Thursday, September 02, 2010

USAT | In reorg, echoes of the Kelley Report

USA Today's newest reorganization plan would abolish the four traditional editorial departments -- News, Money, Sports and Life -- that have long been unwelcome "silos," blocking cooperation across the newsroom and slowing the pace of news production.

Indeed, those silos should have been flattened more than six years ago, when the Kelley Report found that Jack Kelley (left) had been able to hoodwink editors who failed to share information across departments about the star reporter's transgressions.

"Lines of communication running both horizontally and vertically among the sections (or 'silos') at the newspaper are palpably defective,'' the report found in April 2004. "USA TODAY operates more as four separate newspapers in four separate 'silos' (some staffers used the word 'fiefdoms') than a single publication. Communications deficiencies promote turf problems among departments."

The question today: Will this latest attempt at reorganizing accomplish what management failed to achieve before?

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

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. USA TODAY placed ads apologizing for reporter Jack Kelley, caught fabricating stories of suicide bombings in Israel. A year earlier, at our pre-Lavington 2003 Marketing Day gathering in 2003, Kelley related a dramatic story about a Palestinian Imam who "confided" in him about "rocks telling Arabs to kill Jews in order to enter paradise" nonsense. When I lectured him about our paper using balanced reporting concerning the Palestinians as part of our paper's total news coverage, a director whispered in his ear that I was a muslim or something and he cut his little nugget of wisdom short. Jack later saw me in the USAT cafeteria and apologized. He was a rock star in the Promotion Department and we enlarged his mideast photos to poster sizes on occasion for display.

  2. Have another scotch Hunke

  3. Jim,
    it appears that the HighSchoolSports outage is now being blamed on Peter Lundquist, when, in reality, the blame should be placed on Josh Resnek and Steve Fuschetti. The outage was caused by those two not hiring Digital Fulcrum, Kevin Lafew's team to monitor and test the environment.

    Seems like this issue is still ongoing and Peter Lundquist is now the scape goat.

    I think Josh and Steve F should man-up and take responsibility. As should Ms. Martore as she was the one who did not want to spend the money on the consultants to begin with.

    I have been in meetings where Josh has said that they are going to put the blame on Peter and not on his team.

  4. The key to understanding this document is the quote on page 2 from W. Edwards Deming. This shows the impact of consultants on this product, since Deming is probably obscure to anyone not involved in consulting and management. He was a statistician and motivator who brought new techniques to Japanese businesses in the 1950's, which produced the Japanese economic miracle. That miracle has produced a now decade-long economic bust in Japan which the country cannot get out of, but that is often not mentioned. I can also argue that Deming had zero to do with the miracle years aspect, but that is another issue.
    So get used to the idea of getting motivated to the transformation, guided by consultants. "The prevailing style of management must undergo transformation. A system cannot understand itself. The transformation requires a view from outside," Deming wrote. I find that somewhat self-promoting, since he meant he was needed to help industry transform.
    Transformation requires reeducation of the workforce on the new ideas, the elimination of workplace quotas and annual merit reviews. I can't give you a brief overview of this man's complicated theories but there is a Deming Institute where you can find out more.
    All this company needs is some half-baked, out-of-date management-driven change. I am startled to find Deming dragged into this, but he has provided many consultants with a lucrative income.


  5. Instead of four silos, won't there be 13 silos now? Old habits are hard to break.

  6. I feel like I've heard this all before. What is lacking are the details of HOW we are suppose to produce a newspaper AND all these other products. Most start-ups don't have the burden of propping up "old products" while developing new ones with the same number or fewer employees. It is easy to say "web first" but far more difficult to lay out a plan that allows for that and for the maintaining of the biggest revenue producer: the newspaper.

    It's simple math. If it took X number of people all working full days to put out a good paper, how exactly are those same people now going to publish that same product AND do all these other things? We barely made deadlines when fully staffed and focused on one product. It would be like asking a production line at Ford to turn out F150s AND build flat-screen TVs. Something has to give. This is what USAT managers do not acknowledge.

    Sure, copy editors coming in earlier is one small step to creating some better work flows, but it's not nearly enough. This is why people are frustrated by the lack of details. Drawing circles on PowerPoint presentations is just a game of smoke and mirrors. It means nothing. Titles need to be defined. Job descriptions need to be clear. For the most part, that rarely ever happens here. People are still trying to figure out the relationship with Content One. The devil is indeed in the details, but it seems that USAT management has a bad habit of ignoring the devil and then portraying the staff as being uncooperative.

    There is no doubt that USAT has suffered from being four newspapers within one. That needs to be cleaned up. And there is no doubt that some resources could be shared between the website and print. But overall, these need to be two separate operations. My suggestion: Flip the model from several years ago. Take about 100 people in the newsroom and let them put out a water-down newspaper. Take the other 300 or so editors, reporters, designers, etc., and have them dedicate their efforts to digital initiatives. This idea that everything can work as one at an organization this large, and with this culture, is simply naive.

  7. The idea of expecting the rank-and-file workers to produce more while management stands by is nothing new. At The Journal News, and I'd assume it's similar at other community papers, reporters are criticized if they don't blog enough, if they're not Twittering and updating stories on the Web.


    The increased workload has simply been ignored for years. It's just assumed that people can do al of these things without going insane!

    One of the problems is that these managers - I wouldn't call them editors - have little or no experience doing the work of the people they're supposedly managing.

