Thursday, April 07, 2011

USAT | Traffic bonus payments said for sports

USA Today's just-unveiled plan to pay editorial employees bonuses based on pageviews applies at least to the new Sports Media Group, the entity that now encompasses the paper's print and online sports operations, according to one of my readers. I don't know whether the plan will be expanded to other departments, however.

My reader says the bonuses apply "to everyone in the department -- not just writers. Editors, copy editors, etc., have apparently all received packets outlining their personal goals based on year-over-year growth from 2010-2011. So if you're in an unpopular sport, you won't be beat out by someone with an NFL beat -- you only need to meet your own goals for traffic."

A memo for a 5 p.m. ET staff meeting yesterday referred to the "new incentive plan for the Sports Media Group." (Text, below.)

USAT publicist Ed Cassidy, however, told blogger Jim Romenesko that the paper "has and continues to consider bonuses based on pageviews but nothing has been decided at this time."

A Rudd Davis idea?
The plan would be among the first initiatives under Rudd Davis, promoted last fall to vice president for overall USAT business development -- a controversial new position, because it threatens the traditional wall between editorial and business operations.

Davis, 30, is charged with ginning up revenue across USAT's growing portfolio of "verticals" -- websites highly focused on topics such as women consumers; health; personal finance, plus gadgets and consumer technologies. He came from BNQT, the action-sports website (pronounced "banquet") he founded and then sold to USAT three years ago.

In September, USAT Publisher Dave Hunke named another BNQT executive -- Ross Schaufelberger -- as vice president and general manager of USAT Sports.

Then, in January, Hunke said he had hired Tom Beusse for the newly created position of president of the Sports Media Group. Hunke said Beusse would be responsible for overseeing business and strategy for national sports initiatives across USAT, as well as Gannett’s 80 other U.S. dailies, plus 23 broadcast TV stations, and He would work from GCI’s New York City office.

Text of meeting memo
From: Dutchak, Barbara
Sent: Monday, April 04, 2011 4:00 PM
Subject: Sports dept. staff meeting this Wed. 4/6 at 5PM in the First Amendment Dining Room

All: Please join Tom Beusse, Ross Schaufelberger and Monte Lorell for a staff meeting Wednesday, April 6 at 5 pm in the First Amendment Dining Room to lay out the new incentive plan for the Sports Media Group. You'll learn how it's being calculated, what the department and your goals are and, most important, what it could mean to your wallet. We'll see you there.


  1. I have to wonder what those page-view benchmarks are for the bonus money to kick in. My gut feeling is it'll be a ridiculous number of hits to hit the top level.

  2. Ironically, this approach has already backfired with Mav owner Mark Cuban, who says he won't allow page-view driven writers in his clubhouse. "From a sports team perspective, this is not good. Why ? Because internet writers have so little creativity and originality. Any idiot can start a rumor ... The result is that the team is often negatively impacted." Full blog post:

  3. "Attempts were made to contact ERIN ANDREWS for her comments on the Highland Valley Mighty Mites Pee Wee football game, but she did not return our call before press time."

  4. So if I, in a department or branch of the company that supports ALL of Gannett's websites, do I get some sort of traffic bonus, by the mere fact I've helped keep the sites up and running?

  5. The staff meeting memo makes the plan sound more like a done deal than Cassidy's remark suggests.

  6. Ruddman may have jumped onto this bandwagon, but it was originally Heather Frank's idea. She was talking about it last summer, if not before then.

  7. I think it's great. Now news folks have a mechanism to share in the success of the company. Money is good. I am sure a few purists will fall On their swords over this development

  8. Questions:
    1. What are they comparing the goals against? Is it that they get more page views than the NYT?
    2. Is it just readers looking at a story, or just opening it up from the headline, or staying for a while indicating it is being read?
    3. What happens if someone does not achieve their stated goal? And what happens to the manager if the reporter's goal is not achieved?
    4. Coverage of the same game can vary. For example, some poor sap in Richmond covering the VCU basketball team had a 5000-1 odds against this team going anywhere. They got to the semi-finals. Does this reporter with pedestrian local coverage of VCU hit his goal of page views for time immemorial from this, and how does this vary from wordsmith assigned to UConn?
    5. Who makes up the hit-goal list? Are there political considerations? For example, will they be used to weed out the well-paid and older reporters?
    6. What is the downside of traffic bonuses. Are managers gathering each quarter going to decide on the basis of traffic what will be covered or what will not? If so, it is the end of coverage of women's sports, Title 9 notwithstanding.
    7. Dog fighting is popular in some states, as seen from the Michael Vick case. Cover for clicks? Cockfighting?

  9. Women's mud wrestling will now get the coverage it deserves..

  10. This will finally get the sports writers to write leads based on celebs who are at courtside for ball games. Get Kim Kardashian in the first graf and, cha-ching.

  11. Some of the readers commenting on this on other sites note that teachers are being held to account for lousy student test scores, so why not reporters and editors?

  12. 7 pm Listen, after mafia princess Victoria Gotti and (of course) Snooki, Kim's my favorite reality TV star.

