Shoptalk: Keep Your Competition Close
Posted: 3/22/2013  |  By: Michael Ryan
Jan. 12, 2011 was the day that changed life at The Arizona Republic.

That was the day the local TV news affiliate, KPNX, moved into the same building as the Republic, bringing Gannett’s newspaper and TV properties in Phoenix together under one roof.

Since then, in closely observing the television operation, there are some valuable lessons that newspaper executives can learn from their TV brethren. Imagine that. Here are six of them:

Don’t just add, cut:
In TV, if station managers want to add a hot new program, they have to get rid of a program. There’s only a finite number of programming hours. They review the ratings and often drop the one that’s underperforming. In newspapers, editors often are quick to add features but struggle with getting rid of anything. Even after doing market research, there’s a reluctance to pull the plug on content. Instead, editors continue to stretch their diminishing resources instead of focusing on what they do best.

Grow a backbone:
In TV, when a program gets dropped, people will often complain. Station managers realize that comes with their job and deal with the complaints. They rarely waver. In newspapers, often when editors get the courage to kill content and there’s backlash, they cave. People at the newspaper will say, “We’re getting a barrage of calls.” After investigating, it’s often a small number. Before caving, newspaper executives should consider their number of readers and then calculate what percentage called to complain. Often it’s miniscule. TV managers know that people will complain for a couple of weeks and then adjust.

Question content:
TV executives in major markets get overnight ratings. They see how programs are performing and what parts of programs are popular and which are not. They live in fear of viewers grabbing their remote to switch channels. Newspaper editors should get a little of that fear. How often have newspapers run long stories only to wonder if anyone actually read it to the end? Editors need to question continually whether they are telling stories in an engaging way and really capturing what readers are interested in learning. The days are over for “broccoli journalism” — stuffing stories down readers’ throats, because it’s what they should be reading. If editors think a certain story is important, they’d better figure out a way to tell it in a compelling manner.

Market personalities: TV networks and stations are great at promoting their on-air personalities. In Phoenix, KPNX constantly is running promos for its top news team of Lin Sue Cooney and Mark Curtis. The repetition drives their names into people’s memory. Many newspapers don’t promote their people. In this expanding, multimedia world, newspapers need a better hook to engage readers. Why not promote your top people, the people your potential audience might want to read for their thoughts on the big game or the big city hall controversy?

Spend more dollars promoting the product:
Newspaper executives put advertising sales reps on the street to promote the value of advertising, telling businesses that roughly 6 percent of their revenue should go to advertising their product or service. Unfortunately, most newspapers don’t practice what they preach. And, also unfortunately, newspapers often spend much of their promotion focused on price. For example, buy Sunday and get another day for free. Newspapers need to promote the quality journalism they bring to the community and how they are the top source for information that will help residents live a better, more informed life. Then, they need to make sure their newspapers are engaging every day to get readers to continually pick up the product. Because newspapers have in the past focused mostly on price, that’s why it’s a challenge to get people to pay for content online.

Dress for success: Most TV people look successful. They dress up and are great representatives for their organization in the community. Some newspaper journalists who interact with the public look like they just rolled out of bed or are getting ready to head to the beach. Is that really the way newspaper executives want someone calling on an advertiser or covering a city hall meeting? As former tennis star Andre Agassi said in his TV commercial, “Image is everything.”

Some newspaper editors seem to hold TV in disdain, but they can learn a lot just by paying attention.
 

Michael Ryan is former vice president of community newspapers for The Arizona Republic and a former editor who is now president of Ryan Media Consultants.