A Q&A with Gannett’s Kate Marymont

After Gannett recently announced plans to create five centralized centers to handle most of the design demands at its community newspapers, the Society for News Design responded with an open letter on the value of design. That letter is posted here.

Kate Marymont is vice president for news of the Gannett Company.
Kate Marymont is vice president for news of the Gannett Company.

Kate Marymont is the Vice President/News at Gannett’s community publishing division, and she took some time to respond to the letter and the following Q&A conducted by SND Secretary/Treasurer Jonathon Berlin to shed light on Gannett’s vision, not only for its hubs but also all aspects of its approach to visual journalism:

Can you briefly tell us about your job and how the Design Centers fit into it?

My primary responsibility is to work closely with the editors of our 80 community news organizations to promote great journalism. We have identified top priorities for journalists as: watchdog journalism; carefully delineated content for the different platforms on which we publish; superior Sunday print editions; and community leadership. My department offers training, provides feedback and administers contests to support these priorities. We believe that Design Centers can help us produce the more sophisticated newspapers that print readers expect.

Central design hubs, in one form or another, have been talked about for years among various newspaper chains. Can you describe the factors and process that lead to Gannett’s plan?

There is one key factor: We want to provide top-notch, exclusive local content and print design is an important part of that. We believe that we can build superior design more effectively in five locations than trying to do it in 80 locations.

The process: We’ve been experimenting. Of our 80 newspapers, 32 are designed, paginated and — in a few cases — copy-edited at other sites. We’ve tested the communication that is needed, built the relationships that are needed and proven to ourselves that the concept works. We weighed outside vendors but wanted Gannett designers handling our print journalism.

The timetable in various reports is two years. Can you tell us what the next couple years might look like?

The CCI NewsGate system will be installed across the company, starting with Asbury Park and Nashville in early 2011. After the system is installed, we will begin moving the design work from the assigned sites into the Design Centers. Once we start the system installation, the project will take approximately two years to complete.

It doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to say a plan like this would allow Gannett to cut jobs in editing and presentation. Can you give us any indication how many jobs might be eliminated? How do you think hub positions might be filled? Would current Gannett employees apply for jobs at the Centers? Will Gannett add local reporting or interactive positions at papers that lost jobs?

We don’t know how many jobs might be eliminated. We are just beginning this project and a first step is to survey and analyze the work done at each site. Fewer journalists now are strictly designers or copy editors. During a single shift someone might design for print, post digital content, write headlines for print, write headlines for search optimization. Our first step is to get a deep understanding of how the work is done each place. Then we will go about the business of constructing what we need at the Design Centers.

When we finalize the structure of the Design Centers and the jobs that will be needed, we’ll create job descriptions and post them. We certainly hope that Gannett designers see the Design Centers as exciting places to work and a good career path. We want Gannett designers to have first crack at these jobs. Some, we know, won’t choose to relocate. We hope to work with SND to recruit other top talent.

You’ve emphasized the importance of intelligent local information and the role of visual journalism in achieving that. What are some of Gannett’s ideas to get at this in the Design Center model?

Good visual journalism isn’t an afterthought. Editors will have to ensure that the planning of coverage includes the planning of the art elements and presentation. That will remain a local responsibility and my department will need to arrange training to support this. The local editors will be able to work with “site specialists” at the Design Centers in the development of centerpieces, projects, special sections, etc. The page designers will be part of conversations with the local site every day — and throughout the day as news develops.

Will the publications served by the Centers go through redesigns to align typography? Image area? Deadlines?

Our goal is to preserve the individuality of newspapers. Gannett has long stressed the importance of a newspaper reflecting the personality of the community it serves. A newspaper for Palm Springs, Calif., should be very different from a newspaper for Salem, Ore., or Rochester, N.Y.

We will examine efficiencies that won’t hurt that individuality. For example, can cutline styles be standardized? Can sports agate be produced in a single font? We will study things like this.

Our goal also is to preserve deadlines.

Something Kris and Stephen wrote about in their letter is the interaction between different kinds of journalists in the newsroom and how that plays an important role in smart design. How do you foresee interaction going between a local newsroom and a Design Center? What do you think will be gained and lost compared to how it works now?

