27, 2010

Welcome to your new vital, valuable media brand; USA Today's reorganization steps back to the past

In a major shift in strategy, a top Gannett executive has announced a sweeping restructuring of its newspaper publishing strategy, one designed to be a model for the newsroom of the future in a rapidly changing digital marketplace.

"It will fulfill today's needs for a more flexible, broader-based approach to the information gathering process," according to a company statement. "And it will be platform agnostic: News and information will be delivered to the right media -- be it newspapers, online, mobile, video or ones not yet invented -- at the right time. Our customers will decide which they prefer."

This, of course, wasn't USA Today Publisher Dave Hunke, speaking yesterday about his financially challenged daily. It was Gannett CEO Craig Dubow, way, w-a-a-a-y back in November 2006, in a memo about GCI's reorganization plans for its nearly 100 community dailies in the U.S. and the U.K. Even then, the company's strategy read like a late-to-the-party rearranging of the deck chairs.

Now, nearly four years later, it's Hunke's turn. "This significant restructuring reflects USA Today's evolution from a newspaper company to a multi-platform media company," he said in a statement about the paper's long-expected reorganization.

The makeover will require about 130 layoffs this fall, Hunke told the Associated Press. That's about 9% of USA Today's 1,500 employees, and follows more than 100 other job cuts over the past two years. Hunke didn't specify which departments would be hardest hit.

The big, unfortunate surprise, however, is that it took this long; includes so few key details or rationale, and relies on so many people with relatively little serious news-gathering experience.

Missing data -- and Martore
To be certain, the nation's top print title is badly in need of a reorganization. Circulation has fallen 14% from a year ago, knocking the paper down to the No. 2 position after The Wall Street Journal -- including its paid, online-only subscribers -- amid a growing rivalry with the other national daily, The New York Times.

Meanwhile, advertising revenue fell 11% in the first quarter from a year before, when the economy was at the depths of the Great Recession. We don't know the ad picture for the second quarter because, in a rare move, Gannett omitted the information from a regulatory report -- a perhaps ominous sign the trend hadn't improved, and maybe even got worse.

None of this could please Gracia Martore, Gannett's powerful operational and finance czarina since February. She has clearly been pulling USAT closer to Corporate's cost-cutting orbit, pressuring Hunke, the former Detroit newspapers CEO who became USAT publisher in April 2009.

But yesterday's reorganization -- in the works since at least mid-June, but almost certainly longer -- tells us virtually nothing about how the ad department's ongoing restructuring will boost revenue. Indeed, none of the "key appointments'' in management are in that hobbled department. Instead, we have a whole lot of newly appointed vice presidents in positions that buzz with the handiwork of expensive consultants.

I'll single out one in particular, because it's likely the most (as we say in the news biz) eyebrow raising. Word for word from Hunke's statement:

"Rudd Davis will join USA Today as Vice President of Business Development, heading a department which will develop and secure new business opportunities and partnerships including brand licensing, content syndication, acquisitions and joint ventures. Davis will also assume oversight of USA Today's retail, hotel and education-based partnerships. Davis was previously President and Founder of BNQT."

A 30-year-old exec
Now, I don't know Davis. A year from now, he may be hailed as the savior of USAT in particular, and newspapers in general. He's certainly youthful: Davis just turned 30, which means he was only 15 when the Internet showed its vast commercial potential in the 1995 initial public offering of Netscape Communications. [Updated at 1:04 a.m. Aug. 28: Initially, I had to guess at his age for this post, because Hunke's statement omitted a key Journalism 101 detail for all the exec appointments: their ages. In an e-mail, Davis later provided his correct age.] He's a 2003 graduate of Bard College. Plus, there's this undated photo, one of a kind that reflects the culture of younger consumers that newspapers so desperately seek.

Davis does not have anything close to a traditional journalism background, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing in a newspaper industry that's struggling to move past some of its hidebound, reader-losing strategies. He came to his new job via the USAT subsidiary BNQT, a publisher of surfing, snowboarding and other action sports content based in Los Angeles. USAT bought BNQT in early 2008 in a bid to attract more young male readers, a demographic coveted by advertisers.

