When Jim Hopkins decided to quit writing for his Gannett Blog back in July, he was physically and emotionally exhausted. He had been writing every day for two years and needed a break from the rollercoaster of covering the media and the inflamed comments from readers.
But five months after he had posted his last blog entry, he found that the blog was still getting thousands of visits and page views each month. “That told me that readers valued the site more than I understood,” he said in an e-mail interview.
The former editor and reporter for Gannett started writing the blog in September 2007 and took a buyout from Gannett in January 2008. Since then, he has been “watchblogging” about Gannett during admittedly turbulent times. Hopkins appeared back on the radar last month, picking a good time to reappear as the publishing company has made recent headlines, starting with the December announcement that there were more furloughs and layoffs on the horizon.
In early December, Gannett announced that USA Today would be cutting 26 positions, while USA Weekend magazine would lose 11. Meanwhile, non-union workers at Gannett’s newspapers are being forced to take one-week furloughs. According to Politico, USA Today staffers were also told around the same time that USA Today’s news operations would merge with USA Weekend, slated for the end of March.
Then only last week, USA Today announced a newly designed Web page. According to a press release, it’s the first major redesign since 2007. “Over the last few years we at USAToday.com have been listening to feedback, watching users engage with our site and analyzing usage patterns,” said Jeff Weber, publisher of USAToday.com. “We believe these improvements to USAToday.com improve our homepage, better serving our readers and offering news opportunities for our partners.” In an article explaining the site’s changes, USAToday.com staff tout a simplified look and easier navigation, as well as more emphasis on headline stories from the day.
Meanwhile, Gannettoid reported that the company’s wage freeze, which went into effect in April 2009, is expected to end come March 31. While Gannett has not commented on the wage freeze recently, Gannetoid said executives confirmed the “budgets are set with room for wage increases to begin in April.”
As for Hopkins, he’s keeping a keen eye on Gannett with the intention of keeping his “tone more civil” this time around. “The comments left by readers had grown very angry. Some of that was to be expected, given the thousands of layoffs across the company over the previous 12 months,” he said. “But I feared that some readers were getting turned off by the too-many personal attacks on each other. With this re-launch, I decided to lower the ‘temperature’ by moderating comments more aggressively. So far, it seems to be working.”
In addition to his Gannett Blog, Hopkins has also decided to start covering the New York Times Company and News Corporation on a trial basis. “I believe all powerful corporations need independent watchdogs. Neither the Times Company nor News Corp. were getting that kind of attention, so I decided to jump in.” And despite Hopkins’ reputation for being tough on Gannett, he has a surprising amount of faith in his previous employer. “With Gannett, I think the New York Times Company and News Corp. stand one of the best chances of surviving the industry’s financial meltdown,” he said. Despite news that the New York Times recently cut 100 from its newsroom between buyouts and layoffs, while News Corporation’s Rupert Murdoch toys with the idea of blocking Google from indexing the company’s sites, all three companies have continued to set trends and standards for the rest of the media world.
— Katrina M. Mendolera
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