By: Nu Yang
Last year, millionaires Jeff Bezos and John Henry purchased the Washington Post and the Boston Globe, respectively; the San Francisco Chronicle and Dallas Morning News both dismantled their paywalls; and the rise of mobile continued. If 2013 is any indication on how the new year will go, expect a lot of surprises, many more lessons learned, and innovations that will keep the industry on its toes.
Perhaps the ones practicing their pirouettes this very moment are the publishers—the men and women tasked with running their newspapers with smaller newsrooms and leaner budgets. E&P asked some of these publishers what 2013 taught them and what they’re working on for 2014.
Mac Tully, Denver Post
The Denver Post recently made headlines with the hiring of its first marijuana editor and the launch of its thecannabist.co website. According to publisher Mac Tully, this move is just one of the many ways the Post intends to create unique local content in 2014.
Looking back, Tully said 2013 saw a strong trend of the paper’s digital audience shifting to mobile. “Three years ago, online traffic was monitored by the desktop. Now, 40 percent of our audience is on mobile. We’re seeing a high growth with mobile and a decline in desktop.”
Tully said last year was also the start of operating on a “mobile-first mentality.” At the Post, the transition includes connecting with audiences on handheld devices and offering a responsive website design to readers.
“It’s about putting our print product on multiple platforms,” he said.
According to Tully, it has been a challenge to get out of a single platform mindset, but by offering different bundle solutions, he hopes to see readers and advertisers moving away from the single platform and toward a multiple package.
In addition, Digital First Media, the Post’s parent company, announced in November that all but one of its 75 daily newspapers would implement an all-access subscription model. The Post rolled out its metered paywall Dec. 2.
For 2014, Tully said the focus will continue to offer multiple platforms and bundles, in particular, identifying category solutions to advertisers.
For Tully, it all boils down to content. “We’re a content company with brand value,” he said, emphasizing the Post’s four consecutive Pulitzer Prizes over the past four years.
Tully is optimistic as he enters the new year, saying, “I feel the economy is getting better. As the economy improves, advertisers will spend more money with us.” Tully also sees the Post reaching more readers. “Instead of how many copies we print, it’s about how many we can serve. We’re not just at the print level anymore.”
My wish list for 2014: move to mobile-first; rebrand ourselves from a paper company to a media company; pull off our strategies and be successful.
Kevin Olson, Jackson Hole (Wy.) News & Guide
For a smaller market, Jackson Hole News & Guide publisher Kevin Olson considers the launch of his paper’s metered paywall in November one of his accomplishments in 2013. Since the launch, Olson said there have been “tweaks” made in order to “refine it for advertisers and subscribers.” The paper also revealed a new and expanded website in November with all the content of the weekly News & Guide and the Jackson Hole Daily.
Last year also saw a change of ownership as Olson, then-chief operating officer, purchased the company from owner Michael Sellett, who had been at the helm for nearly 40 years. Olson said helping with the transition was the “staff continuity from one owner to the next.”
In 2013, Olson said he saw growth in local advertising, especially with retail display and classifieds. Looking forward, he wants to study how digital advertising works in markets his size and the best way to compliment local businesses with a strong print and digital presence.
This year, he also plans to invest in staffing by adding key positions in the newsroom and advertising departments.
When he looks at the industry’s future, Olson said he is excited to see it become “agile” again. “We’re not stuck in our ways…the hunkering down phase is over. We’re emerging with a new outlook and considering things we hadn’t considered in the past.”
Olson remains confident in community papers. In this upcoming year, his daily paper will celebrate 35 years. The paper will also be gearing up for an election year full of local and state races.
“We’re a small shop, but we have a lot going on for 2014,” Olson said.
My wish list for 2014: grow our paid subscriptions, so we don’t have to rely on single-copy sales.
P.J. Browning, (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier
When asked what 2013 looked like for (Charleston) Post and Courier publisher P.J. Browning, she shared a quote from former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, “It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required.” In 2013, Browning said for publishers, it meant change was required.
“Last year was a turning year in the industry,” she said. “I feel that things got better because we’re not rooted in the old anymore. 2013 proved to be successful in new technology and with innovative ways we’re using the internet.”
