He’s comfortable, too, with posts on corporate boards and homes in tony Tiburon, Calif., and on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (although he’s going to sell the one in Tiburon and buy something in Northern Virginia). And his wife, Myla, is dabbling in New York show business, sinking money and time into productions such as “End of the Rainbow,” “Hair,” and “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” which is about three drag queens on a road trip across the Australian Outback.
The answer, Kramer says, is that he wanted to get back into the fray of digital journalism. “Being a board member and consultant is wonderful, but the one frustration about it is when you really want to get something done,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “You can give all the advice you want, but you can’t say, ‘Give me two weeks, and I’ll get it done for you.’ ”
There’s plenty to get done at USA Today, which on Monday announced Kramer’s appointment. The national newspaper of Gannett, a chain of 82 U.S. dailies, “has been struggling mightily,” says Doug Arthur, a media analyst at Evercore. While it is a strong brand, Arthur says, “it needs a lot of work.” Advertising has suffered badly during the recession, he adds. Although USA Today won a measure of respectability and is no longer ridiculed as the McPaper, or junk food, of journalism, the paper has grown thin.
But in an industry enveloped by the gloom of dwindling circulation and sinking ad sales, the genial Kramer sees opportunity.
“This is like a Gutenberg moment,” he said. “We’re reinventing storytelling on a digital platform. Suddenly, we can use every form of storytelling in one place — pictures, graphics, words. If we need an interactive map, show me the map. If it’s a plane crash, show me the video. We see a new art form that’s going to be a much more dominant form of storytelling. That’s the exciting part for me.”
Kramer says USA Today needs to distinguish itself. “We don’t just need to have a voice,” he says. “We need to be an orchestra of voices.”
Every newspaper has problems these days. As with other newspapers, part of USA Today’s business model in the publishing world — as a paper that could bring American travelers news of home — has been shattered by technology.
“I used to walk into a hotel and the fact that I could read four paragraphs on the Giants game was great,” says Kramer, 62, who grew up in northern New Jersey, where he delivered the Bergen Record. “Now I can watch the Giants game on my iPad.”
Like other newspapers, USA Today is turning to its digital operation, trying to figure out what the content should be and how to make money while providing it.