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Courier-Journal Publisher Discusses New Online Paywall and Content Strategy

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Courier-Journal publisher Wesley Jackson is in an odd position. He’s essentially the connection between a local institution (the paper) and a giant national corporation (C-J parent company Gannett) during an emotional and dramatic time for both.

With revenue waning and on orders from Gannett, the Courier will soon start charging visitors to its website who read more than a certain number of articles each month (likely 10-20, according to Jackson). Paper subscribers will get unlimited access for free, but anyone who doesn’t get the Courier on their doorstep will have to pay $13 a month to read over the free limit.

“We will see overall traffic on the core website itself, I think, during the initial phase of this, will drop about 10 or 15 percent,” says Jackson. “But based on other Gannett markets that have launched this program – and there are hundreds of newspapers now that are charging for their digital content as well – you see a recovery period that brings that traffic back.”

There will also be changes to content in the paper, with a split focus on watchdog journalism and what Jackson calls Information. Essentially, this content will be lifestyle stories on personal finance (“improving your economic IQ” is the phraseology Jackson uses) and health.

“There are some hard news items around there where we do some investigative journalism. But much of that information is utility-focused. It really helps you with the fundamental questions that you have in your life,” says Jackson.

The new Courier/Gannett strategy is meant to tap into readers’ interests and their digital habits. Apps for iOS and Android devices are forthcoming, says Jackson.

These changes and new offerings come after years of employee furloughs, layoffs and early-retirement buyouts. Once the paywall goes up, the Courier will essentially be asking people to pay for less than they used to get for free.

“We still have more journalists covering local news and information than any other institution in the state of Kentucky,” says Jackson.

He continues:

The overall content that people have access to, in some ways, has grown significantly via the website, despite some of the challenges we’ve had in terms of our overall scale of reporting base. The hard fact for us is that we have to begin to reorganize our business, which had begun before I got here.

With that reorganization, as we start looking at how we transform to share more information than we can in print, to take advantage of those opportunities for our subscribers, and focus our resources on stories, information and content that is local, relevant and high-impact.

The combination of those two items, I think, can still bring a very compelling product to the marketplace for the price we charge for it.

Local News

Courier-Journal Announces Paid Web Subscription Plan

The Courier-Journal will soon require readers to pay to read a certain number of articles every month.

Many Gannett-owned newspapers are implementing similar steps as a means of generating revenue. In a post on the website, publisher Wesley Jackson explains the paywall model, which will go into effect in June.

Non-subscribers will have access to a limited number of free articles on each month before they are required to subscribe, although some key landing pages such as the home page, section fronts, obituaries, and, among others, will remain accessible to non-subscribers.

Local News

Courier-Journal Names Wesley Jackson Publisher

The Louisville Courier-Journal has a new publisher. Wesley Jackson will fill the office last held by Arnold Garson, who retired last month.

Jackson is a Louisville native—a graduate of DuPont Manual and the University of Kentucky. He has spent the last nine months as Vice President of Sales and Marketing at the Courier, which is owned by the Virginia-based Gannett Company. Before moving to the CJ, Jackson worked in small tech firms, founded a company that produced online ad technology and worked as a consultant.

Local News

Gannett Offers Buyouts to Newspaper Employees

Forty-two Courier-Journal employees are being offered buyouts in exchange for early retirement as part of another round of cost-cutting at the paper’s parent company Gannett.

Across all of Gannett’s newspapers, 665 employees will receive buyout offers. The employees must be more than 56-years-old and have 20 years of service with the company. Those who accept the buyouts will receive two weeks of pay and benefits for each year they’ve worked for a maximum of 52 weeks.

In Louisville, the Courier-Journal says 42 employees have been offered buyouts, and only 20 will be accepted. The employees are in various departments, including news and editorial. All questions about the buyouts have been deferred to Gannett headquarters in Virginia.

Last year, the paper laid off 50 employees. Mandatory weeklong furloughs have persisted for years. This is the first buyout offer since 2008.

Local News

C-J Publisher Garson to Retire

After three and a half years in Louisville, Courier-Journal publisher Arnold Garson is retiring.

Forty-six of Garson’s 70 years have been spent in the newspaper industry. The last 27 of those years were with Gannett papers: the Courier-Journal, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, the San Bernardino County Sun and the Des Moines Register. Gannett now no longer owns the Sun.

As publisher of the Courier, Garson oversaw the implementation of several Gannett-ordered rounds of layoffs and furloughs, which shrank the staff of many newspapers significantly.

A call to Garson’s office was not returned. He will leave the paper on March 2nd.

Local News

Gannett Orders Fifth Round of Furloughs

Newspaper giant Gannett has announced it will furlough employees at its publications for a week during the first quarter of 2012. The company owns the Louisville Courier-Journal, as well as the Indianapolis Star and the Cincinnati Enquirer.

