About once each week, working at Insider Louisville includes elements of being a clandestine operator.
From time to time, we get interesting documents leaked to us, from internal Louisville Arena Authority documents to GLI’s drop lists of disenchanted members to an internal document from the Courier-Journal that hints at a complete overhaul of what we think of as “One Great Newspaper.”
That last item details how the Gannett-owned newspaper is trying to redefine what it is, along with trying to figure out its changing (and dwindling) audience.
(Along the way, we found out Insider Louisville is referred to by John Mura and other top CJ executives as “That Blog.” As in, “Shit, That Blog just posted that Eric Crawford and Rick Bozich are leaving for WDRB.” For the record, we’re an online information delivery service.)
The Gannett document is titled, “Firefly Launch: Content Evolution Summary.”
There’s no date on it, but it appears to be recent, because there are references to revamped CJ sections and new blogs under Firefly, changes we’ve never seen.
The biggest changes arguably are what Courier-Journal execs plan to cut, mostly the bulletin board items newspapers have always printed such as Little League signups, movie show clocks and notifications of government meetings.
The reason all this goes, of course, is it’s all on the Internet, access to which even Granny in Pleasure Ridge Park has now. Or, as the CJ refers to her, “Aging Aggie.” (More on this in a minute.)
According to the Content Evolution Summary, the CJ no longer is a “newspaper,” but one of Gannett’s “Information Centers.”
The survey goes into some serious detail about what readers want now from newspapers. It’s not Peanuts and political opinion. Gannett executives in McLean state their research shows readers now want their newspapers to be their ultimate sources for information on the core topics of health care and finance.
As part of the “Firefly launch,” Gannett executives at the McLean, Va. headquarters sent the “Content Evolution Summaries” to encourage local leadership to define each paper’s mission and reader base in an attempt to keep print subscribers while satisfying digital readers.
At the Louisville Information Center, according to this document, you are – dear reader – lumped into one of four categories, and these are not terribly complimentary stereotypes.
• Larry and Laura, Louisville Lifers. This more established group generally are our subscribers. They don’t always agree with our editorial choices, but they are newspaper readers. They talk about “my newspaper” with a sense of pride and ownership.
Yes, the survey says, they read the newspaper on their Commodore 64 now, but they want more enterprise reporting and watchdog investigative journalism. Clearly, this is the Great White Upper Middle Class/Mitt Romney Fan Club, which prefers its news delivered daily, not instantly, on their lawn in Lake Forest and Wolf Pen Branch Road.
• Wired and “Weird” Wally: Young, hip and techno, Wally and his pals support the buy-local, “Keep Louisville Weird” movement. Forget print. They want their news online, with most preferring desktop, followed closely by mobile phone and, increasingly, tablets.
Alas, Weird Wally only reads the CJ when his wired buddies use Twitter to alert him about a groovy CJ post. Far out.
• Aging Aggie: She loves the print product and reads it daily. She uses the computer for other things, like Facebook, where she keeps up with her kids and grandkids. If she does get her news digitally, it’s most likely on a desktop computer, though one out of five people interviewed in this age group said they use both the printed and online version and want the paper on a tablet and iPad as well.
Wow, ol’ Aging Aggie … she’s like a news slut. She just can’t get enough. Unfortunately, Gannett execs conclude she’s broke, which means she’s not of huge interest to advertisers.
• New Lou: This minority group is among the most challenging to reach. They are not much on the print product. They have less disposable income and less free time, so they are less likely than the others to find their news and information on a desktop. They are, however, increasingly armed with a smart phone. (It’s a priority even when money is tight!)
Those crazy minorities, spending their welfare checks on smart phones. And we’re thinking when Gannett uses the term “minorities,” they’re not talking about Latvian-Americans.
Actually, this marks a radical change in philosophy at Gannett, where reporters’ annual reviews used to include how many African-Americans they got into stories. Got a story on fixed-to-floating interest rate swaps? You’d better have quoted someone in the Shawnee neighborhood because the theory was, minorities don’t read newspapers, so there lies the largest potential subscriber gains.
And we’d love to have been in the room when they decided to call this category “New Lou.” We’re thinking this was the lawyer’s suggestion.
Overall, it’s a very detailed plan totaling nine pages. As soon as we get a digital copy, we’ll post it. Soon to come, apparently, will be elaborate blogs and “aging portals.” There will be digital SWAT teams of reporters sweeping through the city, guided by opinion leaders charged with the serious responsibility of telling us what to think.
Top reader topics are now “Passion Topics,” of which there appear to be only two: “Health & Fitness, with an emphasis on aging,” and “Standard of Living.”
Poor old Aging Aggie, her standard of living went down the tubes during the Great Recession, according to the Content Evolution Summary. “She reads all the personal finance stories in the newspaper and comes to the standard of living (blog) through daily economic newsletters and finds relevant content there because of the MONEY sub-topic.”
Ditto for Larry and Laura, those Louisville Lifers. They will depend on the evolved newspaper – not their financial planner – to show them “how they and their children can prosper in this economic downtown.”
The survey makes some valid points about the CJ – we mean, “the Louisville Information Center” – being the only news source to really cover certain institutions, such as Jefferson County Public Schools.
Also, the Content Evolution Summary makes clear Gannett execs are hip to the fact the Internet provides limitless options to information consumers. A one-stop, once-per-day newspaper fix won’t cut it when everyone from the New York Times to Huffington Post is shooting out news alerts every few minutes.
Clearly, Gannett’s intent is to transfer most resources to digital, and away from print.
But some of the Content Evolution Summary is laughable. For example, there’s not one word in the entire nine pages about sports, the most popular CJ “passion topic.” So we’re assuming the sports department, or what’s left of it, is autonomous from the newsroom. Shoot, we meant, “Information Center.”
What does this Gannett digital revolution mean for Insider Louisville? All we can say is, the collapse of Gannett nationwide is opening new opportunities for us and everyone else with an iMac and a vague understanding of how to build an intelligence network to go along with their news website.
We say, “Let the revolution begin.”