  13. Why stop at sports. If vox pop rules, then let's cover the stock exchange on the basis of only the most popular stocks -- AT@T, etc. Forget about those also-runs or companies with low cash value, like GCI.
    War stories aren't popular unless we are winning. So forget about those foreign adventures like Afghanistan, where things aren't going well for the home team. Got bad news, forget it or bury it on the op-truss ad page.
    County council and school board? Yawn. Think salacious details in crime stories. Bodies and carnage? You betcha.
    Washington deficit stories? Forget it.

  14. You should have been asking these questions yesterday and spoken up with the opportunity. As this is being developed your input on the incentive structure is necessary upfront and not hidden in the dark clouds of this blog.

  15. 7:54 Yes, sure. Ask questions in this environment and you are out the door. And you know that.

  16. "the First Amendment Dining Room." Holy crap.

    The beat to get is covering the local Hooters' Girls contests and pro-cheerleader tryouts. Those always generate massive page views. Someone's gonna score massive bonuses when Pole Dancing becomes an Olympic sport.

  17. This sucks beyond all belief. Amateur hour at The Nation's Newspaper.

    Seriously, they should slink away in absolute shame.

    What a lose-lose strategy. The backlash from everyone in the industry will be astounding.

    Awful days.

  18. 817pm is correct. This is a huge embarrassment. It's what happens when you turn the keys over to Mr. Hunke and his skateboarders.

  19. USA Today and G A N N E T T are badly in need of credible journalists in high-ranking positions of authority. Obviously, none are if this is the decision.

  20. Looks like Jim and Co. are throwing crap at the wall again to see what will stick.

    This is the usual game. Someone will claim something is going to happen. If it doesn't, then no one brings it up. If it does, then someone runs to take credit.

    Any of these rumor posts that don't say when something will happen should be viewed precisely as that: a rumor.

  21. I don't think they care about any backlash from the industry. This is an idea that should have fallen under its own weight, but I must admit I've been expecting to hear something like this because there's a demoralizing fin de siecle atmosphere at the Crystal Palace these days. It's all fly-by-night, anything goes.
    This is a regime that doesn't think of the consequences. How can they can float something like this at the very time they are running a multi-million branding campaign promoting Gannett? Heading USA Today towards becoming a supermarket tabloid will only degrade the USA Today brand and result in further declines in circulation, and so advertising as well.
    Remember what New York department stores told Rupert Murdoch when he wanted to find out why they weren't advertising in his New York Post. "Your readers are the sort we don't want in our stores," they told him.
    So we're scrambling for nickels and dimes from get-rich-quick lecturers (Rich Dad Poor Dad), vitamin pill makers, and feel-good wellness programs. And yet we are puzzled why advertisers who once used us have gone elsewhere.
    So, ok, let's now dismantle some of the traditional journalism barriers and give people the stories they seem to want. It's only sports stories. Let's see what happens.

  22. It'll all end in tears.

  23. This way, when reporters don't make their "hit quota," management has a good excuse to fire them and hire less experienced and cheaper people.

    And what's really great, is there will surely be bonuses for top executives if some of the employees do hit their quotas because that will be a demonstration of great leadership on their part.

    So sad, but so Gannett.

  24. Really really bad idea. The youngsters in charge of posting wont be basing their already suspect news judgement on news value, but what will luridly attract eyeballs. Sex tips and Dancing With the American Idol, anyone? Stooopid is as stupid does.

  25. Yeah, reporters currently have no control over where their news stories are placed or how they are presented on the company's websites, so there is no way this could work fairly.

    It's a good idea, but only if the reporters were given the freedom to select the stories they want to write about, were able to write their own headlines and could upload the stories to the site themselves and have some control over the presentation.

  26. Nah, 2:08, I disagree, sort of. Reporters at my paper right now are judged on how many 1A stories they contribute. So if you write a 1A story and then it gets bumped to 1B because an editor woke up on the wrong side of the bed, it doesn't count. This is just the logical next step.

    What I don't understand is how copy editors are going to be evaluated under this plan. Does USAT have an automatic tracking system for instant analysis of which copy editors worked on which stories? At my paper, it'd take someone a full day just to go through and look that up, story by story. But maybe the new front-end system will provide that.

    P.S. How do page designers - you know, those old-school people who just work for the print edition - get evaluated?

  27. Just as you think things can't possibly get worse. Where was Hillkirk?

  28. I'd suppose this is just a plan to reduce salaries.

    "But, but, you can make it up with your page view bonus!"


  30. Low morale at Westchester? How does that make it different from any other G A N N E T T site?

    Westchester's staffing is still out of whack of it declining circulation. As the circ declines, the staff numbers have to decline as well. Same goes for Putnam and Rockland offices.

    Working conditions are not going to improve without circ and ad gains, which, quite frankly, will never approach earlier figures.

  31. If Gannett did this company wide, Indianapolis would win by having their Publisher write a daily "Crotchfelt" column. The new marketing slogan would be "News when and where you need it". Or, "Gannett, touching you in all the right places. How about- News, not just a kick in the pants".

  32. I'm just glad to hear that Rudd Davis has actually done SOMETHING. Hunke hired him and another 15 new VPs a year ago and they immediately went into hibernation....never to be seen again. Perhaps this is a sign of life?


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