It would be fascinating indeed to learn how Davis rock-climbed up USAT's ranks to enter Hunke's inner circle. I will leave it to my readers to crowdsource that backstory.

On the news-gathering side, one of the most notable appointments is Life (features) section Managing Editor Susan Weiss, now executive editor, content -- the No. 2 position under Editor John Hillkirk, who's had that job since Hunke was hired 16 months ago. She started at USAT in 1983 -- a year after the paper's launch -- as a copy editor in the Life section and later held positions as TV Editor and Deputy Managing Editor, Hunke's statement says. She previously held positions at McCall's magazine.

Here's the new 'news'
I will state this gently: That's not exactly a background that lends itself to the bare-knuckled task of gathering hard news. And no matter what you're told, hard, well-edited, exclusive news is all that matters in the bruising battle with the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Huffington Post and the myriad other online competitors duking it out for survival over the next very short years.

Maybe, though, Martore, Hunke and the other top dogs have given up on journalism. In his statement yesterday, Hunke said this shake-up "will continue our legacy as a vital, valuable media brand across print, digital and mobile platforms."

And that, apparently, is the news.

Related: Newsroom of Tomorrow, a 23-page presentation given to USAT staff yesterday

Earlier: text of Hunke's memo to employees

Then again, what do I know? I'm 53 years old and have never surfed! Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write jimhopkins[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the rail, upper right.


  1. They kept saying "The devil is in the details," which is what the master builders used to say when presented with architectural plans from Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe and the rest of those guys. If you recall, a lot of those visionary structures leaked or weren't particularly livable, so I think there may be cause for concern here.

    Word verification: barmood. Doesn't that just sum it up!

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

  3. Let's see. You put a person in charge of content whose idea of breaking news is to quote TMZ in wildly speculative stories. You dismiss the print edition, which has been the cash cow, as hopelessly outdated, and you don't even try to restore some of its former strengths. You continue to ravage that product at the expense of other formats that haven't made money, in part because of clueless leadership that has yet to define an audience or a mission. Then you choose to get rid of an additional 130 people. All of this is designed to better serve the public? I wonder how many people at the meetings yesterday had to suppress gag reflexes.

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

  5. I somewhat agree with Jim that this is all a roll of the dice with people inexperienced in the news. But I think management has made the decision that it is either grasping for the future with the new technology, or death by a thousand cuts as readers and ads go elsewhere. I have read many comments on this board pleading for some "brains" to take over and guide this company. Well, it looks to me as if your wish has been granted. I don't know if this is going to work, and I don't believe Hunke and Co. know, either. I don't see the potential for revenue in this plan because tearing things up is going to piss off some advertisers and some readers. But USA Today has become tired and predictable and so, perhaps there is no viable alternative but to try this route?

  6. Great reporting, Jim. It's where you're at your finest.

    On the other hand, this whole thing just doesn't smell right. I hope Davis is the savior, and not the goat. Don't know many 29 year olds who could handle a job like that. After all, if he was that good, wouldn't he be working in another industry?

  7. Excellent post, Jim. It's been my experience at USAT that details of new plans/ventures are rarely given, probably because they haven't been worked out. We saw this through various initiatives over the years. Did anyone really know what 3G meant? How about the digital-print merger? Did anyone really feel there was a thoughtful plan behind that? No. This is the way USAT operates and is a direct reflection on those in charge.

    Additionally, hiring and promoting continues to be based on something other than merit, credentials or even logic. Doesn't inspire much confidence.

    It appears USAT is on the verge of dumbing down the brand so that, in essence, it will no longer be a legitimate news product. This is a societal problem, not just a USAT issue. Companies, including TV, magazines, newspapers, are going after a demographic that is not interested in reading (on any platform) credible and important news. This is a trend that is disturbing to anyone who understands the underlying value of journalism to a free society.

    Change was needed at USAT. However, from what little we learned about this plan, this doesn't appear to be the change we had hoped for.

    Of course, the real news is the 130 layoffs planned for, well, whenever. Nothing like creating more anxiety for the troops over the next several days, weeks or months. This reorganization seems to be a smoke-screen for dumping more jobs. Maybe that's why there weren't many details provided yesterday.

