Journal Sentinel Ads Will Drive Stories?
As ad sales plummet, Gannett wants stories to support advertising initiative.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, which may explain a plan that seems to mix ads and editorial by the Gannett chain and its newspapers like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Newspapers in America have seen plummeting advertising revenue going back more than a decade, “from $37.8 billion in 2008, when the Great Recession began, to $14.3 billion in 2018, a 62% decline,” as Forbes has reported.
But that was nothing compared to the collapse of advertising during the COVID-19 pandemic, with revenue declining 20 to 30 percent during the first few weeks of the crisis, the story noted. The pandemic “could be the death knell for many newspapers,” Forbes predicted.
In response, Gannett announced plans in March to furlough staff and institute other cost reductions, as Urban Milwaukee reported. The goal was to cut spending by $100 to $125 million this year, Forbes notes.
Faced with all this bleeding, Gannett is looking to somehow increase ad revenue and as Poynter reported last week, the company has launched a new “combined ad sales and news initiative… on the theme of how businesses and individuals are preparing for a broad reopening of the economy. The ‘Rebuilding America’ special issues, planned for May 30 and 31, will appear across Gannett’s 260 regional paper network as well as USA Today.”
An internal memo from a Gannett regional editor, obtained by Poynter, offered an overview of “a joint effort between the news and the sales side” that “is being framed as news rather than an advertising supplement,” the story notes. “But it at least tiptoes into deploying the network’s newsrooms (operating at three-quarter strength because of furloughs) to produce a boatload of stories in support of an ad sales initiative.”
“Local newsrooms will be asked to produce a number of geographically specific ‘sidebars,’ tentatively 10 to 12 at the chain’s largest papers like The Arizona Republic and Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, fewer from smaller properties…While the memos do not dictate that the editorial content be entirely positive, the thrust is to position Gannett’s USA Today Network as ‘the nation’s source for a powerhouse platform that tells the story of America’s rebuilding economy’,” as the memo puts it.
“The sources who provided the internal memos to Poynter also indicated that NewsGuild chapters are preparing a protest letter this week to CEO Mike Reed, charging that the plans cross an ethical line by linking content so closely to advertising,” the story notes.
Urban Milwaukee contacted Journal Sentinel editor George Stanley, asking for comment, and has not heard back from him.
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