The news' heavy hitters talk
But is anyone listening?
It's worth paying attention to Jock Lauterer's rundown of the session Friday at the North Carolina Press Association meeting in Charlotte.
On the panel:
Reid Ashe, exec vice-president and CEO, Media General Inc.
Scott Flanders, president/CEO, Freedom Communications
Max Heath, vice-president, Landmark Community Newspapers
Mary Jacobus, president/COO, New York Times Co. Regional Media Group
Jay Smith, president, Cox Newspapers Inc.
Howard Weaver, vice-president - news, the McClatchy Co.
Some of the remarks were the same old, same old, such as Flanders: "We are doing a better job than we are giving ourselves credit for. … The wave is definitely moving away for print: we’re undercharging for print and undercharging for online…the big good news is that we have the opportunity to reach the interactive audience… and our challenge is learning how to monetize it." (Question: What if your audience does not want to be "monetized" in an era when there are many acceptable -- free -- substitutes?)
But it's hard to argue with this observation by Flanders, which recognizes the reality (which I still see dying a hard death in some newspapers) that selling ads (or uncovering the news, for instance) is no longer a sinecure: "We have to be more like the local TV affiliates, where the TV salespeople are used to beating their heads against the wall competing against other stations."
But then there's this rather ego-centric statement from Smith: We’re at the birth of a whole new (type of media)… There is an enormous appetite (for what newspapers can give readers). Don’t forget, news comes from newspapers.” (Well, no. News is actually an amazingly complex process, and I get large amounts of it every day from sources other than newspapers. So do many other people. Part of the problem is that newspapers remain in denial that their place in the ecosystem has totally changed. Consider Ashe, who gets it: “We’re in the era where people are a lot more willing to read a newspaper than they willing are to pay for a newspaper.”)
And this from Weaver: “You learn that freedom of the press is limited if you can’t pay the printer.” Newspapers need to become what he calls “mission-driven.” OK, what the heck does that mean? Hasn't the "mission" of newspapers been to a) tell the truth as best we know it, b) tell interesting stories and as a result c) pair eyeballs with ads. Pray tell us what mission you have in mind.
Some bon mots:
SMITH: “The notion of the traditional newspaper… That sucker is dead, and it’s been dead for a long time.” Niche journalism is making it, he said. “And shame on us” if newspapers don’t figure out how to give people what they want.
ASHE: “We are prisoners of everything we learned in print…We need to return to our roots… (of interactive story telling). Along the way we gave up the ability to tell the news immediately, and to tell the news with interaction." (So true, but do you think that might be because the "suits" also learned that planned news costs a whole lot less to cover well than breaking news? I love the idea that newsrooms are rediscovering their breaking news roots, but once the bill comes due, I wonder if the corporate executives will continue to back the idea.)
WEAVER: "Newspapers are learning to partner…(In the future) we’ll have more competitors but also more partners. Partnering has not been one of our strengths, historically.”
More from WEAVER: "What’s the biggest change? The total erosion of the gatekeeper function…The fence is down now…and we look pretty silly standing there at the gate.” (nervous laughter from the audience.) “Fortunately, the kind of value-added journalism that we do is now more important than ever” because of the junk out there on the Internet.
Read it, warts, good stuff and all. Lots to talk about.
Labels: newspapers' future