How Not to Cope With Bloggers — Blog Post

By: Paul Gillin
My passion for journalism keeps me in close touch with the newspaper industry, a business whose perilous decline I've documented through my Newspaper Death Watch blog. A trend has been playing out there recently that is relevant to anyone who is trying to cope with the new influence of citizen publishers on their market.

Nearly every major newspaper company has recently seen blogs spring up that speak to their problems and future. Among them are TellZell (Tribune Co.), McClatchy Watch (The McClatchy Co. ) and The Gannett Blog (Gannett Co., Inc.) It’s the Gannett example that intrigues me most.


The independent Gannett Blog is written by Jim Hopkins, a former Gannett editor and reporter. It covers all kinds of topics related to Gannett’s business and its future. These days, that content includes a lot of speculation about layoffs and cutbacks at a company that recently announced it will cut 1,000 jobs, or about 3% of its workforce.

The Gannett Blog has gone viral in its quest to become a sounding board and information source for employees. Jim Hopkins recently revealed some traffic statistics: 91,000 visits and 189,000 page views in the last 30 days. That’s serious blog traffic, and much of it comes from Gannett employees who feel they can't get a straight story from their employer. Gannett Blog has become the virtual watercooler for a company of 46,000 people.

The conundrum for Gannett is what to do about Hopkins . So far, it’s chosen a strategy of benign neglect. Tara Connell, Gannett’s chief spokesman (and interestingly, a former managing editor at USA Today) has gone almost silent recently as rumors have swirled about layoffs and cutbacks, Hopkins says. Meanwhile, traffic has grown. This post from two days ago has drawn more than 160 comments, many of them from people who identify themselves as Gannett employees. People are now actively trading rumors about layoffs at their individual newspapers, with Gannett blog functioning as the gathering point.

Gannett’s strategy is worse than “No comment.” Not only has the company not contributed its perspective to the flood of comments, it now barely even responds to Hopkins ’ requests for information, he says. As the chorus of pleas for guidance from the company grows in volume, Gannett becomes more closed and insular. Gannett didn’t respond to my own requests for comment.

Gannett is approaching this problem in the worst way possible. Regardless of its opinion of bloggers and citizen journalists, the fact is that The Gannett Blog is drawing huge attention among the company’s own employees, who are the most valuable spokespeople it has. Gannett’s failure to respond to the speculation and allegations of this critical constituency has become almost as big a story as the company’s business problems.

In the new world of citizen-powered publishing, institutions have fewer places to hide than ever. Silence is an invitation to speculation, and individuals now have the means to state their opinions in a very public way. A better course of action for Gannett would be to respond to the comments posted by Jim Hopkins and his readers. Even if that response is a “no comment,” it’s at least an acknowledgement that their concerns are being noted.

You might argue that an engagement strategy is risky for a publicly traded company. That’s just wrong. Public companies live under all kinds of regulations, but there is nothing to prevent them from acknowledging that they care about and listen to the concerns of their stakeholders. Any comment is better than silence.

One of the great ironies of watching the newspaper industry collapse has been to see the same media icons that have long scolded institutions for their insularity become reclusive and inwardly focused when the spotlight is turned on them. Gannett Blog is exhibit A in how not to handle new influencers.

Best wishes,

About Gannett Company

Gannett Co., Inc. is a leading international news and information company. In the United States, the company publishes 85 daily newspapers, including USA TODAY, and nearly 900 non-daily publications. Along with each of its daily newspapers, the company operates Internet sites offering news and advertising that is customized for the market served and integrated with its publishing operations. USA is one of the most popular news sites on the Web. The company is the largest newspaper publisher in the U.S.

Newspaper publishing operations in the United Kingdom, operating as Newsquest, include 17 paid-for daily newspapers, approximately 300 weekly newspapers, magazines and trade publications, locally integrated Web sites and classified business Web sites with national reach. Newsquest is the second largest regional newspaper publisher in the U.K.

In broadcasting, the company operates 23 television stations in the U.S. with a market reach of more than 20 million households. Each of these stations also operates locally oriented Internet sites offering news, entertainment and advertising content, in text and video format. Through its Captivate subsidiary, the broadcasting group delivers news and advertising to a highly desirable audience demographic through its video screens located in elevators of office towers and select hotels across North America.

Gannett’s total Online U.S. Internet Audience in January 2008 was 25.8 million unique visitors, reaching about 15.9% of the Internet audience, as measured by Nielsen//NetRatings.

