Gannett and USA Today: Two Reasons Why They’re Weak and Vulnerable

USA Today and Gannett are the target of Digital First Media, a hedge fund-owned company known for stripping weakened media properties of whatever assets they still have.

USA Today was started in 1982 by Gannett and its boss Al Neuharth. It was a brilliant move at the time—a newspaper that would be available all over the country. By 1987 it has more than five million readers and Neuharth proudly showed off USA Today’s sleek new headquarters in Rosslyn, across the Pot0mac River from the nation’s capital.

Why was USA Today so successful? When business people were traveling, they could open their hotel room door in the morning and USA Today would be there with its pretty good national news coverage and very good sports coverage. USA Today was always a pleasant surprise for the business traveler—and for advertisers it was an upscale audience.

Then came broadband and Google and Apple and the business traveler no longer needed a newspaper. By the time you opened the hotel room door in the morning, you’d checked your email and the latest news and didn’t need a newspaper. USA Today no longer had a good reason for being.

Reason number two: When USA Today was founded in 1982, Al Neuharth and Gannett were riding high. Since the 1960s Gannett had been buying locally owned newspapers and increasing profits by bringing in good business practices.

What good business practices really meant is we’ll bring in business professionals and a new editor schooled in how to maximize profits. Increase profits by 15 percent a year or you’re out of a job.

At first some of the badly managed local papers got better but the drive to maximize profits ultimately took the heart and soul out of most its newspapers. For an editor, it was don’t talk to us about good journalism, show us an improved bottom line.

It’s now painful to watch the vultures try to strip Gannett and USA Today of whatever excellence is remaining, but it’s been a long time coming.

A good January 15 column about Digital First Media by Will Bunch at “This obscure company is doing more to destroy a free press in Amerca than Trump.”

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