New USA Today publisher Larry Kramer gets to apply his theories about newsroom evolution

New USA Today Publisher Larry Kramer hasn't had a newspaper job since 1991, when he left the San Francisco Examiner to found DataSport, and eventually MarketWatch. But he's thought about newspapers ever since, and in his most recent gig as visiting professor at the Newhouse School of Communications, he taught media case studies. In books and articles, Kramer has written about how newspapers have squeezed out investigative reporting and their need for new business models.

At USA Today, he'll get to apply some of that thinking to the country's second-largest newspaper, one whose average daily circulation has declined only 0.64 percent over the past year but is still facing many of the same problems of smaller papers. It also doesn't have a Sunday print edition, one of the few bright spots for newspapers lately. USA Today cut 130 jobs in 2010 and implemented a "radical restructuring" under former publisher David Hunke, who is retiring. The paper has not had an editor since November of last year, when John Hillkirk left the top role to become senior editor for investigative journalism and national enterprise.

Kramer will lead the search for Hillkirk's replacement. Gannett President and CEO Gracia Martore wrote about Kramer in a memo to staff announcing his appointment, "His appreciation for our print heritage and his deep understanding of transformative power of digital media will make Larry successful in building the USA TODAY brand and helping us implement our growth strategy." That's interesting, because in his 2010 book "C-Scape: Conquer the Forces Changing Business Today," Kramer writes about the inadequacy of traditional newsrooms, praising what he calls the "convergent news-and-culture organizations that have become popular online, such as HuffPost or the Daily Beast."

"Every business must have a new newsroom in some form," he writes, "every media company must become one; and success will depend on how well companies of all kinds integrate that 'newsroom' with their traditional businesses."

In a 2009 blog post, Kramer said we should "Forget the newspaper industry. Let’s launch the News Industry."

Let’s build these new news businesses around the content they cover, not the format in which they deliver the news. There should be one or more newsrooms on Wall Street that will cover Wall Street for every possible kind of outlet, including television, newspapers, BlackBerries, cellphones, magazines and the web. It should be obsessed with informing the public about everything going on in their financial center, good and bad.

There should be another newsroom that covers every major city. Another to cover Washington, or parts of it. Maybe one should just cover Capitol Hill, and another should just cover the White House. Maybe one should cover your state house or your city hall.

Or maybe one should cover your whole city, or just your neighborhood.

In some ways, this looks a bit like an old-fashioned wire-service model. One news-gathering force that supplies its output to many different news outlets. That AP reporter in Moscow would write a story that showed up on the front page of many newspapers across America the next day.

These news companies don’t even have to own their own outlets. They could create their news for partners in each media form: newspapers, phone companies, broadcasters. Each will pay for their news.

If we are going to create models to support news operations in the future, this is the way we will have to do it. Let’s rebuild an industry around its audience.

In an interview with Lucia Moses Monday, Kramer said one of his plans would be to "get multiple revenue streams going. More people read us on digital than on print now, and that means by definition we should be getting more revenue from digital. I just got here, but I believe based on what I’ve been told, the company’s committed to making this work. I’m also a pragmatic businessman as well as a journalist, and I want to make sure we’re spending money in the most efficient way."

Related: A cheeky post on the Gannett blog asks readers to guess which quote is from former CEO Craig Dubow introducing Hunke and which is from Martore introducing Kramer.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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