USA Today Plans 130 Layoffs in Push Toward Mobile News

USA Today plans to lay off 130 business and newsroom employees this fall as it pushes toward mobile devices.USA Today, the nation's second largest newspaper, is making the most dramatic overhaul of its staff in its 28-year history as it de-emphasizes its print edition and ramps up its effort to reach more readers and advertisers on mobile devices.

The makeover outlined Thursday will result in about 130 layoffs this fall, USA Today Publisher Dave Hunke told The Associated Press. That translates into a 9% reduction in USA Today's work force of 1,500 employees. Hunke didn't specify which departments would be hardest hit.

The management shake-up affects both the newspaper's business operations and newsroom.

Like most newspapers, Gannett's (GCI) USA Today has been cutting back in recent years to offset a steep drop in advertising that is depleting its main source of income. To compound the problem, fewer readers are paying for newspapers as free news proliferates on the Web.

A 'Radical' Reorganigation

Those challenges triggered the most dramatic reorganization since USA Today first hit the streets in 1982 with a then-unique blend of shorter stories surrounded by colorful graphics and pictures.

"This is pretty radical," Hunke said of the shake-up. "This gets us ready for our next quarter century."

In the first wave of change, USA Today, which is based in McLean, Va., will no longer have separate managing editors overseeing its News, Sports, Money and Life sections.

The newsroom instead will be broken up into a cluster of "content rings" each headed up by editors who will be appointed later this year. The newly created content group will be overseen by Susan Weiss, who had been managing editor of the Life section. As executive editor of content, Weiss will report to USA Today Editor John Hillkirk.

"We'll focus less on print ... and more on producing content for all platforms (Web, mobile, iPad and other digital formats)," according to a slide show presented Thursday to USA Today's staff. The AP obtained copy of the presentation.

Conflict of Interest?

In a move that may raise conflict-of-interest questions, Weiss will have a "collaborative relationship" with USA Today's newly appointed vice president of business development, Rudd Davis, according to one slide.

Davis, the founder of sports website BNQT.com, is being brought in to oversee new business opportunities and brand licensing among other things. BNQT, which focuses on sports such as skateboarding and skiing that appeal to younger audiences, was bought by Gannett in 2007.

Thursday's slide presentation also said USA Today's restructuring will "usher in a new way of doing business that aligns sales efforts with the content we produce."

In separate interviews, both Hunke and Hillkirk said the newspaper won't allow its need to generate more revenue interfere with its commitment to the First Amendment or investigative journalism.

"Under no circumstances do we ever compromise our integrity," Hunke said. "But I don't see any problem with finding out ways to build out strategies that work for advertisers. Frankly, if we do that, we will have a very prosperous future and we are going to stay in the journalism business."

Making Money from Smartphones

Although USA Today still makes most of its money from its print edition, the reorganization revolves around smartphones and computer tablets such as Apple's (AAPL) iPad, which are creating new ways to sell subscriptions and advertising.

"We have to go where the audience is," Hillkirk said. "If people are hitting the iPad like crazy, or the iPhone or other mobile devices, we've got to be there with the content they want, when they want it."

USA Today's circulation has been plunging in recent years, dropping to an average of 1.83 million during the six months ending in March. That's down from 2.3 million in 2007 when USA today reigned as the nation's largest newspaper. The Wall Street Journal now holds that position with a circulation of 2.09 million.

Besides its circulation, USA Today's advertising also has been falling. The newspaper sold 580 advertising pages in its most recent quarter ending in June. That's nearly a 50% drop from the 1,098 pages sold at the same time in 2006, before newspaper advertising began its steep slide.

Gannett's Plunging Stock


USA Today
's struggles are one reason why Gannett's stock price has plunged 78% in the past four years, going from about $55 at this time in 2006 to Thursday's closing price of $12.18.

Gannett doesn't break out USA Today's finances, but the newspaper is by far the largest of the more than 80 dailies the company owns.

The mobile push will be overseen by Steve Kurtz, who was appointed vice president of digital distribution. He had been director of digital information technology for USAToday.com.

Other new department heads are: Jeff Dionise, vice president of product development and design; and Heather Frank, vice president of vertical development.