    We have become accustomed to be lying to in recent years but are professional enough to continue on doing the best we can under leadership that gets more absurd with each changing of the guard. When we turn over the keys to the 29-year-olds and the folks with virtually no news experience, I will wish them good luck in transforming this brand into whatever it is that they think will make them some money. I believe there still is an audience for good journalism but they will have to go elsewhere to find it. USAT is officially out of the news business.

  8. So everything we have done in the last two decades is wrong, wrong, wrong. Tear up the sections, and get those clicks up. Put LiLo's rehabilitation on the front page. How an interview piece on LiLo's advice on how to put your life right? Who is Tiger pawing at these days? Does he ever see the kids? Does Ken Mehlman's confession show the GOP has a gay problem? The competition is no longer the NYT or the WSJ, it's the National Enquirer.

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

  10. OMG, I love the trick lede with Dubow's comments! Nice work, Jim. Sad to see that something that was promised four years ago hasn't happened and is being repackaged as an innovative transformation. Think it'll happen this time?

    USAT bought BNQT in early 2008 in a bid to attract more young male readers, a demographic coveted by advertisers.
    And how did that pan out?

    I met Rudd on a project -- didn't actually work with him. He didn't seem like your typical dumb surfer dude. If the guy can start a half-baked extreme sports site and convince Gannett to pay a ton of money to acquire it, then he's clearly no dummy.

  11. Memo's are not news stories so why expect the age? His age is what this outdated company needs. Trust me, one of the reasons I left was because a grey haired old man told me newspapers were not going anywhere and the internet was a fad.

  12. The message in all of this is that if you are over 30, your days at USAT are numbered. It looks like Rudd Davis is almost as old as USAT itself. When he was conceived, Neuharth was putting the paper together. We will see where the 130 positions come from, but my bet is it is bye-bye to any of the gray-hairs left.

  13. "Maybe, though, Martore, Hunke and the other top dogs have given up on journalism."

    I suppose you get kudos for being the only game in town for news like yesterday's, and genally you produce worthwhile and solid reporting (though, to be fair, you are just spitting out press releases, not quoting experts, doing nothing more than the odd google search).

    BUT, when you drop little gems like the opening statement into "news," you do nothing more than prove yourself to be batshit crazy, to be lumped in with the Glenn Becks of the world. Sad.

  14. We are required to have ages for news stories, so it is appropriate we have ages of new execs. What are they trying to hide?

  15. When I worked for a Gannett publication it was always a fight with the managers to add content to the publication that would strengthen it. Once they finally gave in (and getting there was always an arduous task), my ideas always helped produce boatloads of cash. In the end, they tired of having to work with me and used one of the rounds of layoffs to boot my butt out the door.

    Prior to working for Gannett I had always worked for people that wanted to be the best. Gannett was a bit difficult for a go-getter like myself to understand. When I was shown the door I had thought that all media companies had adopted the "good enough is good enough" attitude. Boy was I wrong. There are independent companies out there that still understand content is key and still want journalists to do their best work.

    My point: These guys at Gannett will never understand what produces long-term success. If you are one of the people to get laid off, don't view it as your funeral but rather, your rebirth into a world where your opinions and ideas are valued and respected.

  16. "Grey haired" old men? Style is: Gray with an A not and E. And gray-haired should be hyphenated. And why the apostrophe in "memo's?" Oh, but you (10:00) left USAT because you didn't want to be told anything by seasoned personnel. What a joke. And these are the people USAT is going to turn the keys over to? Be prepared for more than just a few more typos. Get ready for a wave of libel suits!

  17. They just bought themselves another 12-18 months of beta, team-building, tweaking and fine tuning, leveraging, blah, blah, blah. Two more bonus cycles and stock grants before cashing out as the ship slams into the rocks.

  18. Anybody here thinks that USAT, might go under?

  19. You have an unprofessional robot of a PR hack at USA Today who is refusing to let any journalists speak to David Hunke or John Hillkirk to further explain this extensive reorganization.