Complementing its core publishing and broadcasting businesses, the company made several advances in its digital strategy through key business acquisitions. These include PointRoll, which provides online advertisers with rich media marketing services; and Schedule Star, a company that manages, an online site serving the high school sports audience, and manages the Schedule Star solution for athletic directors. Also enhancing our digital strategy are our investments and partnerships in such companies as CareerBuilder, for employment advertising; Classified Ventures, for auto and real estate ads; Metromix, a platform for local entertainment Web sites;, a news content aggregator; ShopLocal, a provider of online marketing solutions for local, regional and national advertisers; 4INFO, a leading mobile media and advertising company; ShermansTravel, an online travel service; and more.

Gannett was founded by Frank E. Gannett and associates in 1906 and incorporated in 1923. The company went public in 1967. It reincorporated in Delaware in 1972. Its more than 230 million outstanding shares of common stock are held by approximately 8,900 shareholders of record in all 50 states and several foreign countries. The company has approximately 46,100 employees. Its headquarters are in McLean, Va., near Washington, D.C.


Consumers will choose Gannett media for their news and information needs, anytime, anywhere, in any form.


To successfully transform Gannett to the new environment.

We will provide must-have news and information on demand across all media, ever mindful of our journalistic responsibilities.

A Not so Brief Company History

Gannett Co., Inc. is one of the most diverse news, information and communications companies in the USA. A company rich in its diversity of people and communities, Gannett serves readers and viewers through its operations in 38 states and the District of Columbia, Guam, the United Kingdom, Canada, Belgium, Germany and Hong Kong.

Gannett traces its origins to 1906, when Frank Gannett and his associates bought a half interest in the Elmira Gazette in Elmira, N.Y. From this small venture, Gannett and his associates expanded gradually, purchasing another newspaper there and merging them to form the Star-Gazette. In 1912, Gannett bought The Ithaca Journal, in nearby Ithaca, N.Y.

In 1918 Frank Gannett and his associates moved to Rochester, N.Y. They purchased two newspapers, merged them into the Rochester Times-Union and consolidated their holdings under the name Empire State Group. In 1923, Frank Gannett purchased the holdings of his associates, forming Gannett Co., Inc. At that time, the company consisted of six newspapers located in four upstate New York cities, including Utica.

To help him manage his new company, Gannett appointed Frank Tripp general manager. Tripp was to become Gannett's closest associate.

During the next 25 years, Gannett expanded throughout the northeastern United States. In 1947, when Paul Miller left his job as Washington bureau chief and assistant general manager of The Associated Press to join Gannett as executive assistant to Frank Gannett, the company operated 21 newspapers and seven radio stations.

Early in its history, Gannett became a major innovator of technology in the newspaper industry. In 1929, Frank Gannett invested in the development of the teletypesetter. Later, Gannett newsrooms were equipped with shortwave radio sets to speed reporting of distant events. Printing presses were adapted for color at the Gannett Rochester newspapers as early as 1938. And in 1945, Gannett newspapers became the first newspaper group to be united by the Telephoto Network. Gannett radio stations were early pioneers in broadcasting the latest news and the Gannett corporate airplane aided in the timely gathering of news from across the region.

This spirit of technological innovation continued throughout the years as Gannett became a leader in the invention and utilization of technology, enabling its newspapers to produce quality news products more efficiently. Shortly before the death of Frank Gannett in 1957, Paul Miller was elected president and chief executive officer of Gannett Co., Inc. It was during the Miller years — the 1960s — that Gannett moved from being a regional newspaper group to developing a national base.

As the company increased in size, so did its commitment to quality. Gannett News Service, founded in 1943 as the Gannett National Service, continues to provide Gannett newspapers with national enterprise and stories with a local angle from its Washington office and bureaus across the nation.

Gannett founded its first newspaper on Florida's space coast in 1966. Under the direction of Allen H. Neuharth, then president of Gannett Florida, the new paper became profitable in 33 months. TODAY became the first newspaper to win the National Newspaper Association general excellence award for two consecutive years. It has since been redesigned as FLORIDA TODAY.

Yet another measurement of Gannett's commitment to quality was begun in 1977: Best of Gannett, a yearly awards competition in reporting and public service. Best of Gannett has become the means by which Gannett group members measure the quality of their performance against that of other group members and against their performance of previous years.

With 33 dailies and 12 weeklies, six radio stations and two television stations, Gannett closed out the 1960s — a decade during which the company's pattern of growth, technological innovation and journalistic quality continued. The company went public in 1967 and its signature — GCI — appeared on the New York Stock Exchange in 1969.

In 1970, Paul Miller became Gannett's chairman, continuing as chief executive officer. Allen H. Neuharth, who had been executive vice president since 1966, became president and chief operating officer.

Under the leadership of Neuharth, who was named CEO in 1973 and chairman in 1979, Gannett underwent a steady period of growth and diversification.

In 1971 Gannett merged with Federated Publications; in 1977 it merged with the Speidel Newspaper Group. In 1979 Gannett merged with Combined Communications in what was then the largest merger in the communications industry.