USA Today thinks one of its biggest opportunities is sports, which will become "a business unto itself," Hunke said. The newly created USA Today Sports will be run by Ross Schaufelberger, a former CEO of BNQT Media Group.

The newspapers other content rings will consist of "Your Life," ''Travel," ''Breaking News," ''Investigative," ''National," ''Washington/Economy," ''World," Environment/Science," ''Aviation," ''Personal Finance," ''Autos," ''Entertainment" and "Tech."


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Steve

Just more of the "dumbing down of America". DUH!!!

August 27 2010 at 10:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
magicmannh

... 17+ years ... 'Day 1' ... 'Launch Team' ... EX USAT employee / manager here. I resigned in 2000. I sat down here thinking I could fill this page with comment, but there's simply too much to comment on! ... In the beginning, it was 'all good' ... During the 80's, we (the Circulation Staff) marched forward like the 'Roman Army' securing 'tens of thousands' of sales locations, garnering hundreds-upon-hundreds of thousands of new LOYAL readers! ... (The Good Ole' Days) ... In the 90's (as we matured) the in-house political BS started to SERIOUSLY mount - and - we more-and-more found our day-to-day management activities centered on 'CYA' ... Though I was honored 'nationally' - and - 'repeatedly' - By 2000 I was totally burnt out. Just a 'handful' of originals left there now. The trail of broken dreams / promises and careers is long at USAT. It's storied past is one of the 'BEST' of times - and the 'WORST' of times ... (don't get me goin') (lol)

August 27 2010 at 10:19 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Kent

The first mistake is newspapers giving away information for free on the web. The Wall Street Journal figured out long ago that money is to be made, if people must subscribe to either the print or web edition. Second, those of us who grew up reading words printed on newsprint don't like reading off screens, whether desktop, laptop, or handheld. For one thing, what if you don't have a source of power? Once, my home was without power for nearly 3 days due to a substation explosion. I couldn't read my e-mail, watch TV, or use my landline (because the phone company's switching station lost power), but I had a newspaper to read. Third, there are times that it's just plain hard to use any sort of computer. My computer is in the basement. If it's a sunny day, it's plain hard to see the screen on my cell phone. But the paper is always readible, if there is light. And while people have to shut off their electrical devices prior to the airplane leaving the gate and until the plane reaches 10,000 feet, I cna keep reading my paper, magazine, or book.

August 27 2010 at 10:13 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Harold

They could start reporting the TRUTH and that would be a "Radical" change...!

August 27 2010 at 9:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
chaspharrington

IN REALITY I COUNT HOW MANY DAYS IN A ROW THAT I GO OUT TO PURCHASE A USA TODAY AND CAN NEVER FIND ONE. MAYBE THE REAL TROUBLE IS THAT THEY HAVE A PROBLEM WITH CIRCULATION, NOT THAT PEOPLE ARE NOT BUYING THERE PAPER OR NOT READING. LIKE MYSELF I JUST BUY ANOTHER NEWSPAPER ND READ THAT, BUT IN REALITY THAT WOULD BE TOO SIMPLE FOR THEM TO REALIZE AND ALTHOUGH I HAVE THE DECVICES WHICH THEY MENTIONED I NEVER READ ANY NEWSPRINT ON THOSE DEVISES AND I NEVER WOULD. REMEMBER TO WHEN YOU TRY TO PUT TO MAKE ONE PLAN FITS ALL, IT ALWAYS FAILS!

August 27 2010 at 9:29 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
carl

another Oboma supporter hits the dust

August 27 2010 at 9:23 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
eglodic

Regarding USA today's announcements of layoff so they can promote "mobile news" - I personally think that is part of this nations unemployment problem. It seems every major company is only interested in their profits but not the people in their organizations that help them make that profit. Let's get a grip here folks without workers to produce papers how are individuals going to be able to afford to buy them if they DO NOT HAVE JOBS????? Whatever happened to supporting your employees who help you make that profit? Evie Glodic

August 27 2010 at 9:12 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
dogbreath211

I was hoping it would start being truthful and stop being cheerlearders for dems.

August 27 2010 at 8:55 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to dogbreath211's comment
Bill

Why is it that every time a paper or news group say anything about the Repubs they are considered anti Republican?? Only brain dead people think that way.

August 27 2010 at 9:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply