In an internal memo this week, Gannett (NYSE: GCI) CEO Craig Dubow offers up the 25th anniversary of USA Today‘s controversial, game-changing launch as a stage-setter for the even tougher task at hand: transformation in the digital age. Back on Sept. 15, 1982, it was close to a miracle that TNN (short for “the nation’s newspaper”) published at all given the demands of color printing and national distribution. By contrast, distribution may be the easiest aspect in the digital world. (I wish I had time to figure out how many people see a single story on usatoday.com’s front page compared to the number who actually picked up a copy of that first edition.) This time, Gannett is trying to create, as Dubow writes, “a news and information company that is truly platform agnostic.” He doubts it will be the same structure — or, it seems, the same portfolio: “Will we have more or fewer newspapers and TV stations than we have now? That depends, but we’re working on finding the right portfolio. Will we be a major player in the digital space? Absolutely, but what that looks like is a work in progress.”
Whatever Gannett does, the odds that it will have anywhere close to the widespread impact — good and not-so-good — of USA Today are slim. But the goal is to remake a company, not the journalism world.
It almost seems appropriate that this needs to be boiled down to a brief post. Unlike the days of old when USA Today mastered the science of squeezing much into a very small space and calling it a day — still something at which the paper excels despite some of the longer stories and series — I can offer you a link to the full text via Romenesko. It isn’t great lit or a rousing manifesto. But it is a portrait of sorts, of a CEO and a major media company trying to find the way.