By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Kristin Roberts

Gannett says it will drop the AP. So where will it get international news?

Photo (cc) 2008 by Patrickneil

There aren’t too many people who subscribe to more than one daily newspaper, either digital or in print. There are a few freaks like me (I pay for four). Most people, though, go with zero or one. Which is why a daily, unlike a weekly, should offer a comprehensive mix of international, national and local news. It doesn’t matter if all or most of the non-local journalism is from wire services. After all, The Associated Press, Reuters, AFP and the like are among our finest news organizations.

Gannett, though, is about to embark on a different approach. New York Times media reporter Benjamin Mullin posted on Twitter/X earlier today that our largest newspaper chain is going to drop the AP as of March 25. “This shift will give us the opportunity to redeploy more dollars … where we might have gaps,” according to a memo from chief content officer Kristin Roberts that was quoted by Mullin, who also quoted a statement from Gannett:

This decision enables us to invest further in our newsrooms and leverage our incredible USA TODAY Network of more than 200 newsrooms across the nation as well USA TODAY to reach and engage more readers, viewers and listeners.

In other words, Gannett’s 200-plus daily papers are going to be dependent on USA Today, the mothership, for anything other than local news. So how is that going to work out?

I flipped through the current e-paper version of USA Today to see what type of international and national journalism might be available. The front page features interesting stories about COVID, Black history museums and, well, the cherry blossoms in Washington. Inside are staff-written stories on transgender issues, free speech, some Trumpy content and St. Patrick’s Day violence in Florida. The business, sports and lifestyle sections are all staff-written. So far, so good.

But there was only one international story in the main body of the paper, a piece about famine in Gaza that appears on page 2. It was written by a USA Today staff writer, but it’s based mainly on a United Nations report. At the end is a tagline stating that material from the AP was incorporated into the article. It’s accompanied by an AFP photo. In other words, covering the world without AP content may prove to be mighty difficult.

The Gannett papers offer something else to their subscribers called Nation & World Extra that looks like a print product but that I’m told is available only as part of the e-paper. Here you’ll find serious stories about the war in Gaza, the Supreme Court, the migrant crisis and more, and virtually all of it is from the AP. Imagine that you’re a subscriber to The Providence Journal and no other daily paper. Perhaps you rely on Nation & World Extra. And it’s about to lose all of its AP reporting, to be replaced with — well, who knows?

In a similar vein, Gannett also offers something called Sports Extra that also mostly consists of AP news.

I don’t want to pronounce this a pending disaster until I see what it looks like in practice. USA Today is a fine paper, and there’s no reason that Gannett’s dailies can’t use USA Today stories to provide their readers with important national news. But I don’t see how they’re going to offer any international coverage without relying on a wire service, whether it’s the AP or something else.

As is usually the case with Gannett, this seems like nothing other than a money-saving move.

Update: Gannett has clarified initial reports and now says it will use Reuters for international news and the AP for election returns. In addition, the McClatchy chain is cutting back on its use of AP journalism as well.

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Gannett is ramping up on the advertising and editorial sides — but will it last?

For a long time I’ve heard an alternative explanation for why newspaper advertising collapsed over the past 15 years. The argument goes something like this: Yes, Craigslist, Google and Facebook offered a better deal and took most of the ads that used to belong to newspapers. But newspapers themselves were to blame, too. Ad salespeople had become so accustomed to sitting at their desks and taking the orders that came pouring in that they actually had no experience or incentive to get out and sell. The tech platforms were going to have a devastating effect on them in any case, but it was worse than it needed to be, so this argument goes, because they couldn’t shake themselves out of the lethargy that came with many years of enjoying a monopoly or, at worst, a duopoly.

Which is why there’s some reason to be at least a little bit hopeful about the latest moves by a large media company that is hiring on both the business and editorial sides. At a time when many news organizations are in the midst of laying people off (CNN, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times) or shutting down (The Messenger), one media mega-corporation that is a household name is taking the opposite approach.

Would you believe it if I told you that the company is Gannett? The chain, which controls about 200 daily papers, anchored by USA Today, is rightly known for hollowing out newsrooms and using the savings to pay down debt and enrich their owners and top executives. These days, though, they are talking about trying something different.

Recently Mike Blinder of Editor & Publisher had two top Gannett executives on his podcast, “E&P Reports” — the chief content officer, Kristin Roberts, and Jason Taylor, the chief sales officer. After years of cutting at Gannett and the chain that it merged with several years ago, GateHouse Media, Gannett is now in expansion mode. Taylor said that Gannett has hired about two dozen local general managers since last August, with plans to hire more. These are the folks who are in charge of selling advertising, and they say it’s paying off with new accounts and with the return of some old accounts that left years ago.

Meanwhile, Roberts said that Gannett has hired 500 journalists since June of last year, with more to come in the months ahead. These are reporters, editors and visual journalists who, she said, will “bring strength back to local newsrooms, so that they can do the job of strengthening their local communities.” And yes, she mentioned the reporters that Gannett hired to cover Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, so make of that what you will.

Now, of course we should be skeptical. Axios has reported that the combined company eliminated fully half of its 21,000 employees after the 2019 merger, and the destruction it has wreaked in the communities it supposedly serves has been deep. I would love to hear from Media Nation readers whether they’ve seen any improvement in their Gannett paper’s coverage of local news in recent months.

The situation is especially dire in Eastern Massachusetts, where Gannett has closed and merged dozens of weekly papers and replaced local news stories with regional content from around the chain. Weeklies were at the heart of GateHouse, but the new Gannett doesn’t seem to have any interest in weeklies. If improvement is going to come, I suspect, it’s going to be at the dailies.

It’s also fair to be skeptical about whether the current upsurge is sustainable. Roberts and Taylor were recruited at a moment when the executives at the very top of Gannett decided to see if a little expansion might bring in more money than round after round of cuts. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, well, we know that the cutting will resume. Gannett remains heavily burdened by the debt it took on when it merged with GateHouse, which led the new Gannett to cut half its workforce.

The hiring that’s taking place now doesn’t come close to making up for what has been lost. But if they succeed, perhaps the hiring will continue.

Blinder has been on a roll with his podcast. His latest features Steven Waldman, the president of Rebuild Local News, and Jeff Jarvis, a journalist, author and the retiring director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at City University of New York. The discussion was billed as debate over whether legacy media is worth saving or if instead it’s time to let them go. They agreed more than I thought they would, though they diverged when the discussion turned to government assistance and efforts to force Google and Facebook to compensate news organizations. It’s well worth a listen.

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