Monday, June 15, 2009

What local newspapers should do #3

This is the third in a series of 10 posts on steps local newspapers should take to survive and thrive in the face of the economic meltdown and the societal shift to the Internet.

3. Realign the internal operations of local newspaper companies to make marketing, advertising and editorial partners every step of the way.
This will involve a zero-based approach to the structure and commitments of the company. Newspapers tell their advertisers how critical it is to get out their message on a regular basis. Yet newspaper companies appear to see marketing as the first place to cut. Marketing doesn’t mean traditional ad campaigns, although it could include some of that. It does mean an entire organization telling a consistent story about itself and living up to that story. Google says its mission is “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.” That’s pretty easy to understand. If a local newspaper had as clear a mission – “to be the central source of news and information on (x place) and make it easily accessible and useful” – it would enable the entire organization to tell a consistent story and evaluate every potential use of resources against the mission statement.

Here are some concrete steps:
• Locate advertising, marketing and editorial types in close physical proximity so they’re working together and talking every day.
• Make each main content focus of the organization its own channel, or sub brand, with a business manager attached to the content type. Establish separate tracking for audience, reach and revenue for each channel: sports, news, multimedia and business, for example. Share that information with the staff. Give the channel managers responsibility and authority to develop new products.
• Develop or hire expertise in social networking and viral marketing. Every advertiser needs to be exposed to new ways to reach customers and offer them benefits.
• Make mobile the focus of this new approach. This should be the fastest-growing part of any newspaper and as the new frontier it will be the place where there will be the fewest institutional obstacles to experimentation.

Next: Make the classifieds a separate, standalone business.
Previous: Establish a clear and credible public service mission.


  1. Does it strike anyone else as hilarious that this sage advice comes from a guy who just closed one newspaper, and whose previous paper in Albuquerque, the Trib, also shut down.

    Temple must be among the most arrogant and egomaniacal editors ever. And now, working without a net (or an editor), he exposes himself for the world to see.

  2. "The advertiser is the enemy. The big advertiser is the mortal foe of honest journalism....You must remember that that particular class of men that make up the advertisers are men of extremely sordid minds. Their lives are given up to dollar-getting. They presume -- and they have a perfect right in this country to presume -- that every man is equally sordid. They presume publishers are venal and that they have but one object in view and that is to obtain advertising patronage and make a profit...I would advise you to begin your course as editor of this paper with one object and only one object in view and that is to serve the class of people and only that class of people from whom you cannot even hope to derive any other income than the one cent a day that pay you for your paper. Be honest and fearless with them, always without regard to the goodwill or ill will of the so-called business community."
    ----E. W. Scripps, 1911

  3. @paul and @edward
    You guys are awesome with snarky comments. I wish I were that good.

  4. "each channel"
    Interesting. Similar to Procter & Gamble's approach.
    I, for one, don't understand why the Denver Post (among many papers) still has a separate Classified Ads section. It just makes it easier to throw away.

  5. Thank you for your comments. A few thoughts.

    Paul, you may recall Scripps executives lauded the efforts of the Rocky newsroom, describing their work as a model for what newsrooms should be doing. Their decision was financial. The Tribune newsroom was also widely recognized for its innovations and the quality of its journalism.

    Edward, you're absolutely right that E.W. said what you report. But his own company couldn't follow his views because it wouldn't have survived if it had. Just because he was a brilliant newspaperman and builder of a media empire, doesn't mean his ideas hold for today's news organizations.

    Dave, I totally agree about the separate classified section. I worked at papers that used to run classifieds as "run of paper" at the back of a section. That was typical at one time.

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