  20. Despite what Anon @10 am says, merely having a youthful exec isn't going to fix USAT's problems - or anyone else's in this business. It's a frequent corporate folly to hire the first young dude you meet for the sake of "youth" without bothering to go find and meet members of the 30ish crowd with proven minds for news and innovation - some of whom already work for this company.

    As a young editor who recently left Gannett, I despise the belief that I was or should be hired because of my age. I'd rather make it somewhere based on merits - and I'd definitely want that from the people in charge.

  21. It's good to hear USA TODAY's new changes. Jim and most of the respondents have been working in USA TODAY for more than 20 years. The world has changed. If you look at how your children or grandchildren reach and digest the news media, you will find that you are outdated. News organizations will not be survived if it is not profitable. Please look at this change from a positive side. Good luck to those who lead and participate in this change.

  22. Interesting, Jim. As usual, you offer a unique and intelligent perspective. USAT wants to be nimble. So it hires yet a new boss. But as you point out, they've done it before -- more than once. So maybe the problem is a lot bigger than that. Has anyone examined USAT's structure? Is it still top heavy? Have they cut back on editors or just reporters and copyeditors? Does the ratio of editors to reporters grow as they lay off reporters and copy editors but not managers? Too many queens. Not enough worker bees. Might be a good follow up. That being said, doesn't seem too smart to get rid of the newshounds. As you point out, at the end of the day, it is all about, well, news.

  23. Lord of the Content Rings

    There are 13 content ring editorships up for grabs. Sports is taken care of. A conservative count of the org charts for News, Life and Money tallies 6 DMEs; 4 senior AEs; 19 AEs, plus a half dozen other senior editor types floating just below the DME layer.

    Do the math.

    Get ready for dog-eat-dog fight among DMEs, SenAEs and AEs for a coveted content ring editorship.

    Will Susan Weiss as top content dog take care of her people in Life first? Can Carol Stevens be expected to do likewise for her large stable of DMEs SAEs and AEs in News? And how much power will Jim Henderson, slotted below Stevens, and well below Weiss, be able to wield on behalf of his DMEs and AEs in Money?

    Will the DMEs, SAEs and AEs who don't get acoveted content ring slot be granted consolation prizes?

    The only thing that seems to be available in this new single silo structure is a reporting slot, perhaps recast as a content-flow producer.

    Through preceding rounds of layoffs and furloughs, management has not wavered from the pattern of protecting from top down.

    If this pattern continues, then, at the end of the day, reporters will be cut loose.

  24. Didn't the Al-head have "Kid Einsteins" on Jet-capade?

  25. 12:40 is right, and a battle royale is about to erupt as managers and editors do the numbers count that he has done. And this raises a question that has been dogging me since yesterday. That is why did Hillkirk put off layoff plans for a month? Is he trying to whip up a dog-eat-dog fight in his ranks and settle on the winners by the end of September? I think they already know who is going and who is not, because they came up with the 130 figure. I am actually going to enjoy this month as an observer, although reporters are going to be put through hell as editors and managers try to show their stuff and not screw up.

  26. This plan may not be perfect, but what is USAT supposed to do? One thing that leapt out at me from yesterday's presentations was when Hillkirk pointed out that, when they sought input from other newspapers like The Guardian and the Dallas Morning News, those organizations were quick to point out that "they don't know what works best, either." Let's be honest, folks. It's not just USAT that's in a precarious situation. It's the entire industry.

  27. All this corporatespeak about "business development" and "vertical development" seems to cover up the truth of what's about to happen: The subjugation of the newsroom under the business side of the paper. The new biz execs will hatch advertising supplements and puffy special sections, and newsrooms will be forced to generate the copy for them. They do this in a big way in Cincinnati, where the publisher keeps editor Tom Callinan on the end of her Taser to keep him from complaining. Reporters and younger editors have been bailing out of here as fast as they can.

  28. "What is USAT to do?" I just got back from a trip to the store and listening to radio news. I then went to USAT and pulled off the top stories of the day. What do do? How about some original reporting and breaking stories. Of the following, I heard on the radio all but the running blog on Tiger's game. The decline in live births was a press release issued yesterday. Hurricane Danielle also was a yesterday development:

    American imprisoned in N. Korea returns to U.S.

