Commentary: Murdoch’s grumpy agenda in N.Y. news war

I predict a new and different round of newspaper wars around the country. The biggest city dailies have a model that is so disrupted (or broken) that a “significant” number will not remain viable. A handful of national and regional papers – NYT, WSJ, WashPo, KC Star?, etc – will figure out a major source of growth from current investment and infrastructure is deep penetration nationwide. They will partner with these city dailies, or acquire local talent so cost effectively that partnering with or acquiring local papers is not cost effective.


Save journalism, not newspapers

The former editor of Vanity Affair and The New Yorker magazines conveys magnificently how we should appreciate the “what” of news journalism’s value chain (content is king) separately from the “how” of reporting, editing and delivery. Thank you to BoSacks for sharing this article.

“But I think now the debate has to shift on from ‘how do we save newspapers’ to ‘how do we save journalism’. ‘I think it’s really imperative that papers like The New York Times – which is in a parlous condition – the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe, which is in tremendous peril and is probably going to go, are saved in terms of what they do, without necessarily worrying about the delivery system. It’s more important to preserve journalism than it is to preserve newspapers, frankly.”

I also thoroughly agree with her assessment of newspapers becoming a luxury item.

“I think there will be some newspapers in 10 years’ time, but with a much more elite and focused audience, charging them more for the papers, going hand-in-hand with a web operation until the generational transition is complete and everyone”

Brown touches on innovation and new models. IMHO to reach a new dominant design for news journalism, I predict that non-media types will have major roles at media companies, tearing apart organizational structures and processes that lifers can’t (like at Ford).

“I think at this point it’s all about innovative approaches. I think we’re involved in a very, very scary transition, where nothing seems to be working financially, but I’m absolutely confident that a new model will emerge.”

Is the media industry too insular for its own good?

“The auto companies are historically insular, which is a big part of the reason they’ve stumbled so badly,” wrote Joe Nocera in the 5/23/09 New York Times, pg. 5. “Bill Ford, the previous CEO had spent his life in the family business; he new some of these things needed to be done, but he could never bring himself to pull the trigger.”’s%20cheerleader&st=cse

I’ve been thinking this exact concept about the media/publishing industry for a few years. We are at crucial juncture of enormous change in consumer demand and the advertising-supported business model. Business-school basics tell us that today’s giants literally can’t change gears to tear themselves apart and build models for new realities.

Part of this reality in media, I believe, is due to not bringing in enough new talent from other industries. We think this industry so different from others that we shun the idea altogether. Instead, we could learn so much from how other industries approach and solve similar problems.

What are some examples that you think fit?

Also, media companies historically are not big recruiters at MBA programs. In the late 1990s I applied to and visited three top-ranked MBA programs at universities with top-ranked j-schools: Northwestern, NYU and Columbia. Each time I asked about media companies that recruit, and each responded with a blank stare. This was particularly dumbfounding at NYU, where Condé Nast’s then-CEO, Steven Florio, got his MBA.

That’s because companies tend to put too much focus on having experience in the industry. Not that we want everyone in the company to have zero industry experience, but a healthy balance is needed to avoid groupthink.

Here is a review of execs from select media/news companies, based on the companies’ websites. It’s a work in progress that I will continue to update. The evidence so far suggests minimal outside experience.

New York Times Company (5/26/2009)
* Chairman/Publisher: Arthur Sulzberger – No outside experience listed; Poly sci undergrad, Management program-Harvard
* President/CEO: Janet Robinson – School teacher before 1983; English undergrad, Management program-Dartmouth
* Vice Chairman/President/COO: No outside experience listed; Undergrad major unknown, MA in English-Lehigh, MA in journalism-Missouri, MBA-Emory
* Sr VP/CFO: James Follo – CPA firm before 1994; Accounting undergrad, CPA
* Sr VP Corp Dev: James Lessersohn – No outside experience listed; Government undergrad, MBA-Harvard
* Sr VP Corp Communications: Catherine Mathis – Shipholding and paper companies before 1997; Business undergrad, MBA-Minnesota
* Sr VP Digital Ops: Martin Nisenholtz – Content and advertising roles for telecom and advertising before 1995; Psych undergrad, MA in communication-UPenn


Tribune (6/1/2009)
* Chairman, President, CEO: Sam Zell – Real estate scion; Undergrad major unknown, JD-Michigan
* COO: Randy Michaels – Broadcast TV and Radio prior to 2007; Undergrad major unknown
* Exec VP, Chief Admin Office: Gerald Spector – Real estate prior to 2007; Business undergrad
* SVP, Chief Innovation Office: Lee Abrams – Radio prior to 2008; Undergrad unknown
* CFO: Chandler Bigelow – Investor relations prior to 1998; Undergrad major unknown; MBA-Wisconsin
* Pres/Tribune Interactive: Marc Chase – Gov’t, eBay and radio prior to 2008;Undergrad unknown
* EVP, General Counsel: Don Liebentritt – Real estate prior to 2008; Undergrad unknown, JD-Chicago
* SVP Corp Relations: Gary Weitman – PR and broadcast journalism prior to 2008; History undergrad, MA in journalism-Northwestern
* Pres/Tribune Broadcasting: Ed Wilson – No outside experience listed; Undergrad major unknown


Dow Jones

Time Inc.





Our issue with issues

Deep in the psyche of media/publishing veterans is an assumption that is not discussed often: Our issue with issues. There’s a lot of talk about the failing advertising-reliant business model for magazines and newspapers, and about the transition away from print to all sorts of digital distribution.