We’ve tested this concept using CCI in a design hub in Louisville, Ky., that produces the newspapers for Louisville, Greenville, S.C., and Asheville, N.C. The editors of those three newspapers all say that there is seamless communication. Now that they are accustomed to the process, the editors point out that there’s not much difference between sending a budget and instructions across the room or across two states. CCI allows editors to watch the development of pages at every step and offer feedback.

The editors in the Louisville test will also tell you that they had to work to get a smooth system in place. Relationships had to be created. Communication methods had to be sorted out to determine what was most effective.

In the end, I believe we will gain creative, innovative design in more newspapers than we could individually. In the short run we may lose some of the easy back-and-forth that visual journalists have with others in newsrooms now, but the Louisville test shows that we can establish good relationships.

One of the neat things about SND is the organization brings a number of like-minded folks together. As we take part in this conversation about Gannett and our industry on a larger scale, what do you think designers should be talking about as we face these challenges?

What is the right design for print, for traditional web sites and for new digital platforms? How do evolving platforms affect traditional news delivery? What training is needed to keep visual journalists and their colleagues ahead of changing readers? What part of our work can be streamlined or centralized or done differently so that we can focus on great, exclusive local journalism? How can we broaden our brainstorming about design to pull in smart, creative techniques used in other fields?

About Jonathon Berlin

is graphics editor of the Chicago Tribune and a past president of the Society For News Design.

28 comments

You can’t tell me that Gannett doesn’t know how many jobs it will cut in this process. They know exactly what they’re doing, just like they have with every one of their “innovations” that have led to job cuts, furloughs, etc. For an executive to come here and say things that aren’t true shows just how low this corporation has sunk.

Yes, Gannett knows how many jobs it will eliminate, not just in newsrooms, but in other areas such as IT as well. This goes far deeper than just eliminating a few pagination jobs in the newsroom. And CCI isn’t that great a system. They probably cut some deal with Gannett because they were getting perilously close to bankruptcy. Eventually, all of Gannett’s newspaper sites will be little more than bureaus, with a few reporters to produce a few local stories, and nothing else. Imagine a city’s newspaper operating out of a 1,000 square foot office. That’s what’s coming, and soon.

Why is cutting jobs a bad thing in an industry that is fighting for its life? And what’s the value of a paper in Palm Springs looking different from Salem, other than the fact that it always has. Readers in those two markets will never see the other paper. I would say find an optimal design, invest in it, and deploy across all newspapers. It would greatly simplify training, reduce costs (no zillions of templates), and would permit $$ to be funneled to higher value activities, like original journalism or photography. Great design doesn’t mean lots of design. SND should be less protectionist about consolidation efforts like this — technology is finally making it possible to do something that should have been done years ago.

Further proof of the absolute flaming wound that Gannett has shat upon our industry.

You want to know a company that has chopped thousands of local jobs across the country to increase it’s profits, while destroying the knowledge base of information, culture and heritage in every local area it has touched? Look no farther.

Evil, thy name is Gannett.

“We have identified top priorities for journalists as: watchdog journalism; carefully delineated content for the different platforms on which we publish; superior Sunday print editions; and community leadership. My department offers training, provides feedback and administers contests to support these priorities. We believe that Design Centers can help us produce the more sophisticated newspapers that print readers expect.”

I have never read a more farcical statement in my entire life. You, ma’am, have a job waiting for you in the Monty Python troupe.

As someone who likely will lose her job because of these new Design Centers, I can tell you the only people who are excited about this new concept are the people at the top of the Gannett food chain. After having talked with several of my coworkers, no one in my department is looking forward to this. Most of us cannot relocate and know that we will not be assigned other duties at the paper. The only bright spot in all of this is that I know I have time to look for other work rather than walking in the door, being laid off and asked to leave. All with no warning.

