By: Gretchen A. Peck
It’s no fun being the news when you’re tasked with reporting the news. It’s a strange placement for the newspaper industry these days, as many around the world talk of its evolution, its future, its challenges—and more sensationally, its demise. It’s an uncertain yet exciting time, during which innovation may enable newspapers (no matter the method of delivery) to redefine themselves and flourish in their new forms.
Editor & Publisher compiled a list of organizations that are not just banking on a healthy future for news, but are developing products, services—and, perhaps, new best practices—for newspaper publishers.
GateHouse Media, Inc.’s More Content Now
One of the guideposts E&P referenced in choosing these top 5 influencers was: How are companies enabling newspaper publishers to “do more with less?” This is precisely what GateHouse Media Inc.’s relatively new division, More Content Now, sets out to do.
MoreContentNow.com evolved out of the GateHouse News Service, when a few years ago some of its executives put their heads together and pondered how to leverage the content the company creates with its team of editors, photographers, and designers—not only for its own titles, but for other newspapers, as well, recalled Lisa Glowinski, Director, More Content Now.
Publishers can license More Content Now’s content via the website, which went live last April, and is free to browse, said Glowinski.
The “content” itself can manifest in a number of formats. Articles can be downloaded as text files, or publishers may choose to license entire laid-out pages and sections in the form of native Quark or Adobe InDesign files, with all the accompanying artwork.
More Content Now is taking an aggressive approach to the rollout. Glowinski said that she has plans to travel to quite a few publishing events in the year ahead, in addition to developing social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest) and digital newsletters.
“I believe the more publishers realize who we are and what we are, the more I think they’ll see that our prices are very competitive, and they can still deliver content to their readers even when they’ve been forced to cut their own staff and resources,” she said.
”Everyone in media is looking for a magic bullet right now,” she added. “So maybe publishers can delegate a little bit of pagination and maybe some writing to us, allowing them to go out and report and do what they do best locally.”
Newsweb Corporation, located in Chicago, spent the past 42 years being a “publishers’ printer,” serving small- to mid-sized community publishers, according to President Rodd Winscott.
Unlike its newspaper printer-publisher brethren, Newsweb doesn’t itself own any newspaper titles, which allows the company to focus on its core competency and to be nimble.
“We purchased four-color towers before everyone wanted four-color [process], because we knew that we needed to be prepared to produce color when the publishers did want it,” Winscott recalled. “Because we print so many newspaper titles, we have a unique perspective, which at times has allowed us to be more proactive with regard to equipment purchases and trends.
”From the time we first saw digital web printing in 2005, we knew that it was in our future,” he continued. “We watched it evolve and split into two paths: sheetfed and direct-mail, and newspaper. In 2012, we felt that the technology and hardware had reached a point at which we could successfully utilize it to our customers’ benefit.”
By the fall of 2012, Newsweb had installed the first of its TKS JETLEADER 1500 presses. A second was installed this past July, and configured with a variable cut-off folder that allows the print supplier to seamlessly transition between standard U.S. broadsheet and tabloid, and European Berliner and Nordic standards.
“This now opens up a global market for us,” Winscott said.
“We looked at the technology for a few years, and only when we saw the one company, TKS (U.S.A.) commit its resources to merging the digital press with traditional press finishing did we know that the time was right,” he added.
Winscott feels confident in the return on the investments. “We are starting to see the cost benefits. … One of the areas of savings is in labor. We are able to run a 72-page newspaper, in five sections, with one to two operators. We have overcome the need to use digitally enhanced paper, and can now use the same grades as we use for our offset operation. This saves on double inventories and premium digital paper prices,” he remarked. “We have no plate costs with the digital press. … Waste is yet one more area where we save.”
The digital presses are also enabling the print service supplier to leverage variable-data print. Certainly, that will be invaluable for the commercial print side of the operations, but Winscott also revealed that variable-data will have modest consequence for newspapers, too. Beyond the digital web investments, Newsweb Corporation recently put the finishing touches on a new 65,000-square-foot building and added a new Goss Universal 75 press.
The “corporate culture” at Newsweb becomes apparent in conversation with its President. Print service suppliers often speak in terms of serving industries, markets, and customers—external sources of work and revenue. The way that Winscott speaks about his company, it’s not as though it merely serves the market, as much as it’s a part of the newspaper industry. He solemnly noted that he’s seen too many newspaper organizations shrink, consolidate, and shutter their doors. Still, he remains optimistic about the future, and remarked that a little reinvention can be a good thing, especially if it better nurtures the publisher-advertiser relationship.
“We believe in and have always supported the notion that newspapers are an integral part of our society—from the small, local neighborhood paper, to the large metro daily.” Winscott said.
Till Faida leveraged his experience as an executive with Eyeo GmbH to lead a growing group of what could affectionately be called “the world’s most frustrated Internet publishers and users.” Internet advertising is their bane.
According to Faida, out of the group’s discussions came AdBlock Plus, which has been downloaded more than 200 million times, 25-percent of which is attributed to U.S.-based users, he noted.
“[This sends] an important message to publishers: The Internet is a democratic medium. Business models only work with the users, not against them. The current state of the online advertising industry is fragile, as it has failed to get the support of the users,” Faida said.
