The News-Press

The News-Press , with an average daily circulation near 100,000, primarily serviced Southwest Florida’s Lee County; its main bureau was in Fort Myers, the county seat. Located on the Gulf Coast, Lee County was a popular tourism and retirement destination, and it had grown rapidly—by almost 30 percent—since 2000. Its population exceeded half a million in 2006. [1]

The News-Press ’ parent company was Gannett, the largest US newspaper chain by circulation and the owner of 90 newspapers including USA Today . Kate Marymont , the News-Press ’ vice president and executive editor, refers to the paper as Gannett’s “petri dish”: the company often tested new ideas in the News-Press ’ pages and on its website, [2] One reason for this was that Marymont had a close relationship with Michael Maness, Gannett’s vice president for Strategic Planning in the Newspaper Division. [3] The two had worked together at Gannett’s Springfield, Missouri newspaper, the Springfield News-Leader, and they stayed in contact and shared ideas.

Mackenzie Warren , deputy to the publisher for special projects at the News-Press , often participated in these exchanges. “We all share a belief that if technology is applied the right way, it can make up for the shortcomings of journalism, mainly by building a relationship with readers,” Warren says. He continues: “[Maness] knows that if [he has] a cool idea... [that’s] going to lead to good journalism in our view, we’re going to give it a try. So on a number of occasions he has called us or come to us.” [4]

In 2006, Gannett was researching ways to “become more customer-centered and innovative” in its approach to gathering and distributing news. [5] Based in part on a year-long American Press Institute study, “Newspaper Next: The Transformation Project,” Gannett’s internal restructuring plan called for focusing on “seven jobs to be done”—tasks that newspapers were uniquely equipped to undertake. [6] The seven jobs Gannett identified were: “Public Service. Digital. Data. Community Conversation. Local. Custom Content. Multimedia.” [7]

Gannett asked several of its newspapers to act as test sites centers of experimentation for new approaches to the seven jobs. Managing Editor Cindy McCurry-Ross and Marymont eagerly volunteered their own paper as a test site for the “Public Service” job. A Gannett memo detailing the company’s vision for its newsrooms explained:

[Public Service] expands our very important First Amendment and watchdog functions. It encourages community participation at each step of the journalism process. Public Service coverage examines government issues, investigates wrongdoing, uses Freedom of Information standards and applies watchdog techniques. Journalists producing Public Service efforts connect all forms of electronic delivery, the print newspaper and reprinted summaries. Searchable databases, interactive elements and community engagement are frequent components of Public Service journalism.

Gannett’s goals resonated with the News-Press ’ own. “I had a concern,” recalls McCurry-Ross, “that watchdog work... might fade away if we don’t figure out how to do it in new ways.” She adds:

We were recognizing that the old model of research... and report and report and report for this... Sunday blowout, multiple story, hundreds of inches of copy model isn’t really going to work in the future, because so many people are turning to the Web for their news and information. [8]

Executive Editor Marymont invited Vice President Maness to visit Fort Myers to discuss how to use technology to keep watchdog journalism alive. Maness had recently encountered a method called “crowdsourcing” he thought might benefit Gannett papers. He wanted to test it at the News-Press.


[1], Lee County QuickFacts, 2006.

[2] Author’s interview with Kate Marymont, on August 15, 2007, in Fort Myers, Florida. All further quotes from Marymont, unless otherwise attributed, are from this interview.

[3] Maness named Gannett’s vice president of innovation and design ,” Gannett press release, June 5, 2007.

[4] Author’s interview with Mackenzie Warren, on August 15, 2007, in Fort Myers, Florida. All further quotes from Warren, unless otherwise attributed, are from this interview.

[5] Memo from Gannett CEO Craig Dubow , November 2, 2006, via Jeff Howe.

[6] For the API report, see: Report Availability .

[7] Ibid.

[8] Author’s interview with Cindy McCurry-Ross, on August 14, 2007, in Fort Myers, Florida. All further quotes from McCurry-Ross, unless otherwise attributed, are from this interview.