In a letter from president Bob Dickey, employees were told that the national economy’s slow improvement necessitates spending cuts. Only employees making an unspecified minimum salary will be furloughed, and most are required to take five unpaid days by mid-March.

The furloughs aren’t accompanied by any layoffs, but the company didn’t rule out future cuts later in the year.

Gannett has been criticized for imposing furloughs and layoffs while giving executives generous bonuses. Notably, a CEO received a multimillion dollar retirement package upon leaving the company.

WFPL’s Erica Peterson contributed to this story

Local News

Two Sections and One Bureau Slashed in Courier-Journal Cuts

Two sections of the Louisville Courier-Journal have been gutted by recent layoffs.

Half of the Neighborhoods section and much of the Velocity staff have been cut. As a result, Velocity will become part of the regular newspaper, rather than a weekly publication distributed independent of the Courier-Journal. A similar weekly publication in Indianapolis recently folded. It was part of the Gannett and Tribune Company joint venture MetroMix, which is online-only in Louisville. With the cuts to Velocity, most, but not all, of the Courier-Journal arts writing staff has been eliminated.

“…arts coverage is gutted, our weekly magazine gone. Neighborhoods section decimated,” wrote Courier and Velocity writer Erin Keane on Twitter, who was among those laid off.

The Neighborhoods section will continue to be published, but it’s not clear how often.

The Indiana State House Bureau has been eliminated entirely. The Gannett-owned Indianapolis Star cut more than 60 employees yesterday, two dozen from news.

The layoffs are among 50 made yesterday at the paper. Those 50 are part of the 700 positions parent company Gannett terminated nationwide to cut costs. It’s Gannett’s largest single round of layoffs in two years. The Courier fired 51 employees in 2008, 44 in 2009 and 11 in February of this year.

Publisher Arnold Garson did not return a request for comment from WFPL, but he is quoted in the Courier attributing the cuts to a decline in advertising revenue.

Gannett’s U.S. newspapers division president Bob Dickey, who announced the layoffs in a memo yesterday, earned $3.4 million last year, up from $1.9 million the year before. Gannett’s CEO Craig Dubow earned more than $9 million last year.

Current and former Gannett employees criticized the cuts (and Dubow’s salary) on various social media sites, calling the day of layoffs “inhumane,” “a slaughter,” and saying the newspaper and the community deserve better.

Local News

Fifty Jobs Cut at Courier-Journal

Fifty Courier-Journal employees were laid off today, including 24 in the newsroom.

The layoffs are part of a 700-person staff reduction across all of parent company Gannett’s newspapers nationwide.

The cuts have gutted the local publication Velocity and decimated the Neighborhoods section.

Publisher Arnold Garson has not returned a request for comment and no statement has been released from the Courier.

Elsewhere. 62 employees were cut from the Gannett-owned Indianapolis Star.

Local News

Gannett Executive Bonuses Criticized Amid Layoffs

Employees at Gannett newspapers are taking to Facebook and Twitter to post their comments about today’s nationwide round of layoffs.

The newspaper giant is cutting 700 employees nationwide, including at least 36 in Louisville. Among those laid off are several editors and staff writers in the Neighborhoods and Velocity sections. No official announcement has been made about what will happen to those sections, and Courier-Journal publisher Arnold Garson is unavailable for comment.

The comments posted online by laid off employees range from sympathetic to searing. Several reporters have complained about the millions of dollars in bonuses given to Gannett executives between rounds of layoffs, pay freezes and furloughs.

The Gannett Bog further points out that Bob Dickey, Gannett’s U.S. newspapers division president, was paid $3.4 million last year, up from $1.9 million the year prior. In the memo announcing the 700 nationwide layoffs, Dickey wrote, “While we have sought many ways to reduce costs, I regret to tell you that we will not be able to avoid layoffs.”

Local News

36 Courier Employees Reportedly Cut in Nationwide Gannett Layoffs UPDATE: Now 50 Jobs

For the updated story, click here.

Several employees at the Louisville Courier-Journal are being laid off as part of a nationwide two percent staff reduction by parent company Gannett.

In the largest round of layoffs since 2009, Gannett will cut 700 employees from newspapers across the country. The Gannett Blog is reporting confirmation that 36 Courier-Journal employees have been laid off. You can track the numbers here.

Sources tell WFPL that many of the cuts are in the Velocity and Neighborhoods sections. The editor and at least two staff members of Velocity have reportedly been let go, effectively gutting the separate weekly publication distributed by the Courier.

A similar publication in Indianapolis recently folded. It was part of the Gannett and Tribune Company joint venture MetroMix, which is online-only in Louisville.

Courier publisher Arnold Garson was unavailable for comment.