Newspaper Chain To Tap Blogs

Gannett Co., the nation's largest newspaper chain, plans to create stories with information from bloggers, people who post in Internet discussion groups and other non-journalists in hopes of winning readers from the Internet, television and other news sources, officials with the company said.

Gannett, which operates 90 newspapers, including the nation's largest, USA Today, is hoping "citizen journalism" will reverse the company's part of an industry-wide trend of declining circulation and advertising revenues, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

"It's pretty big," said Michael Maness, Gannett's vice president of strategic planning. "It's a fairly fundamental restructuring of how we go about news and information on a daily basis."

Gannett also plans to merge newspaper and online operations of USA Today and other publications. All Gannett newspapers are being urged to make the transition quickly.

A few newspapers have been testing the system, such as the Des Moines Register, which reorganized its newsroom to create reader-searchable databases on topics from restaurant listings to a recent mumps outbreak.

Company officials said the move allows papers to tap into areas of expertise that many journalists don't have. The Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press enlisted retired engineers, accountants and other readers to examine documents and determine why connecting water and sewer service to new homes was so expensive. The newspaper wrote a number of reader-assisted articles based on the information.

Maness called it a "pro-am," approach, referring to a golf tournament in which professionals play alongside amateurs.

Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor, said he was impressed with the Fort Myers experiment.

"If that becomes the direction at a lot of Gannett papers, we could learn a lot from that," he said.

Gannett's stock hit its peak price of more than $90 a share in the spring 2004, but it dropped to $52 a share during the summer. It closed Monday at $58.77.