One of the posts is laughable. He says with the money saved Gannett could funnel higher $$ activities to original journalism or photographer. I’m sitting here at work and almost fell out of my chair. The guy must be a Gannett manager or really dumb.

this is to tell everybody that DasNet is the company that don’t pay Local Afghani companies payment for more than 3 months, dont work with them.

i think the obvious purpose of these design centers is to eliminate jobs. The ganatoids can sugar coat it any way they want but the purpose is to cut jobs.

how does a ranking manager have the nerve to say stuff like this that anybody with walking-around sense knows could not possibly be true? aren’t newspapers — and by extension their editors — supposed to have at least a modicum of integrity? it’s like the laughable lunacy expressed by those who say: “we are going to do more with less.” alot of that silly notion seems to be coming freuqently from gannett’s executive suites.

centralizing editing and design functions is NOT going to make papers better and more attractive to readers. instead, it is going to remove those functions to central locations where people have no idea about the communities whose papers they are producing. won’t local knowedge count for anything anymore?

morale at the gannett papers i know of is so low that each one should have its own full-time shrink. and these supposedly revolutionary concepts, as content quality of plummeting, are going to improve that? i don’t think so.

One other thing to keep in mind is that CCI has a steep learning curve, especially for the more creative Sunday enterprise and feature pages. This needs to be built in to the plan, especially at the sites that aren’t familiar with it at all. The following may be a given, but I worry that in an effort to centralize that individuality will be compromised – especially that element of surprise that draws readers in. The largest potential loss I see, though, is the photographer-designer dynamic. Very hard to go on photo shoots, to help arrange items, to sketch ideas out with each other or to peek at digital images with the subject in-studio from hundreds of miles away. Often, it takes both the photographer’s skill for the frame and the designer’s skill for the page merging in person for dynamic pages to develop successfully. I will be curious as to how that aspect of communication and collaboration will be attempted to be preserved, if at all.

Mary, I am excited about this change because it will force page designers to change. Many of them will lose their jobs, and that should have happened a long time ago. Newspapers have lacked the resources to support the silliness that has taken place at the design level, and that mistake could finally be corrected.

However, most of the Q&A consists of the usual redefining of terms and shallow hypocrisy that pervade any discussion involving design.

“What is the right design for print, for traditional web sites and for new digital platforms?” It’s one that throws aside the taboos and obsessions that have driven the designers’ agenda for far too long.

“What training is needed to keep visual journalists and their colleagues ahead of changing readers?” Full reprogramming. For that to succeed, designers will have to confess and admit that everything they have done up to now has served only themselves.

The only way to achieve lasting change is to go “back to formula.” All measurable standards show the designers’ approaches have been colossal failures across the board. There has to be reprogramming, retraining, and re-educating of all people claiming to be “visual journalists.”

Robert – While I agree wholeheartedly that it’s time for change and that designers as a whole have been needing transition, I doubt seriously that isolating them
in design centers will accomplish the kinds of change I believe you
mean. Far away from those who work on multimedia, my ability to pick it up on the job or to receive training in that are is lacking. Unless there is an overwhelming desire to reach and train at the centers in areas that do not relate to print, we might be seeing the first graveyards of talent that truly needed to grow, shift and change with the industry. I hope this is not the case, but I am fearful, long-term. It seems inevitable that the designer’s ability to grow in a multitude of ways will be limited, not expanded.

I am slightly offended by your comments about design being ‘silliness’, and that designers are only furthering self-serving interests, but I’m more curious than offended. Could you explain more what you mean? You also mention taboos and obsessions that further a designer’s agenda. Could you explain?

In my experience, designers are a key step between the final word and the consumer — in any format. I’ve never witnessed an agenda that was separate from the overall goal and mission of the paper — in fact, most of the designers I work with make daily, if not hourly, efforts to uphold the goals of solid, good journalism as much as most of the reporters & editors.

I am curious about your view. It is not one heard often in this discussion.

Beth, you are correct in that this plan will not accomplish those changes. The retraining and re-educating of designers needed to happen at the newsroom level or even before that. It wasn’t happening; the managers had allowed their newsrooms to be overrun with designer obsessions and taboos.

