Media Moves

Is USA Today’s print edition going downhill?

October 18, 2019

Posted by Mariam Ahmed

Sections of a USA Today newspapers rest together, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, in Norwood, Mass. On Monday, Aug. 5, GateHouse Media, a chain backed by an investment firm, announced that it is buying USA Today owner Gannett Co. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

The deal for GateHouse’s parent, New Media Investment Group, to acquire Gannett, which owns USA Today, will not close for at least another month, but, USA Today’s print edition may undergo a major restructuring that will include building up digital marketing while phasing out the print edition, reports Poynter.

Maribel Perez Wadsworth, USA Today publisher, commented via email: “Gannett has no plans to discontinue the print edition of USA TODAY, which remains an important part of our business. Gannett remains committed to high-quality journalism for the communities we serve and our ongoing digital transformation, and we are pleased to have found a like-minded partner in New Media. We believe the combination of our two companies will transform the landscape in the print and digital news business and, following the close of the transaction, we look forward to delivering on the compelling benefits for audiences, customers, employees and shareholders.”

One Gannett editor said, “Let’s face reality. We’re (still) going to have to radically transform.”

Paul Bascobert, the new CEO has been silent in the public eye. However, he has been very much active and proactive in internal meetings with Gannett execs and visits to the largest of its 109 regional papers.

“He has indicated that he is not impressed with USA Today,” a source familiar with the meetings said. “He said ‘middle-of-the-road is not a strategy.’’

On the business side, the 109 regional paper sites, which draw on USA Today for national content, are beginning to build the number of paid digital subscriptions. Those stand at 561,000, the company has said in its most recent earnings report, after a slow start.

Additionally, USA Today’s main site remains free, monetized by high-volume ads with geo-targeted options. Declining print circulation numbers paint a picture of why winding down the five-day-a-week print edition in an orderly way would be attractive to the merged company.

However, GateHouse and Gannett executives have promised $275 million to $300 million in cost-saving “synergies” as a rationale for the merger. Eliminating, or even just scaling back USA Today in print, would add up to a healthy down payment on that goal.

But, phasing out print would doubtless lead to some downsizing of USA Today’s news staff of 289.

Further questions will be answered at a staff meeting.

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