    Stocks rise after GDP news, Bernanke comments

    Live blog: Tiger slumping; three shots off lead

    Bernanke: Fed will take action if economy falters

    Reports: White Sox win waiver claim for Ramirez

    Recession may have cut U.S. birth rate to new low

    Waves from powerful Danielle to reach East Coast

    Delivery of Boeing 787 Dreamliner delayed again

    Glenn Beck supporters head for D.C. rally

    Nats' Strasburg likely to miss 2011 season

  29. Really 10:50? You're insulting my grammar in a quickly written online post? You're obviously one of those people that thing this company is nothing but journalists.

    Are you saying I should believe "seasoned personnel" simply because they are "seasoned personnel"? That's typical "seasoned personnel" attitude and just leads to them getting shown the door because they equate ability with age and don't adapt or grow.

  30. Since we're being petty - "gray" is in fact spelled "gray" in the US.

  31. It's no coincidence the content ring diagram looks like a birth control pill packet, considering we're about to get screwed.

    Seriously, though, that's a scary thought about what's going to happen in the newsrooms over the next weeks. It's going to be like a huge game of musical chairs.

  32. Rudd Davis and Russ Schufleberger were BOTH employees of BNQT. Guess how big BNQT is??? It is a $1.5 million dollar revenue business.

    Maybe Hunke has aspirations of getting USAT to the size of BNQT. He certainly hired the team!

    Hmmm, maybe USAT and Gannett are lowering their standards. Looks like it must be hard to recruit people from the outside if they keep fishing from the same corporate pond.

  33. Content Creation Group. Gag.

  34. Are we really taking the USA Today and shoving it under one of the most inept ineffective out of touch lazy departments known in this marketing industry -- our advertising? When is their transformation ever going to happen?

  35. 3:38. You're right on target. And I suspect that's why Susan Weiss is the new executive editor. She's the most likely of the ME's to roll over and do the biz side's bidding. The rest of them have more integrity.

  36. Great work Jim. Way to criticize Hunke for omitting the ages of EMPLOYEES as a cover for your lack of adequate fact checking.

    The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits any employer from refusing to hire, discharge, or otherwise discriminate against any individual because of age. As an HR professional, I would never disclose the age of any employee for any reason. Of course saying "A 29-year-old exec?" sounds much more shocking than "A 30/31/32-year-old exec?" Shoddy journalism is shoddy journalism, weather you erroneously say he's a 9-year-old or a 29-year-old.

  37. OK, I don't know Davis at all, but if he's young and entrepreneurial, what exactly is the problem? Is a seasoned journalist in his (or her) 50s and quite happy going to work day after day and having someone cut him (or her) a paycheck necessarily a better choice?

  38. """You're obviously one of those people that thing this company is nothing but journalists."""

    Yes, that's what I "thing."


  39. Re: Didn't the Al-head have "Kid Einsteins" on Jet-capade?
    8/27/2010 1:03 PM

    Why yes, the midget mogul did. His name was Jack Kelley. His story ended badly.

  40. Hey, 6:12pm. It's a freakin' press release. And, yes, ages are normally included. Oh, and you might want to waive your HR credentials at corporate. This is from Dubow's bio on the Gannett website -- He was born on Oct. 26, 1954. Better yet, check out the page for the Board of Directors. Every age is listed. Guess there are no true HR professionals at corporate. You should email Roxanne Horning and tell her she needs to fire herself and hire you.

  41. 6:12 pm. Oh-kay. So. You believe it was a good move to turn over USAT partnerships to an INEXPERIENCED, UNPROVEN "executive?"

    Does that read better? 29, 39, or 49, INEXPERIENCED is what 29 infers, Captain Literal.

    Actually, Cappy, "shoddy journalism" is what we expect and want on blogs, so save your high falootin' sniffing about journalistic quality for another forum. Might want to get back to the law books and bone up on some other important ADEA factuals. Zzzzzzzzz.

