USA Today Restructures to Focus on Digital Products

usatUSA Today on Friday became the latest publication to de-emphasize its print edition in favor of digital products. The paper announced it will layoff about 130 employees, approximately 9 percent of its staff, and restructure its newsroom and management to focus on Web and mobile content.

“We have to go where the audience is,” John Hillkirk, USA Today editor, told the Associated Press. “If people are hitting the iPad like crazy, or the iPhone or other mobile devices, we’ve got to be there with the content they want, when they want it.”

The Gannett-owned paper will establish five new departments: Business Development, Product Development and Design, Digital Development, Vertical Development, and USA Today Sports, which will operate as a standalone unit. Steve Kurtz, previously director of digital information technology for USAToday.com, will serve as VP of digital development; and Jeff Dionise, previously director of design for USAToday.com, becomes VP of product development and design.

The newsroom will also be broken up into “content rings,” though details on how that will work have yet to be released. The heads of those rings will be announced later this year.

The increased emphasis on digital products brings with it greater opportunities – and perhaps more power – for advertisers, according to an internal slide presentation acquired by the Associated Press.

The restructuring will “usher in a new way of doing business that aligns sales efforts with the content we produce,” according to one slide. And Susan Weiss, who has been named executive editor of content, will have a “collaborative relationship” with the paper’s newly appointed VP of business development, according to another.

Publisher David Hunke gave assurances that editorial and sales departments would remain separate in order to avoid conflicts of interest. “But I don’t see any problem with finding out ways to build out strategies that work for advertisers,” he said. “Frankly, if we do that, we will have a very prosperous future and we are going to stay in the journalism business.”

The paper declined a ClickZ request for further comment. USA Today’s circulation was down from 2.3 million in 2007 to just 1.83 million for the six months ending in March, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations data. The paper has also seen a 50 percent drop in advertising pages over the past four years, from 1,098 in the second quarter of 2006 to 580 in the quarter that ended in June.

Follow Douglas Quenqua on Twitter at @DQuenqua.

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