USA TODAY Publisher Hunke: The Next Two Quarters Will Be Tough

Just a few weeks after his appointment as publisher of USA Today David Hunke visited New York with the paper’s new editor-in-chief John Hillkirk to talk to reporters about the pub’s outlook, its new digital and mobile initiatives and thoughts on the drama at The Boston Globe.

The nation’s most read paper is not immune from the pressures of economy, having recently laid of four ad staffers on top of imposing furloughs and possible wage cuts and salary freezes.

Hunke said that he couldn’t promise that there would not be additional cuts at USA TODAY but he did seem hopeful that the worst might be behind the newspaper. “But the third and fourth quarter are going to be tough,” he said. “And that’s just as far as anyone can see right now.”

He did add that “there are no sacred cows,” meaning that no one is really safe. “It’s our goal to attract and retain talent. [Publications] that don’t do that are going to have the toughest future,” Hunke added.

Hunke is hopeful that some of USA TODAY‘s digital initiatives will help bring in money that has been lost from ad revenues. He said he regretted that the paper’s iPhone ap, which has 1.6 million downloads, was given away for free — a decision made prior to his appointment. “I’m not sure we knew what we had,” he said. “But we’re going to use it as a base and build on it with future aps.”

The newspaper will launch a travel iPhone ap soon, which will initially be available for free, eventually hoping to break off pieces that will have to be bought. Hunke is also hoping to take advantage of recent developments in e-reader technology, with plans to launch a digital version of the newspaper on August 3.

“We want to understand what works, listen to what adds value,” Hunke said. “Then it’s our intention to find a way to monetize that.”

Turning to the trouble happening with the Globe Hunke and Hillkirk both agreed the whole mess was sad and that the loss of the regional paper would be a huge blow to the community.

“It’s one more sign of the challenges that the whole business faces,” Hunke said.