SPECIAL REPORT: Inside Gannett's 'Information Centers'

By Strupp, Joe | Editor & Publisher, July 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

SPECIAL REPORT: Inside Gannett's 'Information Centers'


Strupp, Joe, Editor & Publisher


A year ago, anyone who visited the Daily Record in Parsippany, N.J., in the dead of night would find it empty, except for production crews running the presses for the morning paper. Most of its newsroom staff didn't arrive until after 8 a.m.

Today, those passing the paper's cream-colored, two-story digs off Interstate 287 North at, say, 3 a.m., are likely to see a light on in the second-floor newsroom. Inside, they'd usually find Business Editor Kathy Shwiff, who until February worked days but now toils the overnight, also serving as the paper's co-digital editor. As part of the Jersey daily's new "Information Center," she is posting traffic reports, weather items, and any local or breaking news she can find.

This "helps us get people on the Web site before they go to work," Shwiff says one April morning as she works the keyboard. "It has definitely messed up my sleep sometimes, but I wanted to do it." Shwiff, who sometimes comes in as early as 2 a.m., is the newsroom's first line of offense, followed by a steady stream of Web reporters who start work at 6 a.m.

Signs tacked up around the newsroom read, "Daily Record 24/7 Information Center," but the Center goes well beyond the new Web focus. Reader comments can be posted with almost every story. In each day's paper, three full pages are dedicated to reader-supplied news, announcements, and photos. A growing database with information on such items as school test scores and county employee overtime is featured online. Much of that content is used in at least four niche publications.

But the Parsippany daily is not alone. After a year of test projects, The Information Center -- a new approach in which all of a chain's dailies and their individual Web sites are transformed into 24-hour, local, multimedia sources -- is now mandated at all 86 Gannett papers across the country, except USA Today.

When Gannett launched what would become its flagship 25 years ago, vowing to create the first true national newspaper with short stories and colorful graphics, critics came out of the woodwork predicting USA Today's demise -- and many wondered if CEO Al Neuharth had lost his mind. Today, it is the highest circulation daily in the country, and countless other papers have attempted to recreate its graphic-driven, tightly reported approach.

Now, in what some say is Gannett's biggest gamble since it launched what many still call "McPaper," the chain is making what appears to be an equally significant move.

Neuharth tells E&P the initiative is the most innovative way he's heard of "that a news and information company can use all of its resources, 24/7, with a cultural change. Gatherers of news and information have to find more and more ways to distribute it."

In Phoenix, for example, readers of The Arizona Republic are getting breaking news, sports, and weather from their cell phones without ever opening a page or logging on to the paper's Web site. In Rochester, N.Y., users of the Democrat and Chronicle site can discover the number of registered sex offenders in their area, or check out their neighbors' property tax rates. And in southern Ohio, readers promoting anything from a bridge tournament to an evangelical seminar need only log on to The Cincinnati Enquirer's Web site, write up a notice, and post it online.

Of course, all three newspapers -- as well as others operated by Gannett -- also are posting more local and breaking news each morning than ever before. A major story might first appear with just a few sentences, before further reporting is done.

"We think online first, and don't even think about the print paper until later in the day," admits Hollis Towns, executive editor of the Enquirer. Two reporters there start posting at 5 a.m.

But the Web push is just part of the Enquirer's new approach. The daily is also adding databases, spreading news alerts across mobile phones and other outlets, and targeting more community news. …

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