Following up on Gannett’s Strategy

As Gannett continues to implement its strategy for regional design hubs, The Society caught up with Kate Marymount, Vice President/News at Gannett’s community publishing division, to ask about the process and reaction.

To recap so far: In July, SND’s President and Executive Director sent an open letter on “The Value of Design” after Gannett announced plans for regional design hubs. Marymount engaged in a Q&A with Jonathon Berlin shortly after. In September, she joined a session at SND Denver on the future of templates and centralized design operations.

JONATHON BERLIN: SND is very appreciative of your and Gannett’s willingness to talk about this process. Since the discussion in Denver, how has the process been going? What has reaction been like inside and outside of the newsrooms?

KATE MARYMONT: We are moving from the planning phase to the implementation phase. Here at the beginning of December we are working to identify the top two managers for each of the five Design Studios. The application period runs through Dec. 7.

Once they are in place, they will build their teams. We will open the application process for designers soon.

The recruitment web site is at http://www.gannett.com/career. On the site, go to “Design Studios” in the left-hand navigation. That is where people can see which positions are available at any point in this two-year build-out. That also is where applications are accepted.

As for reaction, I would describe it as reserved optimism.

Many people — inside and outside the company — have said that they are pleased to hear of our commitment to build quality design into this project. Until we have accomplished this, there is understandable skepticism. We have to demonstrate that this will work well.

JB: With jobs now posted for the new design studios, do you have an indication of how many people it would take to staff the studios vs. the current staffing levels at the individual papers? How many visual journalists do you think will remain at each property? And finally, will Gannett applicants be considered above outside applicants for studio jobs?

KM: We are just getting to the stage in which we evaluate the jobs done at local sites and then try to analyze how that same work might be done at the studios. We’ve done this for two sites and now are developing a framework for doing it at all other sites.

A shorter answer is that we haven’t finalized the staffing breakdowns yet. That will be decided site-by-site in consultation with the top editors because each is unique. This will be a time-consuming project over the next few months.

Will Gannett applicants be considered above outside applicants? When candidates have comparable skills, a Gannett employee will have a distinct advantage because of knowing our people, our standards and our culture.

JB: The font packages being considered for use in the studios are typographically different from what some of the Gannett publications use now, in some cases replacing customized newspaper typography. Given that type is the primary way a newspaper communicates information — if you use a set of fonts that are less clear and efficient, there could be unforeseen effects: length disparities, more difficult headline specifications, mixed messages to name a few. What consideration have these issues been given in the typography selection process? How much variety in look and feel will be available for client papers in their ability to express their local flavor?

KM: As we’ve weighed typography we have balanced the need for newspapers’ individuality with the need for efficiency at the studios and the ability to share content across our sites.

A team of some of our great designers — including Scott Goldman and Steve Dorsey — have helped us put together a selection of fonts that allow plenty of choices.

We have selected versatile fonts. We tested the body of fonts selected and were able to virtually replicate newspapers’ looks.

The individuality of newspapers comes more from the type of stories generated, the boldness of the presentation, the use of graphics and photos, the color palate, the local sense of place.

We expect local newspapers to retain their local flavor.

JB: In using NewsGate as the central editing tool, have you made any progress in working through how the studios will interact with local properties and preserve the priorities most important to them in the production process?

KM: Communication and customer service are critical to preserving local sites’ priorities. We are examining many communication tools.

We are building customer service into our expectations, our job descriptions and our training.

And, we will develop training for local properties on how to conceptualize coverage so that they are generating appropriate material for the studios.

We hope to work with SND as we develop our range of training for 2011 and beyond.

JB: Will newspapers share entire pages or partial pages of content?

KM: Our Gannett colleagues at USA TODAY are already producing some pages and modules for use by local newspapers. They offer a page of national and international coverage every day. They produce modules of content about national sports, such as MLB and NBA.

We make these available so that local journalists can devote their energy to good local multi-platform stories.

We will continue to offer these and hope to broaden the selection made available each day.