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NEWS WATCH New Tools Being Developed to Protect Journalism in Tough Times

Amid the noise about the state of the newspaper business it’s easy to lose focus about what Gannett’s journalists do: Provide the most authoritative, accurate and complete information about our communities.

How are we doing at that, given the contractions that have swept the industry?

The News Department of U.S. Community Publishing has spent the past several weeks looking closely at the journalism being done across the company. We’ve seen epic projects that toppled governments in the FOI competition. We’ve seen captivating new forms of community conversation in the Best of Gannett competition.

And, we’ve seen the day-in, day-out journalism as we’ve conducted new in-depth reviews of newspapers and their portfolio of products. Eight were done in this first round and have just been returned to editors.

During this immersion in journalism we’ve reached a few conclusions:

First Amendment and watchdog journalism is being done well across the company, by our largest staffs but also by many of our very smallest.

When news breaks, Gannett Web sites are among the most advanced in the nation in the use of new digital tools to deliver information.

Big stories – whether enterprise or breaking news – are covered with impressive depth, authority and creativity.

Where we have detected a need for change is in daily coverage.

The eight newspapers/Web sites that we reviewed were large and small. They were from across the country. In every case we found attentive coverage of the community’s events.

The issue that emerged as we read newspaper after newspaper and Web site after Web site was that most morning newspapers don’t offer enough original or unique content.

Readers get information all day long from Web sites, television, radio, mobile devices, friends and family. When they pick up the morning newspaper, what do they receive that extends their knowledge of what happened the day before?

What do they receive that helps them understand an issue that’s looming? What surprises or enlightens?

A printed page is a wonderful way to share beautiful storytelling, through words and photos.

Despite the prophesies of others, we do not believe the daily newspaper is in the last stage of death.

But, to keep the newspaper alive we must ensure that readers and advertisers want something that only it offers. That requires focus, which requires time and energy. Both are stretched by our large portfolio of print and digital products.

To address that, we have undertaken two large projects:

First, we in Community Publishing are working closely with the Digital Division to review the content that is most effective for digital readers vs. print readers. We are studying metrics to determine what kind of video does – and does not – work. What data should we push to provide, and is there some that we don’t need as urgently?

What stories in print could be burnished and given special value each day, and which could be briefed or skipped in order to focus on developing quality in others?

We share the belief that for our newspapers and Web sites to thrive, they have to be more finely tuned to the different audiences’ differing needs. There certainly is overlap, but there are great differences in expectations of print and expectations of digital.

We are developing advice on how to build quality in the newspaper and the Web site. It starts with clarification on what we believe to be priorities for our readers.

Look for a joint rollout in the weeks ahead.

The second project that we’ve undertaken is to build a training program that reinforces the new statement of priorities.

Training dollars are scarce, but building a strong newspaper and engaging Web site is easier with regular training on the skills needed. We are considering topics such as how to manage reporting hours so that we can do top-shelf work while producing valuable daily content.

We are enlisting the help of experienced trainers inside and outside Gannett. The Digital Division also is involved in creating the training plan.

We believe in preserving the value of the daily newspaper and Web site even as we create new digital delivery of information for the future.

Last Modified: March 2009