6 A.M.

USA Today: A Four Screen Future Underway



USA Today turned 30 years old last week. As part of its celebration, it unveiled a new look for its print and digital editions. This is America’s No. 1 one newspaper, with 1.7 million paid print circulation and 60 million unique visitors a month (sports accounts for 24 million, news for the balance). New publisher Larry Kramer spoke with me last week about his vision for the enterprise.

1)      News Brand for Every Platform—The news gathering and reporting has been oriented to the newspaper. This is changing as of now. When the U.S. housing numbers came out, the paper assigned several people to work on four different platforms. One person wrote the news alert for the mobile edition. Another worked on a story for the web. Others worked on graphics for the tablet and mobile. And still others were tasked with finding expert commentary for the newspaper edition and web updates. “We can layer content on these four platforms. Readers can go as deep as they want.”

2)      The Unbiased Source—Kramer believes that USA Today must continue to be seen as fair. “We are part of a travel habit and a convenience that readers like; we are America’s hometown paper. We have an earnest audience. We are beloved as a brand, especially in markets such as Kansas City and St. Louis.” He wants to compete with the new entrants such as SB Nation by offering that which “the reader already loves about USA Today in short form and breadth of topics, but also reach those via digital platforms who will never see our product in print, offering writing with personality.”

3)      The New Website—“We have the taxonomy of an app, with horizontal navigation that allows for discovery of stories that you did not know that you would want by merely turning pages. You can also make a story into the entire frame on the tablet or PC through a feature called Cover View.” This construct is working well—I just ran into an Edelman Digital person on the elevator who told me that he feels that the new web product allows him to customize his experience based on his obsessions—entertainment and sports.

4)       Brain Trust at the Center—“There is tremendous institutional knowledge that we are putting at a 24/7 news desk. These editors and platform experts interact in real-time with reporters.” So the subject specificity and the visual presentation are both available to the reporters charged with presenting the stories across platforms.

5)      Opportunity for Client Sponsorship—USA Today is trying to create deeper relationships with readers by offering sponsored content. An example is a deal with Hilton on a portal called “The Point,” which gives Hilton HHonors members access to customized content from all Gannett publications across the spectrum of devices. All of the advertising will be “above the fold” in the digital offer.

The USA Today redesign is significant in its recognition that the reader experience must be substantially different by format and device. In the first phase of digital newspapers, the digital and print groups were separated. More recently, the groups have been combined (note that the Wall Street Journal’s Robert Thomson wrote a memo last Thursday in which he announced the merging of the two). USA Today is trying for the best of both worlds, with the Show (platform specific advisors on the slide shows, infographics, layouts) and the Tell (senior editors with deep expertise on subjects). PR folks should recognize that parts of the Media Cloverleaf are now intersecting more than ever, and smart communications professionals will consider how a story can be conveyed in all formats at each publication.

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