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I have some advice for Larry Kramer and Gannett on running a nationwide network of newsrooms as a single operation.

Ken Doctor speculated yesterday that Kramer, publisher of USA Today, might lead Gannett’s editorial operation as a single unit.

As Gannett separates its newspaper properties from its broadcast and digital properties, Doctor tried to parse what Bob Dickey, CEO of the print operation, which will keep the Gannett name, meant when he said he would be “uniting our different news businesses into a single, nationwide news powerhouse.”

Doctor observed:

If Gannett’s journalists were to be centrally directed, they would comprise 2,700 journalists, the largest single journalistic workforce globally.

Gannett logoGannett gives a lot of corporate direction to newsrooms. Currently the Newsroom of the Future is the Gannett wave, but earlier thrusts have emphasized Information Centers (2006, after the Newspaper Next report), First Five Paragraphs (2000 or so, when I was a Gannett reporter) and News 2000 (that was the priority when I interviewed for a Gannett job in 1992). And I probably forgot a few. Remind me, if you recall one I missed. Update: I forgot ContentOne (2009).

The company also is consolidating print production in regional Design Studios, a trend throughout the industry.

But, as Doctor noted, Gannett editors don’t work for a national corporate editor:

Those editors now report solely, within a traditional newspaper structure, to their paper’s publishers. Gannett senior vice president for news Kate Marymont (“My job is to elevate the journalism across Gannett’s local media sites,” says her LinkedIn job description.) leads editorial planning and strategy. Like her peers in similar positions at newspaper companies, she may act as an editorial advocate, but doesn’t have line authority.

I worked for nearly three years at a company where the newsroom editors did report directly to a corporate editor. Early in the formation of Digital First Media, I was on a conference call with all the publishers when CEO John Paton told them their editors would report to Editor-in-Chief Jim Brady. Publishers would still be in charge of the local budgets and the local operation, but for all journalism matters, Jim was in charge.

I was one of a handful of editors who reported directly to Jim, and I visited 84 newsrooms, including all DFM dailies, so I suppose I’m as qualified as anyone but Jim to share some lessons from our brief experience trying to run a single journalistic workforce.

I will neither boast of our successes here nor criticize our mistakes (mine or others’), though I will make passing references below to my DFM experiences. The lessons below are my own observations and advice to Kramer and Gannett (if Doctor’s speculation is correct), based on successes and mistakes at DFM and many experiences that were a mix of both. And I suspect some other companies might seek to better unify their news efforts.

Here’s my advice for Kramer and others who may lead national news operations: (more…)

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