Those include after-the-fact critiques that accomplish little and throw all reality of the production cycle out the window. They include the “hairlines over headlines” approach that too many designers embrace. They claim “It’s all about the content,” but it rarely is. Even in this Q&A, you can find the token references to “editing and presentation,” but few presentation editors care much about the editing portion of the job.

The newsrooms weren’t going to change, so we have to settle for this move that isolates designers in a place where potentially they can do less damage to individual newsrooms. Also, many of them will hit the bricks. They have been pretty vocal about the office flaws that inhibit the creation of their masterpieces, so this will give them a chance to spend the weeks they need on those works of art. The difference, of course, is they will have to rely on the open market to support their work, and I wish them all the best in those endeavors.

Like I said before, for the retraining and re-educating to succeed, designers will have to renounce what they have done up to now. There has to be admission, across the board, that these approaches have not worked. No more saying “Prove it didn’t” again and again. No more fuzzy math about falling circulation numbers. No more ignoring the rise in mistakes because non-editors are in editor positions. Take the responsibility; assume the blame; pledge to change.

Looking into the crystal ball, I see the USA Today published around the country, with a ‘local’ section inserted. That will further cut into the design jobs at the hubs that will eventually become expendable during the next round of ‘innovations.’

BEWARE OF GANNETT. They just left the state of Hawaii. This company was very dishonest. As an employee for the newspaper for many years, Gannett came to town in the mid nineties and has been nothing but trouble. There Management team had no Aloha for the way we do things over here in the Islands. They cannot be trusted leaving many people out of work and not paying severances that were owed to about 500 plus ex employees, A Manager said by not paying out this money We are saving approx. 20 million dollars. For the most part everything they told us about the sale of the company was NOT TRUE. Look for the signs and be prepared for the worst with them. “Only the top Executives are well taken care of.”

Every time a corporate spokesperson says ‘streamline,’ 40 people lose their jobs.

Maybe Gannett could train a Speak and Spell to say things like ‘top-notch journalism,’ ‘platform’ and ‘community.’ Then they could eliminate her position. She probably rakes in the salary of 5 entry-level designers.

What about those Gannett advertising hubs in India? How are they promoting local businesses?

How can Gannett say it is serving communities while they are outsourcing jobs, incomes and personality of the people who actually live in them? Two words: Blood Money.

I have a hard time wrapping my head around the notion that the individuality of Gannett’s newspapers will remain intact. We’re talking about consolidating multiple titles under one roof, with all the type, grid and color variations, never mind the individual voices of each publication.

While it’s possible that editors will still write all the headlines in CCi, the interaction of designers and editors will be different. After all, these remote designers won’t truly be accountable to local editors. At some level, the centralized designers will have two masters — their local bosses and the remote editors — and who comes first in this situation? The remote editors don’t sign the checks.

Gannett fails to realize, or care, that the “properties” it owns are the closest thing many communities have to a soul. The journal is being lost as they steadily gut scores of newspapers, most older and more historically important than the corporation itself. The corporate hacks only pretend to care about the communities they “serve.” Their promises to maintain good journalism while diversifying into “ad vehicles,” “money-grab publications” and event sponsoring — all while cutting the hearts out of their newsrooms — are laughable.

I am a “former” news designer employed by Gannett for a Government Contracted weekly paper. I am “former” because Gannett informed me that my hours would be reduced almost in half, because it had come to their attention that the paper could be done in that amount of time. In other words, I was too GOOD at my job.

Prior to resigning, I did have the chance to attend a “Town Hall Meeting” with the Gannett Corporate “Team” and asked the questions stated in the “Open Letter” as well as some of the Q & A questions. The answers I received included, “Yes we will open up these jobs to the people being laid off.”; “We understand the differences from region to region, and they will be taken into consideration.”

One thing they didn’t answer was regarding the failed attempt they made to have all of their advertising “centrally out sourced” to India. That was a disaster. The ads were substandard and, in most cases, had to be rebuilt locally. The centralized “toning” of photos is also problematic due to the vast differences in press around the country.

Also no discussion has come up about the centralization of printing. For example, almost all of the Mississippi papers are printed on ONE press. What if it breaks???

