Top Menu

2007 Knight-Batten Symposium

Sue Clark-Johnson

Sue Clark-Johnson President, Newspaper Division, Gannett Co.

It is indeed a pleasure – and honor – to be here today for many reasons, but chief among them to personally thank you for the service you provide our industry. Reading just the capsule summaries of this year’s Knight-Batten finalists and honorable mentions gives one real hope, and a belief that, indeed, journalism not only does have a future, but it has the potential to be more important, with more impact than ever before. The winning entries are proof, as J-Lab director Jan Schaffer said, of giving us other ways to think about innovations in journalism.

Look at the top award-winner, a mind-boggling real-time blog covering every aspect of online activity in the 2008 presidential race, or the Council of Foreign Relations’ award winning entry of an in-depth information site to the world’s most pressing crisis zones. What extraordinary and significant contributions these are to a democratic society – and, excellent examples of the kinds of innovative opportunity open to us all.

Those are examples of how some are dealing with what are considered big issues, but equally as important is the work being done by folks like those in Deerfield, New Hampshire who created an online newspaper for a town with no media. That is as big a public service in its own way.

Congratulations to all of you who had a hand in shaping these outstanding efforts. They are truly inspirational, and models to not only follow but use as stepping stones to further innovation in our own profession specifically, and on the web generally. In fact, I would say these winning entries are a wake-up call for newspapers, for surely they are further proof that the media business as we have known it is gone forever. Consider that the top winners aren ‘t newspapers.

BUT … and this is a big “but,” hark the words of Media News CEO Dean Singleton at a recent Aspen Institute forum on the media. He said: “Don’t feel sorry for the newspaper business. It’s not a dying business; it’s a changing one.”

  • valuable brand
  • enhanced First Amendment capability
  • community footprint
  • multiple platforms

Like Dean, I believe in this business and its ability to survive.

There are many good reasons:

  • We have an entrenched, valuable brand that, for all our foibles and missteps, is a fundamental cornerstone of the democratic process in this country.
  • Our watchdog and First Amendment work is only getting stronger because of the new tools we have at our command.
  • We have by far the single biggest footprint of any medium in our communities.  
  • At newspapers across the country, we are broadening that footprint every day with more local community newspaper sections, more online activity in news and information, more niche publications to reach new audience segments, more ways we can interact with our communities – and for communities of interest to interact with each other. Lastly, we are providing deeper local content touching more closely the lives of our readers.
  • We’re doing that in print. We’re doing that in video, with audio, with mobile phones. We have replaced our single print product with a full, rich media mix.

Larry Daly, the University of Nevada, Reno professor you heard from this morning told a few of us in a meeting between the Reno Gazette-Journal and the school, that their goal is a new kind of journalism, one that:

  • incorporates an architecture of participation
  • harnesses the collective intelligence of the audience through exploration and participation
  • creates trust and community through interactivity
  • provides the foundation for deliberation and public judgment.

Certainly their site does just that and I can tell you as a part time Tahoe resident, I am personally appreciative of their efforts.

There is an enormous opportunity for even richer journalism, for inclusion in the democratic process, for reaching and for growing new and more diverse audiences.

At Gannett, we are deep in the heart of doing all this.

Our transformation is reversing our business model so that it is customer centric – we must deliver news and information on whatever platform our customers wish: print, Internet, telephone, Blackberry, TV, radio … and deliver it when they want it.

At the center of the transformation is the Information Center. Last September, we asked all 85 of our newspapers to totally change their thinking about news and information, to change their newsrooms into information centers which concentrated, yes, on reporting the day’s news, but to do it 24/7, and to think beyond news to provide deeper, richer relevant information as well, calling not only on our own reporters, but the community as well, for participation in the journalism process.

The information center emphasizes local and hyper local news. We know you can get your national and international news elsewhere, but we also know we’re the best positioned to deliver local and, new to us, hyperlocal news – to readers who, coincidentally, our advertisers want as their customers too.

