Thursday, May 10, 2007

WAN's John Burke interviews Gannett's jennifer Carroll about "information centers" May 1 conversion

From the World Association of Newspaper's "Editor's Weblog":

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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Posted by John Burke on May 8, 2007 at 03:22 PM

Countdown to Cape Town: managing the Information Center at Gannett

Over the past six months, much praise has been showered upon Americaÿÿs largest newspaper publisher, Gannett, for its ambitious locally-focused, multimedia project, The Information Center. The companyÿÿs Vice President of New Media Content, Jennifer Carroll, spoke with the Editors Weblog about the way in which management handled the venture and convinced newsrooms of the need for change, previewing her presentation at the 14th World Editors Forum.

At Gannett, change began at the top. About 18 months ago, the companyÿÿs then-recently appointed CEO, Craig Dubow, wrote up a plan calling for all divisions to look forward and gathered a team whose specific task was to explore new concepts as well as training and research for staff. Keeping in mind the break-up of the nationÿÿs second largest newspaper chain, Knight Ridder, the principal idea behind Dubowÿÿs initiative was to get Gannettÿÿs newspapers to think beyond once a day publishing and to move towards the future with greater speed than they ever had before. The paperÿÿs newsrooms were no longer to be named as such, but as Information Centers, 24-hour, local, multimedia publishing operations.

Carroll and the team Dubow summoned isolated 7 areas that needed testing and in the spring of 2006 began experimenting at three different papers of different sizes: small, medium and large. The three papers tested all areas but were asked to emphasize focus on two or three, for instance, databases or community blogs. By using these papers as laboratories, Gannett was able to understand how new media concepts in the newsroom needed to be executed and implemented across its 90 papers countrywide. The trials were successful and by autumn of 2006, it was ready to roll out the Information Center across the company. All of the Gannettÿÿs newsrooms officially became Information Centers on May 1, 2007.

Training programs were drawn up and tailored for editors and journalists. The need to innovate was instilled in them and it was made clear to them that they had an opportunity to do so like no other time in history. Through optimistic new media training, Gannett found that their staffs were receptive and eager. Print journalists all of a sudden knew how to do video journalism through courses with broadcast specialists. At the same time, management realized the huge investment it was making and set aside capital for the programs and new equipment for its newsrooms.

Carroll noted that one of the most important means of assuring success in revamping an industry very set in its print ways was to keep in very close and constant contact with all of the companyÿÿs newsrooms. In the run-up to their official conversion to Information Centers, management sent out a note to editors at all papers asking what their concerns and needs were. At the same time, it was preparing the next level of training for its journalists, including courses on local databases which individual papers have developed for their communities and how to converse with their readers, who are chatting more and more on Gannett papersÿÿ websites about important issues close to home. Watchdog sections of their websites are also being set up to further serve readers.

Now that the Information Centers have been launched, Gannett is working on ways of monetizing them. Local advertisers have been very receptive, said Carroll, since most realize that younger demographics are spending a lot of their media time on the Web. And services the paper provides on its websites such as chat rooms for local moms are incredibly successful for advertisers focusing on targeted groups. According to Carroll, the pace at which the company is now moving is blinding. Most stereotypes peg journalists as frightened of change, but journalists at Gannett are proud of what they have already accomplished and are anxious to learn more. Primarily, they enjoy the fact the Information Center has helped them to help their communities, the main reason for which they became journalists in the first place.

Posted by John Burke on May 8, 2007 at 03:22 PM


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