    Then again, a 9 year old might have some interesting insights about USAT's partnerships.

  42. Commute by train as I do and you'd see that the vast majority of riders are reading news off their iPods, iPads and other devices. Print is on the decline. So GCI is right when it says it must focus delivery on where the readers are. Get rid of print and you can sell off many properties with printing plants as scrap the whole delivery system -- trucks, carriers, etc... The savings could be huge. GCI is lagging Rupert in putting up pay firewalls at its properties but it is not too late for this transition. The mighty GCI can adapt and thrive!

  43. My Boss is correct. Rudd and Ross are fairly incompetent managers. Everyone in Digital are laughing at Dave Hunkes decisions. Dave Hunke will cling onto the next fad to get him out of hot water.

    If Gracia says "fire Lavington", then Hunke does it. In between the commands from Martore, Dave Hunke starts looking for the next young stud.

    I am personally glad to see Susan L and Jeff W leave USAT, but these rookie leaders are pathetic.

    Dave Hunke should be fired just for these stupid weak decisions in management.

    As one poster always say (and we see it), "Have another Scotch Hunke!"

  44. Has anyone noticed the ethnic makeup of the new hires and the top management group at USAT? 100 percent caucasian, not even a hint of diversity at any of the ranking levels. Not much of a reflection of the America we live in, is it?

  45. Gannett content is targeted toward people who are 60 plus. It is stuck in a time warp, and it is being led by people who have NO understanding of technology and social media. That is completely backwards. The people who should be running things these days are young innovators and science fiction visionaries.

  46. Come on... that's wah, wah.

    There are serious questions to be raised about a 29-year-old running the marquee division of a $3 billion company.

    Does he have the stripes to pull this off? Given the large number of employees that currently work for Gannett, is this the best we have?

    Honestly, for a company with 35,000 or so employees, I have a hard time believing that this is the best we could do.

    If it is, we're in deep shit.

    Maybe others have already seen this. If I'm late to the party, then shame on me.

  47. Of course USAT should be trying to figure out how to sell the product in the digital age. But it is idiotic to think that these are the people to do it. Susan Weiss has no news sense. Her ideas come from the media of the moment. She spends the work day discussing her children. Fifteen years ago Life was interesting, ahead of trends. It had real stories. The People page was a must read. The section is now dull. The reporting appears to be two phone calls to the same old sources and hit print. This is because because reporters are expected to churn out endless copy in record time and the pool is shrinking.
    Announcing that change is here won't make it happen. Goofy new words won't make it happen. Top dogs telling each how smart they are is not going to make it true. Hiring young talent is a good idea. Buying a below average extreme sports website to attract young men is like teaching your grandfather to rap to attract Def Jam. If Gannett is going to survive they need to hire their leaders from outside.

  48. I wonder if the 92-year-old Harman -- new owner of Newsweek, would hire a 29 year old to run any of his departments?????

  49. This 29-year-old is the Obama of Gannett. He has inherited a terrible situation that he is going to have to help fix. Give him a break. Inexperienced or not, he can't do any worse than some of the people already in place.

    And diversity shouldn't be about the color of people's skin; it should be about the diversity of ideas.

  50. For the record, Rudd Davis is 30 years old. Initially, I had to guess at his age for this post, because Hunke's statement omitted a key Journalism 101 detail for all the exec appointments: their ages. In an e-mail, Davis later provided his correct age.

  51. I'm encouraged that we're going outside newspapers and newsrooms for new management. If the co. has spiraled downward, as many posters here contend, then you need different thinking to move the co. in a differnet direction. Like it or not, enterprise stories are not want today's readers want. The Tweet revolution signals where we are going -- short and breaking blips on what's breaking. I'm not so prejudiced to think a 30-year-old can't lead us when I see how old the leaders of Google and Twitter were when they created these world-changing companies. Adapt or die -- I'm glad GCI is adapting.

  52. This bugaboo about Rudd Davis being only 29 -- sorry, 30 -- is really bewildering. A total non-issue, and if anything, it's a big plus.

    Of more concern should be his view of journalism and the very fine line he must walk as he tries to broker advertising with content.