The transformation took six months, completed in all 85 newspapers by May 1st. While I am going to give you several example of what we are doing and learning, just this one may give you a sense of the enormity of our change: In six months, die-hard print journalists became multi-platform reporters – and, oh by the way, newly trained videographers responsible last month for 2 million video streams vs. 3,700 in March ‘06.

The efforts of our news folks are responsible for significant gains across the board.

  • traffic +30%
  • 25 million
  • Time spent: 23 minutes

Through the first seven months of the year, page views at our Web sites are up 30% to last year, at 25 million. Time spent on sites has grown 29 per cent to 23 minutes. One secret to our growth – updating news stories much more often than we did in the past.

Let me give you just a few examples of what we’re doing in our Information Centers.


  • 37 SITES
  • $3M

We are learning that one of the greatest opportunities for audience and revenue growth is with the development of digital lifestyle niches that incorporate social networking capability. Our sites are a perfect example. It was just last Thanksgiving we launched our beta site in Indianapolis, followed soon after by Cincinnati.

Based on the initial virtually overnight success, we moved quickly to launch them across the division. As of last week we had 37 sites with 5.6 million in page views, 307,000 uniques and $3 million in annualized revenues.

We have discovered this isn’t just a Chatty Kathy Web site either. This appeared on the Indymoms site recently:

“I always posted here under pregnancy and delivery but now I find myself on here under grief and loss. I delivered my son stillborn two weeks ago …” She describes what happened and ends with this: “I was so scared. I wanted to post on here because I always came here when I was down or frustrated. I look forward to talking to all of you. Thank you for being here.” Within three minutes responses of support and sympathy poured onto the site. This prompted several of us to remind each other we’re in this business for many reasons. Being able to provide this outlet for care and concern is a new and vital one.

Traffic +49%

We are concentrating on bringing a younger demographic to our web sites. In Phoenix last fall, azcentral was redesigned to emphasize entertainment on the homepage and with the creation of a robust entertainment site.

The latest Scarborough release shows past 7-day reach into the 25-39 year old age group increased 49% which is 24% penetration of that group. As a result of the new approach, time spent per unique visitor is up 72% to 39 minutes and, retail revenue is +62%.

In a related move, we are in the process of implementing new design standards at most of our sites, geared toward attracting the younger demographic and, at the same time, we will further broaden our reach to the 25-34-year-old market by greatly expanding the websites running in tandem with our dozen or so young adult publications.

We will also deliver to mobile devices information of use to this demographic. This spring we launched mobile platforms in all our broadcast and newspaper operations, 108 in total.

On Father’s Day appropriately enough The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle soft-launched and since the hard launch a month later has experienced 900,000 page views, 350,000 in August. There are nearly 1000 postings on the forums on 227 different topics.

Just two weeks ago the same newspaper launched RocLoop, a new Web site developed for college students as a true virtual meeting place for the roughly 85,000 students attending the area’s 19 colleges. With college classes just beginning, the site, is at 46,000 page views and picking up steam quickly.

While clearly we are just discovering the value of lifestyle niches, we are also developing important new ways to serve the public interest. And to that end, data is king. Here are some examples:

Gannett newspapers and television stations in Florida have launched a searchable database of more than 2 million files about FEMA’s response to the 2004 hurricanes. The posting ended months of legal wrangling over the files that began in 2005 when our papers filed a lawsuit asking for information about public and individual assistance distributed by FEMA. The information became public record on June 22, 2007, when the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that release was essential for the public to evaluate FEMA’s responsiveness. The News-Press received the record and has a database that spans the four hurricanes that struck Florida in 2004 – Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. It includes addresses of applicants, but not names; how much financial aid was requested and how much was paid out. You recognized FMY earlier today for their ground-breaking work in, as the judges said, bringing investigative journalism to the public. Thank you.

Asbury Park launched Data Universe, which comprises searchable databases from myriad sources. One example is federal employees’ salaries and locations with a special package of print stories. The package online included an interactive national map of federal salaries, state-by-state comparisons as well as a searchable database of average wages by industry, location and employer type. It was picked up as an interactive module available nationwide by Gannett News Service. The searchable database generated 1,753,283 page views the last week of June.

