the kicker

“Radical” Restructuring, Layoffs at USA Today

August 27, 2010

USA Today, the second-largest newspaper in the country after The Wall Street Journal, is undergoing a company-wide shift in focus from print to digital content. With that shift comes a the biggest overhaul in staff structure since it opened in 1982. The staff soon will be cut by 9 percent (approximately 130 employees). The reorganization is meant to put more focus on digital media like smart phones and tablets.

“This is pretty radical,” [USA Today publisher Dave] Hunke said of the shake-up. “This gets us ready for our next quarter century.”

In the first wave of change, USA Today, which is based in McLean, Va., will no longer have separate managing editors overseeing its News, Sports, Money and Life sections.

The newsroom instead will be broken up into a cluster of “content rings” each headed up by editors who will be appointed later this year.

The proposed “content rings” sound more like Web verticals than print sections, which seems to be what they’re going for: “Sports,” “Your Life,” “Travel,” “Breaking News,” “Investigative,” “National,” “Washington/Economy,” “World,” Environment/Science,” “Aviation,” “Personal Finance,” “Autos,” “Entertainment” and “Tech.” It’s easy to imagine what the new USA Today smart phone and tablet apps could look like. I think it might be more interesting to see what happens to the print version.

The AP reports that USA Today’s circulation has dropped to 1.83 million this year, down from 2.3 million in 2007, when they were the largest paper in the country (the Journal holds that position now at 2.09 million). The paper’s advertising has also dropped by about 50 percent since 2006. So this shakeup sounds like an unfortunate but necessary roll of the dice.

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The slideshow presentation to USA Today staffers Thursday began with an epigraph:

“It is not necessary to change.
Survival is not mandatory.”
-W. Edwards Deming

Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner