E&P special report on newspapers
You really get the sense of desperation in the newspaper business right now from today' special report in Editor and Publisher.
The report tries to look for the positive -- essentially saying that newspaper companies actually might be willing to try some truly drastic changes. But all those changes still have a common theme, cut back:
- Do away with editions
- Stop chasing nonreaders
- Redesign papers that can be produced with far fewer people
When it comes to actual innovation: In its first year, Newspaper Next programs reached some 6,000 people, but since API rolled out its 2.0 version last February, the response has not been anywhere near that, says [APIs' Drew] Davis. The biggest newspaper companies, he adds, are most conspicuous in their absence.
Larger metro papers are not going to innovate - they are for the most part in pure survival mode. Innovation is going to have to come from small and mid-sized newsrooms where -- and I hate to say this -- you can blow the place up more easily and fire everyone who doesn't want to get with the program and hire new people with relatively little experience. (By the same token, the nature of those newsrooms, I think, is that you can more clearly articulate a vision to everyone, which may make it much less necessary to clear the dead wood; I've generally found people to be pretty reasonable when you provide a vision.)
I agree with the end of the article that we are focused too much on the newsrooms. Everyone I talk with says the real problems are in the ad bullpen, and not necessarily with the sales force. Salespeople are reacting highly rationally, for instance, when the compensation structure is so heavily slanted toward print.
One truly innovative thing might be go in and blow up the commission structure. Essentially, figure out a way to continually rebalance print and online so print gradually gets a lesser share of the commission structure and encourages moving customers as appropriate to online, or both. Several salespeople I know have told me horror stories about the commssission structures they now work under, especiall the online component. Is it any wonder online isn't being sold?
One interesting side note from the story is the remark that there are too many "writers" at newspapers and not enough "reporters." It's getting nasty out there, folks.