Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mail | 'USAT 2011 is starting to look like AOL 2003'

Regarding USA Today's ongoing restructuring to reverse declining advertising sales, Anonymous@4:52 p.m. wrote the following:

Amazingly, yet another tier of senior managers appears to be taking shape at USAT. Mindy Fetterman has just been named Personal Finance vertical manager; Christine Allegro, an ex-AOLer, has been named Personal Technology vertical manager. Victoria Borton, ex-Experian marketer, was named Travel vertical manager a while back.

Vertical managers are supposed to sell to clients, develop new strategy, as well as oversee editorial content, new partnerships and products, etc. Their role calls for them to blur the line between marketing and journalistic content at a senior level.

Presumably, more vertical managers will be appointed with each "content ring" converted into a "vertical."

The chain of command now appears to be that the content ring leaders (remember those 11 or so coveted slots snatched up by oldtimer print deputy managing editors last August?) will report to the new, marketing-focused vertical managers.

The vertical managers, in turn, report to Senior Vice President Heather Frank, another AOL alum. USAT 2011 is starting to look like AOL 2003. This management team is charged with figuring out how to translate USAT's 20 million or so monthly unique visitors into meaningful ad revenue, something USAT has failed to do in six years of trying.

These are the top-down commanders carrying out Publisher Dave Hunke's big bet that USAT can move first and fastest to dominate mobile ads.

All of today's sacrifice is to win at Web Apps, which in terms of ad revenue doesn't even qualify as a fledgling market.

John Hillkirk has called a Jan. 18 staff meeting. Presumably, USAT rank-and-file staffers will be asked to keep sacrificing and put faith in this new management alignment, which is fast starting to look as top-heavy as the old management alignment.

[Updated at 8:34 p.m. ET on Jan. 13. USAT's editorial staffing flow chart in .pdf format. Plus: its content distribution chart.]

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.

[Image: today's front page, Newseum]


  1. 4:52 wrote: "The chain of command now appears to be that the content ring leaders (remember those 11 or so coveted slots snatched up by oldtimer print deputy managing editors last August?) will report to the new, marketing-focused vertical managers."

    I did not think this -- editors reporting to the VMs -- was to be the case, however. Can anyone confirm?

  2. The promotions/hiring information probably came from the "At Gannett" monthly email newsletter that landed in our inboxes today. However, not able to access it except from a Gannett networked computer--unless someone out there knows a way around that.

  3. Uh, that's probably Mindy Fetterman, not Cameron.

  4. More chiefs than indians...The Gannett way.

  5. Just for the record, her name is Mindy Fetterman, not Cameron (a very telling slip-up in tracking who posted that).

    The changes are accurate; the structure described is not. The only thing Aol about it is Jim's Got Mail and posts it without even checking the real name of the person involved.

  6. I've now verified the correct last name, via an e-mail from the individual concerned, and have now fixed it.

    Also, for the record, I did a name search before posting the 4:52 author's comment, but found no reference to Fetterman.

  7. Jim: I don't get your comment at 8:39. Of course in the new verticals, the editors would report (perhaps coordinate was the idea) with the managers of the verticals. This was the idea at the outset, where it was hoped the ad side would work closer with the editorial side. Yes, it is a different from the traditional old model, but so be it. Is there some difficulty here you see that I don't understand?

  8. 7:36 Let's use technology as an example.

    As I understand your comment, the personal technology editor would report to the personal technology vertical manager, who in turn would report to Heather Frank, who has overall responsibility for verticals.

    Now, where in this chain of command are the executive editor for content, Susan Weiss, and the editor himself, John Hillkirk?

  9. Strange stuff is getting into USA Today. A year ago, would have we run a story on Turbotax offering a $14.95 app for people to do their taxes online? Take a look at the story, which strikes me as breathless promotion.

  10. Hillkirk has withdrawn himself from the day-to-day operations, so his absence from the chain in command you sketch out makes little difference. We are definitely bending over to the ad and marketing people on this one as we have already seen with the Life vertical promotions.

  11. I just don't see this working. They are going to push this idea for a while, then give up when they realize advertisers aren't going to play. I don't see what is in it for advertisers that they would flock to the site. Also favorable approach to ads that benefit one don't benefit a competitor or another.

  12. Amazing the machinations an organization has to go through when they have no leaders with vision & a sales force that can't sell shit.

  13. The following memo went out today:

    From: Frank, Heather
    Sent: Friday, January 14, 2011 11:00 AM
    Subject: Consumer Media organization update

    Dear Colleagues,

    I have two announcements to make today as we develop our consumer media strategy.

    Mindy Fetterman has been appointed general manager of personal finance.

    Mindy came to USA TODAY in 1987 as a personal finance reporter. She went on to become deputy managing editor of the Money section and then the News section. Most recently, Mindy has been fostering new ideas for print and online as manager, enterprise and innovation for the Money section.

    Also, Christine Allegro, general manager of research and development for consumer media, will be taking on the additional responsibility of launching our personal technology vertical.

    Please join me in congratulating and supporting Mindy and Chris as they assume their new responsibilities.


  14. @8:10 a.m.: Yeah, the TurboTax app story is different in tone than 2009 and 2010 tax software stories in which the same writer tested various brands. And the video link in the current story goes to a promotional vid on YouTube (which says at the end "Coming to California in 2010").

  15. How did that Turbotax story get through the smell test. In the past, it would have been sent back for broadening and putting in some of the competitors. What about HR Block's Tax Cut, or the new cloud computing alternatives? Are we giving up objectivity?

  16. Who's in charge of horizontals? And what about diagonals?

  17. What is the vertical leap they keep talking about in the meetings. When the boss holds meetings she speaks about them but I do't have a clue.

  18. neither do they.


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