With the opportunity for growth came the opportunity for diversification. In 1979 Gannett owned 78 daily newspapers in 33 states and Guam, a national news service, seven television and 14 radio stations, outdoor advertising plants in the United States and Canada, 21 weekly newspapers and the research firm of Louis Harris & Associates.

As a world of different voices, Gannett became the opportunity company for minorities and women. Now, about 46 percent of Gannett’s 42,458 U.S. employees are women. Women constitute 40 percent of all company officials and managers and 46 percent of company professionals. Minorities represent about 24 percent of Gannett’s U.S. employees and 15 percent of the company officials and managers. In the United Kingdom as of April 2006, about 53 percent of the employees of Newsquest plc are women and about 47 percent of Newsquest’s managers are women. No statistics are required for minorities in the U.K.

In 1979, Gannett instituted "Partners in Progress," a program to insure faster development of minorities and women in decision-making roles within the company. Since the implementation of Partners in Progress, Gannett has had eight, women serve on its board of directors: Dolores Wharton, Meredith Brokaw, former first lady Rosalynn Carter, Cathleen Black, now president of Hearst Magazines, Josephine Louis, Karen Hastie Williams, Donna Shalala and Marjorie Magner. African Americans who have served on Gannett's board include Wharton, Williams, H. Jesse Arnelle, Andrew Brimmer, Carl Rowan and Arthur Harper.

In 1986, Neuharth relinquished his role as CEO to John J. Curley, who had been president and chief operating officer since 1984. Curley succeeded Neuharth as chairman on April 1, 1989. Like Neuharth, Curley came up through the news side of Gannett, serving as editor and publisher of several Gannett newspapers and the first editor of USA TODAY. Under his direction, Gannett News Service won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for meritorious public service, the first ever awarded to a wire service.

As a world of different voices serving different communities, Gannett pledges to be a voice that reflects the communities it serves. Frank Gannett long ago established a policy for local editorial autonomy. It was his belief that a newspaper best serves its city if its publisher, editor and all its employees are locally oriented and understand the city and its people.

Just as diversification led to increased opportunities in the 1970s, Gannett continued to grow, diversify and provide opportunity to all in the 1980s. But the major undertaking in the history of the company was the bold creation of a new national newspaper at a time when some skeptics were beginning to write the obituary of the daily newspaper.

In a cottage in Cocoa Beach, Fla., USA TODAY was conceived under the code name "Project NN." After two years of research on what readers wanted, what advertisers needed and what technology permitted, on Sept. 15, 1982, USA TODAY reached up from its headquarters overlooking the nation's capital, and grabbed an orbiting satellite to present information-hungry readers news about the USA in an entirely different way. The newspaper quickly established itself, selling more than 1.3 million copies a day all across the nation by the end of 1983. Today its daily circulation is approximately 2.3 million, making it the largest-selling daily newspaper in the nation.

With executive travel increasing between Rochester and Arlington, Va., where USA TODAY is based, Gannett decided in 1986 to relocate its corporate headquarters to Arlington. In 2001, the company moved to a new Gannett/USA TODAY headquarters in McLean, Va., about seven miles from Arlington.

In December 1995, under John Curley's leadership, Gannett acquired Multimedia, Inc., a diversified media company based in Greenville, S.C. Gannett gained 10 daily newspapers, five television stations, two radio stations and cable television systems reaching more than 460,000 subscribers in five states. In the deal, Gannett also acquired Multimedia Security Service, which was later sold. The cable division was sold to Cox Communications in January 2000.

Gannett sold its outdoor advertising division in 1996. Curley said in a news release: "The sale of Gannett Outdoor provides an opportunity for Gannett to focus its attention on our core businesses, including new properties we acquired in the Multimedia transaction in 1995.'' Also in 1996, Gannett sold Louis Harris and Associates, Inc.

In the past few years, Gannett has paved a clear route on the Information Superhighway. In 1996, Gannett joined Knight-Ridder and Landmark Communications as partners in InfiNet, an Internet access and service venture designed to help put newspapers online. Today, most Gannett units are online in various forms and is one of the most popular news sites on the Web. In 2003, Gannett became the sole owner of InfiNet.

In December 1997, Gannett sold its last five radio stations to Evergreen Media, thus ending its radio ownership.

Also in 1997, Curley relinquished his role as president to Douglas McCorkindale. On June 1, 2000, Curley turned over the title of chief executive officer to McCorkindale, who continued as vice chairman and had been chief financial and administrative officer since 1985. Curley retired as chairman in early 2001 and McCorkindale became chairman, president and CEO. On July 15, 2005, McCorkindale relinquished his roles as President and CEO to Craig Dubow, who was President and CEO of Gannett Broadcasting. A little less than a year later, McCorkindale announced his retirement from the board and the company, effective June 30, 2006. The board of directors elected Dubow its Chairman, effective July 1, 2006. Dubow continues as President and CEO of the company.

