Ward Bushee, the Chronicle's new editor-in-chief, put in 21 years as an editor at Gannett — the nation's largest, most profitable, suckiest newspaper chain. You may know it as the company that brought you USA Today and its influential brand of McNews.
There's only one reason the Chron would want a touch of the Gannett magic: big, shiny, dollar signs embossed in gold. Gannett, which publishes 85 daily newspapers, is bad at many things — like journalism — but is good at making money. According to Fortune, the company rakes in about $2 billion in annual profits. (Full disclosure: I used to work for a Gannett paper.)
"My take would be that we're looking at a guy who will very much work with the business side to do what he can to improve performance pretty quickly," says Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst for the Poynter Institute.
Will that mean more newsroom cuts? Considering the Chron recently parted ways with about 100 reporters and editors, there's little fat left to trim. Perhaps more likely, one Chron vet predicts, Bushee will shrink the paper itself — maybe getting rid of the Sunday style section (at least, that would be our wish). Interestingly, one of Bushee's "achievements" during his reign as editor of the Arizona Republic was cutting the size of the daily's Monday edition to appeal to busy readers (for instance, local news and business were crammed into the first section).
While both Edmonds and Bob Steele, a journalism ethicist for Poynter, described Bushee as being pretty good with news, neither could remember anything in particular about his coverage that stood out. "Gannett thinks of itself as an information business, not a newspaper business," Edmonds says. "Bushee's greatest distinction was that even before this information emphasis picked up steam, he had a lot of success in Arizona doing two things: Getting more nonprint readers to the Web site, and creating a lot of successful niche publications."
Niche online publications? Oh yeah — like Arizona Moms ("Where moms connect"). The Republic, under Bushee's leadership, has more than 100 niche publications all on its own, according to Media Life magazine. Does it need to be said that all of these are all advertising-driven? There's only so much hard-hitting reportage you can do about soccer moms before you start churning out fluff.
God, we're starting to miss Phil Bronstein already.
Will Harper contributed to this story.