Cincinnati’s page views to their Data Desk content have surpassed 1.9 million. Top draws: Executive compensation, smoking complaints and hot neighborhoods.

Both the Asbury Park and Cincinnati examples marry print and web. We have found that, in fact, breaking a major investigative piece on-line and referring to a package of stories to appear the next day actually impacts single copy and overall readership.

Speaking of print, we believe it still offers growth opportunity as well. We are actually building the print, as well as digital, franchise with our geographic strategy. Let me explain that.


  • NASHVILLE +21%

Some Wall Street analysts have suggested the fate of metro newspapers is doomed because they can’t connect with and serve their communities as well as smaller newspapers. Well, yes they can – if they also act like smaller newspapers. We have an aggressive geographic strategy in place, ensuring our metro newspapers add robust editions serving small communities in their circulation area. It is working very well. In Phoenix for example, at the end of the first quarter there were 15 community newspapers. Revenue is above last year by 58%. And circulation is better in those areas. In Louisville, revenue for ten community sections is up 41%. In Nashville, they are up 21% in just one area.

Based on these results, by the end of the first quarter ‘08 all our operations of 50k plus will have a geo strategy in place. Again, these are primarily NEW advertisers who have not been with us before because the metro’s size priced them out of the paper. In all cases we are establishing companion – or standalone – Web sites, called microsites. In Cincinnati, for example, we now have 129 microsites serving 129 neighborhoods.

Triple track:

  • where we ‘ve been
  • transition
  • new media profile

This changing stuff isn’t easy.

Our transformative plan involves what I call a triple track – transitioning from track one, a traditional media company, into track three: a company ready to compete and succeed in the new media environment. We are smack in the middle of track two: keeping the old while moving to the new on a parallel track. That’s difficult work.

Part of Track Two is the monetization piece. Once we felt comfortable with the direction of our news operations we turned to sales where we developed and implemented a comprehensive advertising strategy to take us into the multi-platform environment.

We have totally flipped our sales philosophy. Now it’s an audience-based selling strategy reliant not on measuring the readers of a single daily newspaper, but on the aggregated reach to all of our audiences with all of our products – newspaper, online and specialty publications. Across Gannett, for example, we typically reach seven or eight out of 10 adults in a market once a week.

We – all of us – are doing a lot. But the question remains: When all this media upheaval shakes out, will our media operations still be key players? When I look at the strategies being implemented throughout the industry, and the opportunity that exists, as exemplified by those we honor today, I think the answer is definitely “yes.”

And, consider this: There’s also a bright side for the print product itself. The daily newspaper in each market is subject to less fragmentation than any other medium it’s competing against because every other medium faces more competition within its own medium. More television channels. More radio stations – plus Sirius and XM. More internet sites every day – almost every minute. More of everything else … but only one daily newspaper in each market, with the unmatched credibility of decades behind it. We’re holding on to our audience better than our competitors, so our lead over the #2 outlet in terms of share of audience is actually growing on an aggregated reach basis.

So, if more people want what we produce today than wanted it yesterday – is that the profile of a dying industry?

Another factor, albeit less tangible: Our newspapers care about and are an integral part of the fabric of life in their communities. Sometimes that means a social conscience that hurts. Because we care deeply about making life better. That’s what newspapers do. It’s what we will continue to do, whether it’s on paper or in digital space. Those who speak about – or perhaps even wish for – our demise, need to remember that 80-90% of all original reporting in this country is done by newspaper reporters. If not us, then who will do it? Who will carry the mantle for freedoms fought for by our founding fathers? What does a society look like that has no common bond borne in the free flow of information that ensures our democracy survives?

For our part, we intend to not only continue the traditions of our profession, but enhance them by inviting community to participate. The new multi-platform approaches enable many more citizens to be part of the community conversation and solution.

So, I do not bemoan newspapers’ fate but rather applaud our ability to not only survive, but thrive. Our purpose and resolve is to do so. Our founding principles and purpose, our concern and caring for democracy – and community demands nothing less.

Thank you very much.

« Previous:
Next: »
Comments are closed.
Show Buttons
Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Hide Buttons