In mid-1999, Gannett U.K. Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary, acquired Newsquest plc, one of the largest regional newspaper publishers in England. Its portfolio of more than 200 titles added 11 daily newspapers, with a combined circulation of approximately 460,000, to Gannett. Newsquest also publishes a variety of non-daily publications, including Berrow’s Worcester Journal, the oldest continuously published newspaper in the world.

In June 2000, Gannett acquired Newscom, the eighth largest regional newspaper publisher in the United Kingdom with 99 publications including four dailies. Newscom is now part of the Newsquest operation, which has a network of award-winning Web sites and has become the second largest regional newspaper company in the United Kingdom. In March, 2003, Newsquest acquired SMG Publishing, which added three Scottish regional newspapers, The Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times, as well as a series of non-daily publications, to the company.

Also in June, 2000, McCorkindale announced plans to acquire 19 daily newspapers in Wisconsin, Ohio, Louisiana, Maryland and Utah from Thomson Newspapers Inc. Three weeks later, the company agreed to acquire Central Newspapers Inc. with its flagship papers, The Arizona Republic and The Indianapolis Star. “We consider ourselves very fortunate to be able to add such high caliber people and operations to our company,” McCorkindale said. By the end of his first summer as CEO, McCorkindale had completed $4.5 billion worth of acquisitions.

Recognized as the premier information company, Gannett today employs approximately 49,675 full-time and part-time employees worldwide. Gannett publishes 85 daily newspapers in the USA, including USA TODAY, and 18 dailies in the United Kingdom. In addition, the company owns in excess of 1,000 non-daily publications around the world and USA WEEKEND, a weekly newspaper magazine. Gannett owns and operates 23 television stations in the United States. The company also has a national group of commercial printing facilities and subsidiaries involved in survey research, direct marketing and new media development.

Gannett, began in 1906 with just $3,000 in savings, $7,000 in loans and $10,000 in notes, has grown into a company whose 2006 revenues were $8 billion. Gannett ranked 296 in overall revenues on the Fortune 500 list in 2006 and ranked second in revenues in Fortune's Publishing and Printing category.

Gannett's profits have grown from $7.4 million when it first went public to approximately $1.2 billion in 2006. It is the nation's largest newspaper publisher; its papers have a combined daily circulation of approximately 7.2 million in the USA and 626,000 in the U.K. Gannett television stations cover 18.05 percent of the USA and have a market reach of 20.1 million households.

But editorial quality has been emphasized as well. Newspapers owned by Gannett and Gannett News Service have won 45 Pulitzer Prizes. Gannett received more than 1,100 professional awards in 2006 alone. In 1999, Gannett’s Newspaper Division issued its Principles of Ethical Conduct for Newsrooms, becoming a leader among newspaper companies in the U.S. by setting out detailed guidelines on ethics for its community newspapers.

Gannett has been recognized as a leader in the communications industry. In 1986, a poll of Wall Street analysts by Investment Decisions named Gannett as the best-managed publishing company in the USA.

Gannett has been included on Black Enterprise magazine's list of the 25 Best Places for Blacks to Work, leading the communications industry in its employment and advancement of women and minorities.

In February 1988, Gannett received an "America's Corporate Conscience Award" from the Council on Economic Priorities for its fair employment practices. In March of that year, Gannett received one of Catalyst's awards to corporations with distinguished records in the employment and advancement of women.

Gannett also was included in The Best Companies for Women, published by Simon and Schuster in 1988, and in 2003 was recognized for the 18th year by Working Mother magazine for its employment of women. Gannett is included in The Best 100 Stocks to Own in America, published by Longman, and in 1990 the company was one of 200 companies profiled in Investing with a Social Conscience, published by Scripps Howard. In 2004 and 2005, Institutional Investor magazine ranked McCorkindale The Best CEO in America in the publishing and advertising agencies category. The publication named Gracia Martore, senior vice president and CFO, one of The Best CFO’s in America and ranked Martore #1 in the publishing and advertising agencies category in both years.

Gannett's Game Plan is included in The Mission Statement Book: 301 Corporate Mission Statements from America's Top Companies, published in 1995 by Ten Speed Press.

Because Gannett management believes the company owes something to the people in communities where Gannett does business, in late 1990 the company announced the formation of Gannett Communities Fund. In 2006, this program, renamed the Gannett Foundation, channeled almost $11 million in grants and employee matching gifts to deserving causes in Gannett communities. In 2004 the Gannett Foundation surpassed the $100 million mark for money given since the Gannett Foundation was created.

As Gannett progresses through the information age, it continues to serve the readers on Elm Street, the businesses on Main Street and the investors on Wall Street — across the USA and throughout the world.

May 2007


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