    Such devil's bargains happen all the time: The New York Times routinely offers glossy magazines or special sections devoted to home health, interior design, Broadway, Summer Movies, most of which would not exist without advertising support, sales pitches and go-no go based on what those clients say.

    But there are boundaries, and I would expect Davis, at whatever age, to recognize those lines while also targeting the very many millions of dollars that may just be there if USA TODAY tried a little harder.

    The challenge, and the ethical risks, are there, no matter what his age.

  53. What is still bugging me about Hillkirk's presentation is the acknowledgement that management has no firm idea of where they are going. So this is all very much a leap in the dark. Management is risking a valuable brand by doing this, and I don't think it is going to produce the sort of revenues the print product produces. This is a most reckless and dangerous plan.

  54. 12:36 a.m.:

    You don't know Susan Weiss and you obviously haven't spent much time talking with her. She is without question the most astute Managing Editor USA TODAY has. That is why the Life section has been a highly innovative section -- and that covers its design, its ability to create new and lasting features, etc.

    Go ahead and look at the turnover in staff at USA TODAY in the last five years. While other sections seem to have a hard time holding onto reporters and editors, people in Life have actually enjoyed working there, and it's the rare day when a Life staffer voluntarily quits. Can you say the same for other parts of the company?

    The Travel staff was birthed in Life and, until the advertising went south, had its own dynamite Friday section. Now they are one of the leaders of the web site's continued growth. That started under Susan Weiss.

    Half of the Life staff -- the part that covers health, education, etc. -- is now being spun off into its own group. That's because they're good at what they do.

    The rest of Susan's staff may cover an area that people regard as fluff -- and, face it, I am as sick of Lindsay/Kardashian/Jolie as anyone -- but what they do they have done very, very well. If you see a decline in quality it is only because of the staff cuts that have left them frantically treading water just like every other part of the company.

    She's absolutely the best choice for that role. And Czarniak is the best choice for his side of the equation.

  55. New blood from outside is not a bad thing, but that seems to be happening at the Management Committee level.

    Within the USA Today newsroom, beyond the obvious disruption of eliminating managing editors and deputy positions, and understandable worry and confusion, there is also a lot of genuine enthusiasm that there could be new ways of doing things and far more freedom under this new "regime."

    The shakeout period, and inevitable layoffs, will be a rough patch. But what comes next may be USA Today much improved.

  56. I agree with you, 12:06. I'm looking forward to what the future holds regardless of the doom and gloom mentality of most of this blog's posters!

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

  58. 12:06. You call layoffs a "rough patch?" Ask some of those who have already been laid off in the worst economy of our lifetime about that rough patch. You will find many lives in turmoil. Your insensitivity is not masked by your enthusiasm for the new regime. You should take layoffs far more seriously or risk creating some very bad karma for yourself one day.

  59. Following is an edited comment posted by 5:45 p.m.:

    11:10 a.m.: I know Susan Weiss, and it's nice for one of her fans to write such a glowing recommendation. She's a very nice person but way out of her depth as executive editor. She has surrounded herself with mostly second-rate editors who wouldn't know a good story if it bit them on the ass. Attend a news meeting and listen to the crap they promote as worthy of 1A. It's laughable. I'll give you science and health coverage; the staff does a decent job. [XXXXX]? A farce. [XXXXX]? Mediocre at best. Take a look at some of the raw copy once in awhile. You'll get a migraine if you have the slightest bit of news sense. As for turnover, why would any reporter want to leave a country club like Life?

  60. Life a country club? Compare byline counts between departments, genius. Life uses less wire content than any other section of the paper. Life content draws more electronic hits than that of other sections, too.
    An editor out of her depth? We give you Karen "3G" Jurgensen, who set the standard for being out of depth among top editors.And if anyone surrounds themselves with second-rate editors, look to Money and News.
    Weiss has a lack of news sense? Based on what standard? What's on the Page 1, News and Money fronts compared to the competition. Give me a break.

  61. Life is a country club in the sense that it's a sunnier place, where people work hard but still have fun and the atmosphere is one of mutual respect. Granted, we had a few bumps when the dot-commers came in and stamped their little dot-commer feet and when the USAW people came in and tried to throw their weight around, but it's still the best newsroom to work in.