With print, we’re literally bound to packaging, distributing and marketing content in editions. You don’t see single articles – or hourly updates – from Sports Illustrated or the Kansas City Star on the newsstand, unlike their Web counterparts.

Issues have a special place in readers’ minds. Think about the annual fashion, swimsuit and “list” issues. Edit and sales teams alike love this because it helps to organize their work, at least making it seem easier.

This concept of issues is also paramount to the circulation-auditing business and to advertising. Each audit statement is based on the publication’s “analyzed” issue for that time period. Also, the adds and drops for each issue are presented, hanging out to dry the circulator’s dirty laundry.

On the ad front, marketers buy display space in issues and get discounts on frequency. In magazines we even talk about shelf life of an ad because people save their copies and supposedly look at old issues. (This one even I have trouble with since it’s hard enough sometimes to get through current issues.)

Issues are nice because they provide a tidy way for editors to package the day’s, week’s or month’s stories. Looking ahead, though, I won’t care so much about the March issue of blah-blah magazine. If new packaging, distribution and marketing paradigms are more exciting, convenient and efficient, I’ll forget all about my issues. This is one reason I see replica, digital issues of magazines and newspapers as a transition point.

I still want an organized package of what to read that does replicate the value currently handled by editors – especially the goal of showing me what to read/understand so I’m a well-rounded member of society. But our future with (non-print) newspapers and magazines will be sans issue.

If the Kindle or similar has any chance of lasting into the news-reading future, it will have to accommodate a Web-like fluid, self-updating presentation of articles and data, plus more (and more) social interaction.

Instead of reading articles from a specified time period, we could have our cake and eat it, too. Online, articles are just sitting in a database, tagged and waiting to be sorted/filtered to your heart’s content. Show me not only the editor’s top articles for right now, but also (1) by date so I can catch up from previous days; (2) by reader popularity; and (3) by my social networks’ popularity.

Consumer demand for news journalism

There’s a lot of talk about how news journalism will be created, distributed and paid for. However, I’m concerned that we’re not addressing the consumer’s changing appetite for quality news and interest in being a well-rounded, well-informed citizen. With scarcity of time and money a growing reality for an increasing number of people, news journalism may get a smaller share of wallet. If consumers care less and less, then revenue from neither advertising nor subscriptions will be strong enough to support “the collection or dissemination of news itself.” In other words, when demand drops, supply drops to reach equilibrium.

So what are we doing about the demand? Let’s assume aggregate demand for news journalism really is decreasing significantly and will not recover on its own. Industries that go through massive shifts in demand experience consolidation because the market just won’t support so many companies. The weaker players – measured by quality of product, value to customers and economic strength, all relative to the competitive landscape in the present – will not survive at all or as they had been.

To create or stimulate demand, we have to drive awareness, interest and desire among consumers. Both private and public entities can apply marketing basics: Brand marketing, direct marketing and public relations. I am not seeing this on a broad scale to encourage the general public.

Who should take the lead to stimulate demand? In France, the government supports a program providing free subscriptions to 18-year-olds and discounted subscriptions to everyone – to the newspaper of their choice.

With fewer news organizations and people having more ways to spend time, the time and money required to consume news journalism might become so scarce that only a fast-shrinking segment of Americans can afford it: Affluent and/or retired individuals. This will lead to news journalism, as we know it, becoming a boutique product/service instead of the inexpensive, mass-market stuff we have today.

Comment on The Newspaper Biz: ‘More Poison, Please’?

Eric Alterman has a great conclusion: It’s painful to admit, but admit it we must: we have no more hope today of saving the “newspaper business” than we do the “telegraph business.” What is needed–pronto–is a plan to save the collection and dissemination of the news itself.

News[paper] journalism: Value chain

The ad-supported model is allegedly broken for newspapers and magazines, and many blame Craigslist for siphoning off classified ads. That’s one factor, but another place to look is edit, the news itself. Now the traitor calls from my fellow j-school alumni start pouring in.

Simply put, consumers want news of various types: national, local, sports, business, entertainment, etc. Newspapers around the country have taken it upon themselves to create a lot of that content. Newswires like AP and Reuters offer a lot of content that any publisher can buy, but “big-city” papers produce plenty of national content that readers consider commodities. How much value do readers in Sacramento, Kansas City or Tallahassee get from national news by their local reporters vs. what the “national” papers do on bigger scales?

I think a few big news companies (ie, newspapers, magazines) should become major players in content syndication, selling national and international news to smaller news companies that should focus on their core competency: local and regional news. The paper in St. Louis, for example, would only produce content that no one could do better – about St. Louis – while buying content from its choice(s) of suppliers, such as New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, plus Sports Illustrated, ESPN, BusinessWeek … you get the idea.

The St. Louis paper could buy from one supplier exclusively or pick and choose every day. It could have branded sections, like national news from Washington Post, business from Dow Jones, sports from ESPN. If going with one supplier, or one per news category, the local paper could become a local edition of that national paper. Or maybe Tribune Company even renames its smaller papers Chicago Tribune, using local writers only for local/regional news.

One of the overall goals is to keep citizens engaged in news, analysis and debate, ideally with the best possible content. If a newspaper can’t meet that commitment for anything but what’s happening in town, it needs to figure out how to do the rest before the audience is gone.

To quell my j-school friends … I still firmly believe in the value of delivering an edited, organized presentation of what’s important for people to know, including topics they didn’t know they should know. Searching your favorite news sites for what interests you doesn’t develop well-read, well-rounded citizens of a democracy. We need dedicated, trained editors putting together newspapers, magazines, etc, whether read in print or online.