Gannett Gives Moms a Cold Shoulder

I guess you can't teach an old media company some new media tricks.

USA TODAY parent Gannett (NYS: GCI) is shutting down its network of city-specific community sites for young mothers.

At its launch three years ago, the site used local newspapers to attract stay-at-home moms to its discussion boards and blog network. Cashing in on the hyperlocal movement, the city-specific sites were tied to Gannett's dozens of local newspapers and television stations.

Well, three years of relationship nurturing and content creating is going dark Friday.

This could have been a free ad-supported Angie's List. Instead it's another print publishing bucket list.

"The market has evolved substantially since we launched three years ago and there are many new and different ways for people to connect and engage," the site's closure FAQ explains. "We feel we can better serve this community through the many new and exciting digital initiatives we will be developing and rolling out in the future."

It's true. Facebook has filled the community void with seamless group creation tools. The Knot parent XO Group (NYS: XOXO) has expanded from its wedding planning roots to appeal to young mothers through The Bump and The Nest. Google (NAS: GOOG) offers easy blog monetization through its site.

This doesn't mean Gannett isn't making a huge mistake.

Why would Gannett anger an online community that consists largely of its newspaper subscribers? Doesn't it know that cheated consumers vote with their pocketbooks? At the very least, Gannett will never earn user trust if it does decide to give community sites another go.

I checked out my hometown appendage of MomsLikeMe. The discussion boards have been eerily quiet in recent months. This may have been a vibrant -- or at least promising -- site at some point, but it clearly wasn't the viral success that Gannett was hoping for. Maybe it was the restrictive terms of service or the heavy-handed moderation that shooed away regulars. Either way, Gannett has as much to gain by fixing the site's shortcomings as it has to lose by shutting it down.

Gannett isn't the only newspaper company making head-scratching moves in cyberspace. New York Times (NYS: NYT) laid off most of its editorial staff two weeks ago, but at least that site isn't going dark anytime soon.

Publishers have plenty to deal with given the fading nature of print publications. I get that. However, shuttering a website -- even one that was running on fumes the way MomsLikeMe appeared to be in the end -- is a mistake. Advertising dollars will continue to migrate online, and a website's problems are easier to fix than the problem of declining newspaper circulation.

If you want to see if print publishing can rise out of its presses, consider addingThe New York TimesandGannettto My Watchlist.

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