    Second-rate editors? Maybe a weak link here or there, but that's how it is in all newsrooms.

  62. I'm not privy to the inside stuff at USAT. All I know is that the content isn't worth the price, or even a free look.

    When I'm traveling, I buy the local paper and the NYT or WSJ, and leave my "complimentary" USAT for the maid to recycle.

    What turned me off were too many stories that were so shallow I wondered if the writer ever left the office.

    And then there were many others that left me wondering why the reporter bothered to leave the office.

    Gannett has penny pinched and slashed its way into oblivion.

    I should say that I've also stopped buying my local Gannett paper for the same reasons only more extreme.

    My free weekly - non-Gannett - does a better job.

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

  64. Following is an edited version of a comment posted by @4:15 p.m.:

    Granted, we had a few bumps when the dot-commers came in and stamped their little dot-commer feet and when the USAW people came in and tried to throw their weight around, but it's still the best newsroom to work in.

    What a wonderfully pretentious statement. But such is Life.

    [XXXXX] is a spineless two-faced snake who tells you one thing and tells someone else something different and then steps away from the situation and its fallout and lets everyone else be the bad guy.

  65. In an e-mail, one of my readers notes that one of USA Today subsidiary BNQT's staple features is a weekly blog item called, "Would You?"

    It features photographs -- some semi-nude -- along with coarse commentary. "It's cheezy, sophomoric, unoriginal and objectifies young women," this reader says.

    Their note continues: "USAT has a deserved reputation for treating women athletes with respect. Moreover, does this sensibility fit with the paper's greatest strength-- appealing to a broad base of readers? . . . Of course, there are hundreds of thousand of sites that are far more graphic. [But] they are not connected with a mainstream newspaper."

  66. I used to pick up USAT off the rack every now and then when I wanted something to read over breakfast. Kudos to Gannett management for assuring that I'll never need to do that again.

    Since I also have no interest in reading USAT online (there are far better alternatives), I can sever my ties altogether.

  67. I’ve spent the better part of an hour reading comments about USAT and Gannett; passionate comments I might say. However, all of you have forgotten that USAT is so far behind the curve when it comes to attracting the target market today, that cutting 130 positions along with any kind of reorganization is simply not the answer.

    USAT was built on innovation, not from a journalistic sense, but purely visual. In the beginning USAT cornered the market after creating a newspaper product that didn’t resemble anything else. It was visually exciting, but never developed the reputation for breaking news stories or creating a first day account of a major story different from any of its competition. USAT, however, was outstanding at next day follow-up coverage, which in my opinion became its specialty. USAT has never been taken serious as a hard news publication by anyone. So, I wonder, why people are so busy fighting for so-called serious journalists versus youngsters who might not know their rear end from a hole in the ground.

    Company leadership is simply trying to push the restart button on the brand, except it isn’t 1982 and there’s zero expectation from the public. In the beginning, there were a handful of adults calling the shots along with a bunch of youngsters. That’s exactly where the brand is headed now except USAT has played itself out of the game. The brand is simply one of the weakest in 2010.

    Long gone are the days where USAT Sports reporting created a buzz at the water cooler. There’s rarely any reference to USAT when so-called TV experts talk about current events. There are way too many outlets to get entertainment gossip – and that’s all it is.

    I’ve said all that to say “the brand is dead”. There are no expectations. USAT has become the HUMMER of journalism: Sucks up too much of Gannett’s resources, cost too much to build and circulate, doesn’t stack up to competition anymore and can’t be given away

  68. 6:46. I concur with much of your theory. In the smoke and mirrors transformation plan, upper management does, too. Cutting nearly one in 10 employees. Banking on reporters to write several versions of a story and working all sorts of oddball hours with no raises in three years.

    A year from now, "they'll" realize their still way too top heavy in editorial, that all these newly appointed vice presidents have done little to generate new revenue and it'll be back to square one. Simply promoting unproven people in newly created jobs and protecting senior editors is NOT transformative.


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.