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USA Today gets makeover for mobile world

In a major restructuring, the news-gathering organization will break up its news room and de-emphasize print to focus on tablets, smartphones, and other digital platforms.

USA Today, the nation's second largest newspaper, announced this week a major restructuring effort designed to address a drop in advertising and circulation and bring it up to speed in today's new world of smartphones and tablets.

USA Today logo

In a slide show presented to employees on Thursday, the once-innovative news-gathering organization said it would "focus less on print...and more on producing content for all platforms," the Associated Press reported.

"We have to go where the audience is," USA Today Editor John Hillkirk told the AP. "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 restructuring involves 130 layoffs, a 9 percent reduction in USA Today's 1,500-strong workforce, and breaks up the newsroom, the AP said. The paper's main sections--News, Sports, Money, and Life--no longer have separate managing editors. Instead, "content rings" will be led by editors who will be appointed later in the year. The content rings will be labeled Your Life, Travel, Breaking News, Investigative, National, Washington/Economy, World, Environment/Science, Aviation, Personal Finance, Autos, Entertainment, and Tech. In addition, the Sports section has been spun off into its own brand: USA Today Sports.

Steve Kurtz will lead the effort to increase USA Today's impact in the mobile realm, as the new vice president of digital development, according to a press release. Kurtz was formerly director of digital information technology for

A characteristic graphic from "McPaper."
A characteristic graphic from "McPaper." By Anne R. Carey and Sam Ward, USA Today

USA Today made a splash when it debuted in the early '80s as the first general-interest national newspaper. Its distinctively shaped, blue-and-white news racks, introduction of color to photographs, cartoony info graphics, and trademark bite-size stories earned it the derisive nickname of "McPaper." But that didn't stop it from reaching a circulation of 2.3 million and becoming the largest newspaper in the United States. And of course, color eventually made its way into old guard publications such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times (the former "Gray Lady"), and the online arms of both those papers--and most others besides--now also offer bite-size journalism in the form of copious blog entries.

Recently, however--like most other papers--USA Today has suffered. The Internet has robbed it of ad revenues and paid readers, and it's lost its circulation crown to the Journal.

The USA Today restructuring also involves closer coordination between the news and business departments.

According to one of the slides in Thursday's staff presentation, obtained by the AP, USA Today will "usher in a new way of doing business that aligns sales efforts with the content we produce." The move could spark concern about a violation of the traditional separation of "church and state" at news organizations and raise the specter of tainted editorial.

USA Today Publisher Dave Hunke provided assurances.

"Under no circumstances do we ever compromise our integrity," Hunke told the AP. "But I don't see any problem with finding out ways to build out strategies that work for advertisers. Frankly, if we do that, we will have a very prosperous future and we are going to stay in the journalism business."