Jennifer Carroll – Gannett

Posted on 02. Oct, 2007 by in Big Media, Citizen Network, Hyperlocal, Money

Introduction and Narrative: In the past year Gannett has undergone the largest transformation in the company’s 102-year history. All 86 papers across the country, except for USA Today, have changed from traditional news centers to 24-hour, local, multimedia “Information centers.” The blueprint for the change cited seven areas that each Gannett paper would be required to embrace, such as databases and “Community Conversations.” The News-Press in Fort Myers (see post on Mackenzie Warren and Kate Marymont) was one of the company’s test papers and it was while flying down there that Jennifer Carol picked up a cover story in Wired on ‘crowdsourcing’ “and we said, that’are talking about.”

Main Goal: Last October the changes were implemented across the country and as of May this year – all Gannett’s papers have fully transitioned. The shift to information centers has many layers – including the willingness and capabilities to work with members of the community on investigations. “This is not rearranging furniture – this is a shift in how we do our jobs,” says Carroll.

Notable Achievements: Carroll and Ganett have been encouraged on several fronts since the change. Using crowdsourcing along with database analysis Gannett has broken stories faster and working with communities has drawn conclusions that would have gone otherwise unnoticed, says Carroll. A new tool called “Get Published” let’s anybody upload content and many of Gannett’s papers have between 100-200 hyperlocal sites that are the result of pro-am reporting. “We provide the backbone and the tools and we welcome community involvement,” says Carroll.

The Cincinnati Enquirer recently launched The Data Center, allowing readers to search thousands of databases based on lifestyle and content information linked through home addresses. For example, readers can search records of crime in their neighborhoods, review trends and compare statistics throughout the metro area.

In another example: Florida Today received an email tip by way of the “Blow the whistle” button. It was from an appraiser who said thousands of local homeowners were getting ripped-off by insurance companies that inflate the replacement value of homes on paper and, consequently, overcharge for hurricane insurance. Insurance policies are not public record, and there would be no way to report that story authoritatively without asking as many residents as possible to share private documents. So the paper posted an item to the Brevard Watchlist asking readers to “join the investigation” by doing just that. The countywide investigation yielded a front-page Sunday newspaper story and an online report on how to estimate a home’s replacement cost.

Gannett is reporting traffic increases across the board, from visitors to time spent on sites, frequency in visits and pages viewed per visit.

A Surprising Realization: The biggest surprise is that we didn’t do this earlier, both in the company and in the industry, says Carroll. If journalism at its core is to serve the public, then it has not been taking advantage of all the new tools that can help perform this function, says Carroll. “But if we think about how to use them creatively, we can get back to the things that those of us who grew up in the business in our hearts truly believe in – that we can work with readers to inform and engage and shine light on wrongdoing,” says Carroll.

Biggest Practical Lesson/Mistake: Carroll admits that Gannett underfunded not just research but technology and infrastructure. Many of Ganett’s papers responded to the changes from headquarters not with disdain – they were behind the changes, but didn’t have the technology or infrastructure to make it happen. It requires more than just talk – but capital investment in laptops, video equipment, trios, the ability to transmit digitally, etc.

Money: The editorial changes are working in tandem with revenue teams at Gannet that are exploring new ways to monetize the product. An advance data team is not only exploring content – but also how to engage readers online with mapping software and other areas that traditionally hasn’t been explored in advertising.

“We will only move forward and build on what we have done.” Gannett is very encouraged by the possibility of becoming sustainable, says Carroll. Many of these concepts have been tested at the 12 original Gannett papers to make the shift and they have developed over the past year and Gannett is seeing strong results.

Future Goals: There is no endpoint in Ganett’s transformation. “I see us only building on the research and reaction that we’ve gotten,” says Carroll. There is still an imperative to be nimble and invest in the types of technology that is needed, from social networks and beyond, but right now Gannett is ready to pounce on what is next. “We as an industry have not been as serious as being early adapters — and now I see us positioned in the front row so we can react quickly,” says Carroll.

What do you hope to get from people attending this conference?

I am very very interested in all the experimenting that is going on across the industry — We need to do more R&D. I spend as much time as I have looking at experiments that people are involved in — That’s what I want to get out it.

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3 Responses to “Jennifer Carroll – Gannett”

  1. Dan Pacheco

    07. Oct, 2007

    Looking forward to seeing you again, Jennifer! Kudos on all those moms social networking sites, in addition to everything else you all are doing at Gannett (pets is just waiting to explode, based on how much money people spend on their furry friends). I blogged about your moms sites and some others here:


  1. Networked Journalism Summit » Blog Archive » Kate Marymont and Mackenzie Warren - Fort Myers - October 2, 2007

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