As publisher, Browning said she made it a priority to allocate resources to provide digital training to both her newsroom and her sales representatives. “In the last few years, budgets have cut training, but in 2013, we made a serious investment with training our people.”
One of her biggest challenges last year was the budget. “We continue to look at each quarter,” she said. “We were brave enough to spend money on training and we feel the investment will pay off.”
Digital was a key revenue strategy for Browning in 2013. “I think it’s important the staff understand its value. We’re training our newspaper team to not be afraid of the ‘big ask’ when it comes to selling digital. We’re feeding the online side of the business.”
To meet the needs of her traditional and non-traditional advertisers, Browning has also hired digital-only sales representatives. “Even though we have smart print sales reps making digital buys, we have to ask, ‘What is a good digital buy?’ and ‘Are we asking the right questions?’”
In 2014, Browning said she is looking at growth. She plans to add two political reporters, expand the paper’s Food section, and tie in more categories, such as home improvement, to advertising and editorial. On the production side, Browning also sees adding new revenue streams as the paper opens up its presses to commercial printing. The paper will also launch a new iPad app for readers this year.
My wish list for 2014: make our budget; create market-share growth with our advertisers; grow our online and print readership.
Aaron Kushner, Orange County (Santa Ana, Calif.) Register
Since purchasing Freedom Communications, parent company of the Orange County Register in 2012, publisher Aaron Kushner and his team have aggressively added to their print products, hiring hundreds in the newsroom and putting more page numbers in their newspapers.
Last year, Kushner implemented a paywall at the Register’s website, purchased the (Riverside, Calif.) Press-Enterprise from A.H. Belo Corp., opened the Long Beach (Calif.) Register and announced plans to launch the Los Angeles Register.
“We’ve made very nice progress to improve our products,” Kushner said. “We’re getting traction from subscribers and local advertisers to take advantage of our strong print product.”
Reflecting on 2013, Kushner said one of his biggest challenges was on the national advertising side. For large national advertisers, Kushner said he wanted them to support the printed newspaper more. “If they continue the grind of giving less support to newspapers, in 10 years, they will see how cost-effective newspapers are to consumers and regret the grind down.”
In 2013, Kushner said he saw improved results with local advertising dollars and subscriber revenue. “We’re behind a healthy paywall, resulting in solid digital revenue,” he said. “A part of our strategy in 2014 is to continue these upgrades.”
With the addition of the Long Beach and Riverside papers and the planned expansion into Los Angeles, Kushner sees editorial and advertising covering more geographical ground. “We had a solid year in Orange County and we will continue to deliver much value to the area, and add to our Riverside and Los Angeles products,” he said. “Both teams will have their plates full in 2014.”
My wish list for 2014: continue revenue growth; work on our cost structure.
Jim Porter, Canton (Ohio) Repository
Last year was all about unity for Canton Repository publisher Jim Porter, stating he saw the start of newspapers “synching” together. In October, the Repository and the (Akron, Ohio) Beacon Journal reached an agreement for the Repository to print the Beacon Journal.
“We once viewed the Beacon Journal as our competitor, but we now realize we need each other to survive and to thrive,” Porter said. “I only see more collaboration in the future.”
One of his challenges last year was ensuring his advertising staff and multimedia executives believed in selling their product.
“They need to really understand the power of the paper especially the reach and the position it has,” Porter said. “It’s about owning the paper’s brand when they go out there in order to make local business grow.”
The Repository set its paywall in 2011 with some adjustments made in 2012. Last year, the paper continued to experiment with new revenue strategies when Porter became publisher. After receiving several phone calls from businesses wanting a story in the paper, Porter took their requests and created an initiative called Stark 100, where 100 local businesses in Stark County, Ohio could provide their own copy to be published in the paper. According to Porter, the advertorials generated $100,000.
When it comes to cost savings, he urged his fellow publishers to sell more, not cut more. “Instead of cutting expenses, search for new revenue sources,” he said.
This year, Porter said he wants to focus on the paper’s strong, local content; continue with the collaborating on production whether it’s with printing or delivery; and to get back circulation and advertising.
He said he saw more opportunities in the industry especially when it came to digital, which he described as “complementary to print, not competitive.”
My wish list for 2014: an improved economy; for national advertisers to look at papers again because no one has the reach that newspapers do.