I am curious as to who came up with this “centralization” concept. PEOPLE DON’T LIKE CHANGE. New technology SCARES the heck out of Newsroom employees. I also know that many sites don’t have new enough computers to run VISTA let alone CCI.

I predict that Gannett’s attempt to “standardize” newspapers will either kill the industry as a whole, or distroy itself. I think the communities, towns, and cities should ban together and BUY their papers back! Take control away from “BIG BROTHER GANNETT” and put it back into the hands of the people who actually READ it.

As much as it pains me to say this, I believe designers, both young and old, need to get out. Now. Return to college. Become a reporter, photographer or copy editor. Pick up a new trade altogether.

Gannett’s centralization concept is repulsive, and the logic is even more so. However, you can bet other newspaper chains will copy and implement it to save money, which is what this is all about.

The individuality, nuance and relevance of design are dead. Don’t allow yourself to become a statistic.

“Former Designer” I find your advice appalling. There will always be a need for good graphic designers, where news or not. Web sites don’t design themselves. And print is not DEAD. Community news papers are going to survive because people still want to see their children’s pictures in the paper.

Being from the South, wedding pages will never disappear regardless of a paper’s website. Obituaries too will not totally disappear either. Yes, these are not pages that require a lot of design, but trust me, they are staples in the paper industry.

News design is not just about papers either. Magazine design is still needed, and a great skill to have. To me, that is a news designer’s dream. I, myself, do possess the skills of a copy editor, photographer, and website builder, but my passion is design. Since leaving Gannett, I have been presented with opportunities to design print materials nationawide, some volunteer, some paid.

The bottom line is this, if you want to design, you will find the outlets. Gannett may think they are starting a trend, but I can tell you first hand, it is not in any way a smooth or even good transition. My prediction stands, they will be going down for this.

Claira, you are not facing facts. While there might be a smattering of opportunities here and there, newspaper print design is essentially on the way out. Nationwide, newspapers have downsized their staffs, templated their pages or, in this case, centralized their employees.

It’s all about money, and newspaper editors see the nuance, individuality and relevance of design as basically irrelevant.

Yes, you will find outlets for design. Community newspapers, where the pay sucks, still need designers. But make no mistake: The visual heyday in newspaper design is over.

The bottom line is that my advice, as appalling to you as it sounds, stands. Get out. Do it now.

Former designer, I see we are at an impasse. I will agree to disagree.

I will, however, put the people who say newspaper design is out in the same category as the ones at IBM who thought a “personal computer” was a ridiculous concept, and the ones at HP in Palo Alto who thought a “mouse” would never catch on.

You can run and give up, but I’d rather keep the art ALIVE.

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy…

“Keep on keepin’ on” is a tall order some days anymore, but I’m totally with you, Claira. Personally, I’d rather devote my energy to trying to mold something I love into something useful than spend it looking for (then doing) a job just because it’s there (which about all I ever find on the non-journalism job sites).

That said, I don’t begrudge anyone choosing to leave this business. I even understand and respect it. And hopefully, they, too, understand and respect the choice that me (and others like me) make to stay behind and continue fighting the good fight.

Former designer has the right idea but just does not go far enough.

It’s not sufficient to say the future opportunities will not be there because someone will always argue against that, as is happening here.

Designers have to renounce what they have done up to now. All the facts — circulation numbers, credibility of the newspapers, intelligence level of the newsrooms — are against them. The taboos and the warped priorities have not worked. The chanting and the repeating of various buzzphrases — “simple and clean”; “navigating the page”; “I’d buy that front page”; and on and on — have fooled a lot of dimwitted editors. But the approach has been a colossal failure.

It might be too late to undo most of the damage. But wouldn’t it feel a lot better to stop the delusion and to take hold of reality? Readers are not going to stream to the paper because of its design. Admit it; take a reality check; and stop holding an entire industry hostage to a bunch of poorly conceived, foolish whims that have failed year after year.

Hey! I know this is kind of off topic but I was
wondering if you knew where I could find a captcha plugin for my comment form?
I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having trouble finding one?
Thanks a lot!

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