USAT Starts ‘Radical’ Shakeup: 130 Layoffs; News Tailored To Mobile, Ads

USA Today Publisher Dave Hunke is embarking on the biggest change in the Gannett (NYSE: GCI) flagship’s 28-year history as he shifts away from print and towards mobile. The newsroom is being restructured around content rings instead of its four traditional departments of news, money, life and sports. On the business side, five new departments — including USA Today Sports — were announced along with management changes in circulation and finance. The company announced the moves internally Thursday and in an overnight press release, said the moves are effective today.

The restructuring will lead to staff cuts of 9 percent (about 130 jobs out of the current 1,500) this fall, Hunke told the AP. He described the changes as “pretty radical,” adding, “This gets us ready for our next quarter century.”

The newsroom restructuring comes as USAT considers how best to make money across platforms. For instance, by the end of this quarter, Gannett execs and USAT are expect to decide whether to charge for its ad-supported iPad app.

As part of the initial newsroom reforms, USAT is doing away with separate managing editors in charge of the News, Sports, Money and Life sections. Instead, the newsroom will be divided into 13 “content rings,” which will include Your Life, Travel, Breaking News, Investigative, Washington/Economy, Tech, and Auto among others. Sports will operate as a separate business under Ross Schaufelberger, a former CEO of BNQT Media Group, although it’s not clear how that will work on the editorial side.

USA Today vet Susan Weiss, currently editor of the Life section, will head up the overall content group as executive editor of content, reporting to USAT Editor John Hillkirk. Chet Czarniak, a former sports reporter for the paper who joined in 1999, will be executive editor of content distribution and programming for print, online and mobile news and information platforms.

Part of Weiss’ role will be to closely work with VP of business development, Rudd Davis, who arrived at USAT over two years ago when it bought action sports content company Banquet. While this doesn’t necessarily mean a complete demolition of the “Chinese Wall” that traditionally exists at established news organizations, it certainly sounds like it will be little more than a nylon curtain. Even for a periodical that was once derided as “McPaper,” this particular alteration is likely to raise eyebrows.

The turn towards more mobile-friendly content will be managed by Steve Kurtz, VP of digital distribution and previously director of digital information technology at

Even though Gannett has been profitable this year and has seen the publishing revenue declines start to slow, much of its success has resulted from sharp cost cutting. Among its dozens of newspaper properties, USAT’s problems have been unique. The paper has always relied heavily on the travel industry. But the weakness in travel has continued to plague USAT. While the automotive, retail and packaged goods categories began spending more on the newspaper in Q2, it just wasn