USA Today, which set off a publishing nuke, the impact of which still reverberates across the industry 28 years later, is undertaking the most significant overhaul of its format and strategy in its history. The Gannett Flagship is the scrapping of its traditional four-part organization (News, Sports, Money, Life) in favor of a cluster of 13 “content rings” that will produce information for distribution in both print and digital format. The rings will include Your Life, Travel, Breaking News, Investigative, Washington/Economy, Tech, and Auto, among others, paidContent.org reported. The company said the new organization is designed to address the growing importance of smart phones and tablets as delivery vehicles and potential sources of subscription revenue. About 130 staffers, or 9% of the workforce, will lose their jobs in the reshuffling.
An executive reorganization puts former life section editor Susan Weiss in charge of content. According to a slide presentation obtained by the Associated Press, Weiss will have a “collaborative relationship” with the paper’s vice president of business development. The presentation said the restructuring will “usher in a new way of doing business that aligns sales efforts with the content we produce.” The statement is already raising eyebrows by publishing pundits who fear that the deteriorating business situation in American newspapers will force editorial departments to become handmaidens of sales operations. Publisher Dave Hunke and editor Editor John Hillkirk said nothing will interfere with the paper’s commitment to independent journalism. However, as paidContent wryly put it, “While this doesn’t necessarily mean a complete demolition of the “Chinese Wall” that traditionally exists at established news organizations, it certainly sounds like it will be little more than a nylon curtain.”
Publishing executives would be wise to closely watch USA Today‘s moves. While the paper has long been derided as a journalism lightweight, it has a history of innovation in adapting to changing audience tastes. Many publishing veterans sniffed at USA Today in the early days, believing its formula of short stories without jumps, large infographics and generous use of color represented a dumbing down of news. A few years later, nearly all of them had adapted the same style. In the years since, USA Today has solidly established itself as a national institution with a readership of more than 1.8 million.
It’s particularly interesting that USA Today has made such a public commitment to harmonizing its editorial and advertising operations. This is a bitter pill for traditionalists to swallow, but a necessary one if professional news organizations are to thrive in the future. We believe that win-win solutions are possible when creative minds seek them. Few have done so to this point, and USA Today‘s strategy shift shouldn’t be dismissed until it’s had a chance to work.
Former Walt Disney Co. CEO Michael Eisner is among the candidates to take over the bankrupt Tribune Co. once it emerges from Chapter 11 reorganization. Eisner confirmed speculation that he is a candidate for the top job in a Variety interview this week. Jeff Shell, a former News Corp. cable executive who’s now with Comcast, is being considered for the CEO slot. Presumably, that means Eisner would be chairman. In the Variety interview, Eisner expressed support for paywalls. “The salvation of the newspaper is some kind of pay arrangement [online], which will evolve into something significant,” he said. The Tribune may actually be a bargain. Romenesko got hold of a memo stating that Tribune Co. has $1.6 billion in cash and generated $18 million more in cash flow in July than in the same month last year.
Newspapers as we know them will be irrelevant in a decade, at least in Australia, digital media consultant Ross Dawson told the Australian Newspaper Publishers’ Association yesterday. Or at least that’s what he told Editor & Publisher he planned to say earlier in the week. Dawson, who is considered a media seer Down Under, said the publishing platform of the future will be iPads and their derivatives, which will fall in price so much that they’ll be given away free within a few years. By that time, news organizations will be earning serious revenue from subscriber dollars. But they’d better not get comfortable. Media revenues will soar, but “established media organizations will need to reinvent themselves to participate in that growth.”
Dawson is a big fan of tablets as a delivery medium and has several interesting posts on his blog about a topic. the chart below is one of the free takeaways (click to download).
The financially troubled Washington Times is reportedly being sold to News World Media Development, which is affiliated with the Unification Church, which owns the Times. The conservative daily, which claims a circulation of 40,000, has cut its staff by 40% in a desperate effort to stay afloat. Executive Editor Sam Dealey called the impending sale a “welcome development.”
Add the Waco Tribune-Herald to the growing list of metro dailies that are putting up paywalls. Beginning Sept. 15, non-print subscribes will have to pay $9.95 per month, or $1.99 for a 24-hour pass to WacoTrib.com. We had a chance to work with a couple of the top editors from WacoTrib last summer and we wish them all the luck in the world.
The former Philadelphia Newspapers continues to struggle toward viability. Newspaper Guild employees at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News voted for a package of wage cuts totaling about 6% in exchange for a year of job security for unionized reporters, editors and advertising staff. The company is also changing its name to the Philadelphia Media Network. The Guild is the first of the paper’s14 unions to agree to terms with the new owners, who bought the paper in a wild and wooly auction in April. With 500 members, though, it’s considered the big cahuna of the negotiation process. The new owners have pledged to keep the Inquirer and Daily News editorial staffs separate and to manage the company for growth.
“Inc. magazine has released its annual list of the 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in the country. Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, only 59 of them are media companies,” writes Lauren Kirchner on the Columbia Journalism Review website. True that, but Kirchner is choosing to take a glass-half-empty perspective. You can turn that statistic around and marvel at the fact that any media companies are on the list. Kirchner does go on to cite a number of interesting media startups that are actually growing and adding people. They aren’t media in the conventional sense, but they do appear to be onto something. This column Is worth reading for the examples alone.
The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism gave mainstream media a lukewarm but nonetheless positive endorsement for its coverage of the Gulf oil spill. Noting that the three-months-plus duration of the event challenged news organizations to explain and provide context for the event, Pew said media outlets rose to the challenge under trying conditions. “A news industry coping with depleted staffing, decreasing revenues and shrinking ambition was tested by the oil spill and seemed to pass,” Pew said.
Popular comic strip “Cathy” will end its 34-year run on Oct. 2. Cartoonist Cathy Guisewite, 60, who started the strip as a series of autobiographical doodlings that she sent to her mother, said she wants to spend more time with her family and explore other creative avenues. Cathy was an instant hit in 1976. It struck a chord with the growing number of women who were entering the workforce and struggling to balance career and personal priorities. It currently runs in 1,400 newspapers. In recent years, the strip has been criticized for being dated and even anti-feminist. It’s still clipped to a lot of refrigerators, though.
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