In a piece yesterday I reported that phasing out USA Today in print is likely to be part of the calculations of the expected Gannett/GateHouse merger. The move, which is not likely to be immediate, would help find critical savings to pay off debt and align with the merger’s primary strategy to serve digital journalism and advertising.
After the story appeared, a Gannett reporter provided me with a six-page memo that new CEO Paul Bascobert sent to staff yesterday addressing a wide range of issues related to the merger. Bascobert leads with a discussion of the future of print editions, both of USA Today and of the company’s 109 regional papers.
Bascobert says that market demand will tell when it’s time to cut back or stop print:
Q: HOW WILL THIS APPROACH PREVENT FURTHER SHIFTS TOWARD THINNER PUBLICATIONS WITH MORE NON-LOCAL STORIES?
Local news is at the heart of what we do, and keeping local expertise in our communities is a cornerstone of our business model going forward.
Print remains an important platform for a large segment of our readers, although we know digital is our future. Our USA TODAY and local print products continue to be great businesses for us with loyal customer bases. However, we do need to respond to consumer’s preferences, which are shifting to consuming news online and mobile. To be clear, the decision will be made by the market telling us where we should focus. We will continue to maintain print if consumers are asking for it and the economics make sense. Our goal is to hold as steady as we can on print while focusing on transforming our digital business through increased efforts on digital subscription acquisition and retention. And to do that, of course, we need robust local news reporting.
Q: HOW LONG DO YOU SEE THE COMPANY PRINTING PAPERS 7-DAYS A WEEK?
While there continues to be market demand for a 7-day home delivery option across our markets, we are always evaluating any changes at the market level. Today, there are a handful of markets where we do not offer a 7-day home delivery option. We have learned a lot about both the consumer and advertiser impacts, both good and bad. The print edition continues to be important to many of our loyal customers and a strong financial contributor to the business.”
Bascobert also responds to questions about potential layoffs and buyouts.
Further down in the memo, he answers a question about improving Gannett’s customer service. He concedes that it is bad and needs prompt fixing.
As I noted in several earlier stories, Bascobert’s selection as Gannett CEO was announced the same day as the merger. He also has been designated as operating CEO of the new company when New Media Investment, parent of GateHouse, completes its acquisition of Gannett.
He has been proactive in the company, visiting the larger regional papers and beginning transition planning. However, he has not been available for interviews.
Mike Reed, chairman and CEO of New Media Investment, will retain those titles and the top job in the merged company.
The reporter who provided me with the FAQ said that Bascobert has been sending out weekly memos to the Gannett staff since taking over as CEO. Reed also sends out a weekly memo.
Gannett held a staff meeting today (Oct. 17) for Bascobert and USA Today publisher Maribel Perez Wadsworth to address questions about my story.