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.