In the midst of a storm, Gannett builds a rudder

One of the things that worries me most about the newspaper industry is that, once the recession is over and the profits return revenue losses cease, many companies will be scratching their heads saying “OK, now where do we go?”

Gannett Co. seems to have recognized that with the recent creation of its list of  ‘content priorities’  to focus its editorial mission in the wake of numerous reductions of editorial resources and personnel. Gannett officials describe it as a way to “get our swagger back,” but, more importantly, it gives the chain a road map to follow to keep it viable and potentially successful in maintaining current readers as well as in building new ones.

The priorities range from improving watchdog journalism to repositioning its print and web operations to building Sunday audiences and being community leaders. I particularly love the revelation that newspapers are no longer a breaking news medium, therefore focus should be on developing and building content that differentiates them from other media. This is something every print organization needs to recognize, but I’d bet very few are willing to admit it.

Gannett’s statements are no means a guarantee to success. There are a few shortcomings, such as developing new products and methods to deliver content to niche audiences (thats readers, not advertisers. Build readers, and advertisers will follow). But in an industry where there is no clear-cut model for reversing decades of customer decline, too many are sitting and waiting for someone else to come up with the answer.

At least the Gannett Co. has built itself a rudder to weather the storm and find safe port in calmer waters.