'The media landscape is changing rapidly; while print is not dead, it is definitely not our future. It’s too early to write the epitaph for print media, but digital media is the future.'
-- Gary Meo,
at NENPA convention advise:
What’s your medium of news? Do you prefer sliding your fingers across your iPad and smartphone to flipping the pages of a newspaper?
If you answered in the affirmative, you are in sync with the direction in which the newspaper industry is heading.
While newspaper industry veterans and newbies are aware that many of their consumers are transitioning to digital platforms as their preferred medium of news, they are still figuring out ways that will make for a smoother transition.
More than 100 people from the New England newspaper industry gathered at the opening session of the New England Newspaper and Press Association winter convention to listen to what experts had to say about the future of the industry.
The two-day convention was held Feb. 10 and 11 in the Boston Park Plaza Hotel.
Three media industry veterans — Caroline Little, president and chief executive officer of the Newspaper Association of America; Gary Meo, senior vice president of print and digital media services at Scarborough Research, based in New York City; and John Rose, global leader of the media sector for Boston Consulting Group's technology, media and telecommunications practice — spoke at the opening session Friday, Feb. 10.
They offered a look into the future of the newspaper industry and suggested strategies for effecting change. They provided insight into how the core strengths of the industry could be used to leverage the transition.
The session was titled “Newspapers in 2012: Our challenges, priorities and strategies.”
Little joined the newspaper industry in 1997. Those in the industry then had a vague vision that the Internet could be a big part of the industry, but had no idea how “big, transformative and disruptive” it would be, Little said.
“Those 15 years, we went from denial to acceptance to possibility and, I would suggest, innovation. From thinking that digital would be an important add-on to the revenues of newspaper business … to seeing the Internet blow up an advertising revenue model that had worked for a long time, (and) to (embracing the Internet) as an opportunity to use it as a platform to rebuild that model,” she said.
But what does the future look like for those in the industry today?
“There is no single answer to where to go from here. We are caught in the bridge between the industry we are and the industry where we want to be. To open one door we have to close another but the hallway in between can really suck,” she said.
But Little noted that content, connection and confidence are the strengths of a newspaper industry and the drivers of innovation.
“Content is a big advantage for us and a big problem. Nobody does a better job creating it … and no one gives it away for free (more) than we do,” Little said.
Newspapers should be reimbursed for the content they produce on the Web, she said.
She talked about the advantages of NewsRight, which lets newspapers know who’s reading and using their content, thus providing an opportunity for the industry to track, protect and benefit from the content it is producing on the Web.
Newspapers are still the greatest producer of content, and provide reporting, editing and fact-checking as well, she said. A Pew Research Center study confirms that newspapers account for 50 to 60 percent of originally reported journalism, she said.
Little noted the connection print media provides for its readers — getting content to readers on their terms, in their places, and on their devices. In most communities, newspapers still have the largest number of website visits, she said.
“Technology takes these basic skills and amplifies the impact,” she said.
“People are moving to mobile devices. We own the biggest local websites; we have the most digitized data; we advertise with the largest digital audience; we have the digital capability to find our way to devices. We provide the best content. We have every opportunity to leverage all of that and become a big player in mobile,” Little said.
The newspaper industry should build partnerships with advertisers, which will lead to more advertising revenue, she said.
Newspapers are still a viable medium in the heart of the community that needs them, she reminded the audience.
“We can also do what nobody can do. Newspapers continue to provide quality, trustworthy journalism, creating a community footprint that no media can match. We will have to re-create our own definition, and we can do that,” Little said.
The business model the newspaper
industry had worked on needs to rebuild, Little said.
Meo of Scarborough Research said newspapers have the advantage of having their own local content and sales force, and of having built a relationship with local businesses. Those are the factors that provide the newspaper industry with an edge while transitioning to a digital medium, he said.
He talked about the audience in the print, website and mobile world.
“We (Scarborough Research) have been in the newspaper audience rating service in the U.S. for almost 40 years. The important thing that you need to know is that our surveys include cellphone-only adults within our samples,” Meo said.
There has been an exploding
number of platforms for news, information, advertising and entertainment,
the reason why legacy media have been fragmented into several smaller
pieces, he said.
Talking about industry trends found in Scarborough Research surveys, Meo said: “It’s an opt-out world … from the advertising perspective, there is more emphasis on accountability … There is extreme pressure on price and return on investment. So media are continuously being called upon to prove their worth to advertisers.”
Meo showed the audience where the future belongs — the digital platform -- through examples: New York Times data showing that there has been a 20 percent growth in its digital subscribers in the fourth quarter of last year, and The Washington Post announcing the expansion of its popular social reader app for the iPad and the Kindle reader.
“There’s a matrix that we have been tracking at Scarborough that we call the Integrated Newspaper Audience — it is the net audience of printed product and websites over the course of a week,” he said.
While the print audience is still in the majority, but shrinking, there has been a steady growth in the Web-exclusive audience, the Scarborough survey found. The Web-exclusive audiences are younger and more affluent, the survey found.
“This is very good news for our industry as we move our audiences into the digital platform. The media landscape is changing rapidly; while print is not dead, it is definitely not our future. It’s too early to write the epitaph for print media, but digital media is the future,” Meo said.
The Boston Consulting Group’s John Rose said the newspaper industry is at a structural turning point.
Rose said the two important questions that those in the newspaper industry should be asking are: How do we create a better engagement digitally? How do we make money from the value we create?
Content — which is news — is still potent even during the transition to the digital medium, Rose said. But the challenge is that there is a steady decline in newspaper readers, he said.
“The infrastructure that you all own (to) print and distribute will choke your economics. The outlook for advertising tied to print products is equally bleak. It doesn’t mean that you exit print, but you rethink what you do. As we move in to the new world, it is the commentary and curation of local news discussions coupled with focused investigative and local news reporting (that’s essential),” he said.
• Reshaping editorial content: “Refocus content, follow market passion and differentiate content by platform,” he said. Using staff to leverage local content is important, he said.
• Marketing and tailored offers: “Paywalls are an interesting concept, but paywall by itself is not a good answer,” he said. Paywalls increase profit in the short term, but dramatically reduce long-term reader engagement, Rose said.
• Helping out small and medium-sized enterprises with search engine optimization and email marketing: “You have the relationships and trust to help them do that. There’s a big upside about local marketing services,” he said.
• Cost production: “The single most important thing on (the) cost production side is to think through the implications of the ongoing decline in print readership. Printing is a business; it’s not a newspaper business anymore,” Rose said.
“Exiting the newspaper industry to embrace a local news industry in its fullness is a path towards a vibrant future,” Rose said.
'There is no single answer to where to go from here. We are caught in the bridge between the industry we are and the industry where we want to be. To open one door we have to close another but the hallway in between can really suck.'
-- Caroline Little,
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