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Archive for January 24th, 2009

Rumors and questions are inevitable when a company is restructuring.

Sometimes the rumors are quicker and more accurate than news reports. Sometimes they are wishful thinking or fears from friends or critics. Sometimes they are grounded in fact but grow in the retelling.

The restructuring of The Gazette is feeding the rumor mill. When I wrote about the restructuring last week, I didn’t address the rumors and that might have given them extra life. Or maybe they just picked up steam because that’s how rumors work.

As I mentioned last week, the restructuring affects many, if not all, parts of our company. I have been concentrating primarily on the changes involving the newsroom, so that’s what I will address here. Perhaps it’s tunnel vision, but I haven’t been hearing the rumors and questions about other aspects of our operation.

The first question to address is whether we plan to stop publishing The Gazette. Absolutely not. We have several teams right now working on plans to keep our core print product healthy long into the future.

As I noted last week, this product has been around for 126 years. We’re not sure that print newspapers will last another 126 years and we want this company to last that much longer and more. So we are reorganizing to manage products differently, cover news differently and develop content differently. But we are reorganizing in the full recognition that our flagship product is The Gazette and with every intention to keep that product strong and continue serving its audience.

Do you want to know how big that audience is and how valuable it is to our advertisers? On Feb. 1, crowds across our community will gather around their television sets to watch the Super Bowl. The crowds will include some non-football fans who just want to watch the new commercials trotted out on the biggest television advertising day of the year. That same day and every Sunday, more people in our community will read The Gazette than will watch the Super Bowl.

The Gazette faces some financial challenges: Beyond the challenges of the digital age, which I have written about extensively, newsprint and ink prices have been rising as the national economy tanks and the local economy struggles in flood recovery. But a product that regularly reaches as much of the community as the Super Bowl won’t be folding any time soon.

Whether we would actually stop publishing The Gazette was more a question than a rumor. I presume it was prompted by my noting last week that products come and go and that lots of newspapers were closing, going bankrupt or cutting editions. Not this one. We know that our growth opportunities lie in other areas, but The Gazette remains our flagship.

We believe The Gazette has been a force for strengthening this community throughout our history and the changes we make will be focused on strengthening the community.

More than once in the past week, I heard a rumor that we had laid off the entire news staff and forced people to reapply for their jobs. This rumor is false, but it has its roots in confusion over what we are actually doing.

No one on the news staff has been laid off. Even with the addition of news web sites more than a decade ago, virtually every newsroom in our industry remains heavily focused on producing the print edition or on dually producing the newspaper and the news web site. As I explained last week, we have decided to develop separate operations focused on developing content and on publishing packaged print and digital products.

In explaining this new operation to the news staff, I explained that all of our jobs, including mine, would fundamentally change. No one is being “forced to reapply for their jobs.” Their current jobs won’t exist.

In such a thorough reorganization, it would be unfair to slot people into particular jobs without giving everyone the opportunity to apply for the jobs that most fit their skills and interests. That would doom the reorganization in two ways: It would entitle people to think their jobs hadn’t really changed (so they wouldn’t really have to work differently) and it would deprive us of some of their creativity.

Our newsroom is an anxious, uneasy place during this change. But I’m getting a lot of great ideas from staff members applying for new jobs and I am convinced that creativity will help us succeed.

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