Next week, Larry Kramer is leading a session at paidContent 2012 called The New Publishers. Now he is one. Kramer, the founder of MarketWatch and the first head of CBS Digital Media, is the new president and publisher of USA Today, effective immediately.
It’s a sign that Gannett is serious about moving ahead in digital while making the most of its print roots. Kramer will report to CEO Gracia Martore and will be responsible for every facet of Gannett’s troubled flagship publication. In addition to the print edition and its reach across platforms, that includes USA TODAY Sports Media Group, the Travel Media Group, Reviewed.com and USA WEEKEND. He may have a lot to learn about Gannett and USA Today but he’s already got the most-needed skill set: a pragmatic understanding of how things work in a cross-platform, digital-first world when print revenues still matter. (Release.)
Kramer comes from the old school with a distinguished career at the Washington Post and San Francisco Examiner but has been a new media entrepreneur since he founded DataSport, featuring a hand-held sports info device, in 1991. In addition to founding MarketWatch and selling it to Dow Jones, he is a former chairman of The Online Publishers Association.
Kramer (no relation to me) has been teaching at the university level and serving on a number of boards, including Discovery, since leaving CBS in 2007. He was on the board of paidContent’s parent company ContentNext prior to its 2008 sale to Guardian News & Media.
He also wrote C-SCAPE: Conquer the Factors Changing Business Today and has been blogging a bit at the book’s site. His most recent post explored how his news consumption has changed since the iPad. What did he have to say about USA Today?
The good and the bad news about the USA Today app is that it is a close cousin to the look of the paper. While it captures some of the design feature of the paper, some have become tired. The site loses a sense of urgency and news judgement by stacking stories with essentially the same look and feel as each other. The larger layouts in the print version of the paper are often the most attractive devices in the newspaper, and they are not translated to this platform. Photos dominate the visuals, and the reader gets little interactive or even passive, graphic presentation that approaches what is so great about the print paper. The page looks the same every day. USAToday’s IPhone app is slicker and faster to use.
USA Today overhaul coming up
Gannett is already committed to a cross-platform remake for USA Today. In the Q1 earnings call last month, Martore said a relaunch is already in the works for apps, mobile and print in conjunction with the paper’s 30th anniversary this September. From the transcript:
So we see those areas; they’re small now. And even if you look at overall numbers that are being reported, tablet and mobile are still a very small piece of overall Digital revenues. But we see those categories as growing disproportionately to the rest of Digital revenues. And that’s why we are making the investments and
doing the things that we are doing in both of those areas that we think are going to be very important growth areas for us over the next several years.
Digital revenue was up 25 percent at USA Today in Q1; in a bright spot, subscriptions to e-editions outweighed print circ losses. Overall, the unit accounts for less than 10 percent of Gannett’s revenues. During the call, the most important goal highlighted was finding “a top-notch publisher to advance the promising initiatives already underway, and grow the business by spearheading USA Today’s continuing evolution into a leading multi-platform media brand.”
That search formally began April 10, when Gannett vet David Hunke, who held the role since 2009, was bumped up to chairman. Kramer is the first USA Today publisher from outside Gannett since its founding. Hunke succeeded Craig Moon.
At that same earnings call, Gannett reported a 25 percent drop in revenue.
Gannett also had a change in the C suite Monday, with the resignation of CFO Paul Saleh. Treasurer Michael Hart will be “interim principal financial officer” during the search.
Update: I’ve confirmed with Kramer that he will have to leave the boards of Discovery Communications, AMI, Freedom Communications and Appinions. He will stay on the Black Arrow and HBS Publishing boards, as well as the Syracuse Board of Trustees.
Photo courtesy of Katy Raddatz.