“Tech-savvy users hardly ever react to banner ads, simply because banners and popups are merely seen as an annoyance,” he continued. “In a way, the well-educated and tech-savvy users have been forgotten or ignored by advertisers. It requires more innovation toward better advertising products, in order to reach this important user segment, and to make advertising-driven media profitable. Our Acceptable Ads initiative is a first step toward this.”
Faida asserted what so many others may be thinking about Internet advertising: The broken system is perpetuated by a vicious cycle.
“Because these online ads generate too little revenue, advertisers are constantly creating even more aggressive ad formats. This further stimulates a negative user experience and an increased aversion toward ads. Our Acceptable Ads initiative aims to find a more sustainable middle ground. Less and better advertising will be more profitable for everyone in the long run,” Faida explained.
An “Acceptable Ad” is an evolving concept, he suggested, based on ongoing discussions among the consortium. Currently, what’s deemed acceptable is text-centric, static, and unmistakably defined as an advertisement.
From a user perspective, once the AdBlock Plus extension is downloaded, they may further customize their browsing experience. “In addition to blocking ads, users can activate supplemental lists to block tracking and malware, among other things. Users can also add “personal filters,” according to Faida.
“Users should always be in control of their experience online,” he added. “Our position is that if websites and advertisers serve informative ads, and listen to what users want, the vicious cycle I referred to before would end, and advertising could be a viable method for monetizing content. This is definitely the future of Internet advertising.”
Sites may also be “whitelisted,” which does not mean that they are “above scrutiny,” he said. Rather, it means that a site is in adherence to the Acceptable Ads criteria and has been “certified.” “Publishers on our whitelist have reported that their now-acceptable advertising has produced better profits,” he said.
When asked about publishers’ reactions to AdBlock Plus and the Acceptable Ads initiative, Faida qualified them as “a mixed bag.”
“More often than not, we agree that online advertising’s current state is an unsustainable one. This agreement sparks interest … especially when they realize that it is always free to be part of our program for content producers like blogs and newspapers. However, many of them are still stuck in long-standing contracts with advertisers and are wary to disrupt the status quo, even if they rightly perceive that it’s broken. We hope the discussions we are initiating will eventually lead to more willingness to innovate more”.
Digital First Ventures
Digital First Ventures (DFV) was borne out of Digital First Media, of New York, and operates as a venture capital division expressly created to “accelerate value creation for seed, early, and growth-stage digital media companies.”
DFV operates “The Startup Lab,” which leverages the broad publishing knowledge and resources of its parent company, to bring to market new digital tools and technologies for disseminating information and fostering reader-publisher relationships.
DFV is challenging developers to get creative by envisioning Digital First Media’s reach and resources—more than 800 print and digital news properties, access to 3 million homes every month, and a significant number of sales and editorial staff—and imagining what they would create to facilitate those relationships.
In June 2013, Digital First Ventures announced a strategic partnership with NewsCred, the content marketing and syndication provider with U.S. headquarters in New York. The companies reported that not only would the partnership enable Digital First Media properties to leverage NewsCred’s technology platform (NewsCred SmartPress CMS) to further its own content reach, but Digital First Media will also be able to leverage full-text articles, images, and videos from NewsCred’s Publisher Network of more than 2,500 additional content partners.
Jim Brady, editor-in-chief at Digital First Media, spoke about the announcement in a press release: “NewsCred allows Digital First Media to expand our online content portfolio and supplement the original reporting of our network of local journalists. The partnership will allow us to deepen existing content verticals and quickly deploy new verticals that we know our audiences want.”
Amazon, by way of The Washington Post
The ink on the contract of sale—that would transfer ownership of The Washington Post to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos—had yet to dry, and the media couldn’t help but to speculate about what it all means for the newspaper, and the newspaper industry as a whole. So this list of the Top 5 most influential organizations would be incomplete without noting that all eyes are fixed on Bezos.
If you read the reports from pundits and insiders who attended his pre-closing visit to “WaPo,” he has been rather vague about specific operational plans; however, the tone of his rhetoric has been consistently optimistic—a breath of fresh air for a weary industry.
But not all have been charmed. Peter Kafka suggested on AllThingsD.com, “If you’re expecting Bezos to reveal anything about his plans for the paper, then you’ve never sat through an Amazon earnings call or listened to a Jeff Bezos interview. … He’s going to take time—‘years’—to experiment, and the only thing he knows is that it’s important for readers to get value out of reading the paper.”
Therein lies the great mystery about this intriguing pairing of old media and new technology. How will the story unfold? Naturally, Bezos’ experiences at Amazon will shape his strategies.
The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone reported that he has hinted at a subscription overhaul, and that a “bundling” concept may be more effective than relying on individual articles to compel readers to subscribe.
Authors Christine Haughney and Michael D. Shear reported in The New York Times that a member of the WaPo staff quoted Bezos this way: “It should be as easy to get a subscription to The Post as it is to buy diapers on Amazon.” They also reported Bezos’ affinity for exceptional content, which compels readers first, with advertisers to follow.
Many have speculated about Bezos’ motivation to buy the newspaper, but Caroline Little, President and CEO of The Newspaper Association of America, surmised that it’s simply the promise of profit. In an op-ed for FORTUNE Magazine, Little suggested, “Jeff Bezos, John Henry, and Warren Buffett are not investing in dying businesses. They don’t do that. They are investing in assets poised for a rebound.