  8. Right on, 9:28! Pronouncing the abolishment of silos is premature. There has not been one word conveyed to the rank-and-file as to what the work flow will look like as the silo walls come tumbling down. Management here uniformly instills a false sense of dire urgency for reporters and AEs to focus on submitting budgetlines so that DMEs can look good in meetings. Jack Kelley learned how to manipulate this culture of fear to aggrandize himself. Meanwhile, the esteemed John Hillkirk adheres to another dusty consultant notion that growth comes from adding more work "on the margin" for reporters and AEs. Hillkirk views rank-and-file newsroom employees as vending machines that can be endlessly tweaked for higher output. That may explain why Carol Stevens and Jim Henderson have deigned not to communicate one word of explanation or general encouragement to line staff about what demands we can expect from the new Print Ring.

  9. 12:04 PM: EXACTLY! I keep hearing about finding more efficiencies. Is that code for "outsourcing"? All the efficiencies to be found internally have been milked already, during the previous umpteen rounds of cuts!

  10. It's not just the misuse of Deming, but there are other aspects of this reorganizaton plan is a big joke. Jim is right and we have seen before these proposals to get rid of the newsroom silos, only to see them persist. It's not just silos, but less formal cliques of managers who are friends with one another, arrayed against those who are not. Some are based on aged grudges that are not forgotten and nourished almost daily by mistakes caught after the paper is published. This truly a poisonous atmosphere.
    Management should have broken this down after the Kelley exposes, but they did not. Jurgensen and Ritter became trophy scalps for their belts, and their removals deflected attention away from the "virus of fear" found infecting the newsroom.
    So now they are going to abolish the silos again. Sure. Let them try. Won't happen.

  11. How could the USAT newsroom possibly produce more content you ask? Have you walked through the newsrooms? To say the majority of the staff is overworked would be the largest misrepresentation of fact ever perpetrated. It is much closer to 20% of the people producing 80% of the content. The fact that in a converged newsroom of several years the print staff still looks upon the digital component with disdain is just pure unfounded arrogance. The real injustice is that more of these overpaid, under-worked people haven't already been shown the door. Don't believe it? Keep count of the number of USAT written stories in the paper over the next month and divide that by a staff of 400. No credit for AP copy where you rework 4-5 sentences. I'll even throw in a prima donna factor for those so coddled they'll never write a usable story again for any platform (deduct 50 from the headcount). Wake-up and quit your whining!

  12. This highly ill-conceived, little thought out transformation will ultimately be far worse than the damage Golden Boy Jack did. And Hunke is duping far more people than Kelley ever did.

  13. We at the community papers heard all this about two years ago. With the exception of a push for a stream of online updates, not much has changed. Beware the "fewer edits".

  14. I beg to differ: Hunke is not duping anyone. The more rank-and-file employees find out about this, the more they realize Hunke is asleep at the wheel.

    Come back in a year, and see how this organization is well and truly destroyed. Smaller and less drain on Gracia's private capital reserve, but most definitely not a better news organization.

  15. The cliques go back to the Hal Ritter days, when he used to distributed copies of the newspapers marked up with a black pen detailing mistakes he found. Ritter encouraged this sort of creative infighting, figuring the cliques would spend so much time fighting one another that they would leave him alone. I hear he's taken the same techniques to AP, where Ritter now serves as New York business editor.

  16. Yes, and I remember the House of Mean.

  17. Hal was just an oblique jerk. A frustrated copy editor who nitpicked over the Money and News sections every day after they hit the streets. He didn't have the moxie to cause creative infighting. He merely put incompetent deputies in both Money and News who had no news sense, few people skills and no confidence among rank and file reporters. Had Jack Kelley not finally been exposed, Hal would still be running the House of Mean. (Money was known as the House of Pain during Hal's run there). uSAT is still paying the price for his poor choice of managers.

  18. ohh, the poor babies at USAT have to face up to the same 'do more with less' bullshit realities the rest of us at the other newspapers have been living with for years.

    Next we'll hear dramatic and tearjerking stories of how the restroom Perrier dispensers will be chilled to only 43 degrees at the Crystal Palace. Bump it up from 38, take one for the team.

    "I struggled for years to get here, and now when I run to the bathroom to wash the taste of asskissing out of my mouth, it's with barely cold water. Oh! The humanity!"

  19. For those who long for the return of the ethics and style of Big Al ... get a grip. Both Jack Kelley and Hal Ritter reached their levels of scary destruction because they were hand-picked favorites of the midget mogul. His protection -- perceived and real -- combined with spineless leadership (most also directly beholden to Al for their positions) deflected the concerns and complaints for years.

  20. Kelley showed the way to make progress at USA Today by ass-kissing and sucking up to corporate or anyone in power. I've never seen such fawning as Kelley showed to executives, and I've always thought that explained his successes and disguised his shortcomings. The executives loved this flattery, which as the Kelley report showed, is why Kelley was allowed to get away with so much for so long, including easily caught frauds like lying on his expense account. He was a real con man of the old school and I personally believe his religious views were too goodie two-shoes not to be fradulent, too.
    I hear he's now in New Caanan, Conn., and a house-husband living high off the loot he raided from his years at Gannett. They didn't even bother to sue to get the money back.

  21. Kelley is a born-again tool who thought he was doing God's work at USA TODAY. His story a modern day journalism tragedy, created by Al, John and Tom Curley, promoted by Pritchard and every sorry Editor who followed. But he has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the critical change happening at USA TODAY right now. Nor does his wife.

    This latest re-organization at USA TODAY will result in, at most, 25 layoffs in news (sorry USAT, only you call it "editorial"). Let's hope those 25 are mostly deadweight "founders" that call themselves editors. It is that group that costs the most, resists digital the most and prevents change the most. Let them all take a bitter departure pill.


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.