Day 2 of Mega-Conference Focuses on Innovation and Revenue Ideas That Are Working Right Now

  • The winner of the 2020 Mega-Innovation Award was the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for their iPad strategy. Pictured with the award is Eliza Gaines, VP of audience development at WEHCO Media Inc. (left), and publisher Walter E. Hussman Jr. (Photo by Nu Yang)

The second day of the Key Executives Mega-Conference in Fort Worth, Texas started bright and early with a timely and important topic: “How Women Leaders are Transforming Newspapers.”

Moderated by Mi-Ai Parrish, Sue Clark-Johnson Professor in Media Innovation and Leadership at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Media Communication at Arizona State University, panelists included Julia Wallace, Frank Russell Chair in the Business of Journalism, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and co-author of “There’s No Crying in Newsrooms: What Women Have Learned About What It Takes to Lead,” and P.J. Browning, president, newspaper division, Evening Post Publishing and publisher of the Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C.

Wallace started the discussion with a history of women in the newsroom and how the Civil Rights Acts in 1964, which banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, also helped working women. But it wasn’t until a group of women sued Newsweek in 1970 and won, thus allowing women to be reporters, that the world started paying attention to the need of equality in the workplace. Despite the accomplishments over the last few decades, Wallace said there has been some regression.

“Our industry continues to still be very white and male,” she said.

Parrish shared research and statistics that showed when there three or more women on any team, it makes the whole team better.

“Women-led companies lead to overall job satisfaction,” she said. “That’s good for business and for employees.”

Parrish also shared how women manage risk better; often they are tasked to “clean up messes.” Browning confirmed that fact by telling a story of how she was asked (more like requested) to move Macon, Ga. immediately to become publisher there, despite just taking on a publisher’s job in Pennsylvania. In Browning’s 30-plus year career, she has seen more diverse voices and women rise in the ranks, but as consolidation grows in the industry, there are fewer roles for women.

“Studies show that by going after women, you attract a bigger audience,” she said, citing how the Post and Courier’s Pulitzer Prize winning series “Till Death Do Us Part” was made richer after women reporters were added to the team.

The “Digital Subscriptions and Consumer Revenue Models” panels were both moderated by Jed Williams, chief strategy officer of Local Media Association, and Pete Doucette, managing director of FTI Consulting. Various newspaper companies shared their case studies on how they grew digital subscriptions and consumer revenue after setting their own benchmarks. Matt Fulton, vice president of digital products at MaineToday Media, shared that after being lost in a sea of data, their benchmarks helped them look at the customer journey in a new law. The result was a 10 percent increase of total print and digital subscribers. Thanks to their benchmarks, the Buffalo News saw an increase of 79 percent in digital subscribers, while the Post and Courier saw an increase of 45 percent. The Southeast Missourian saw a 40 percent in average monthly consumer revenue and 37 percent decrease in churn. Publisher Jon Rust said the results have helped lift moral in the newsroom.

“It showed that we were trusted and liked in the community and that we could build a model on it,” he said.

Before lunch, the three finalists of the Mega-Innovation Award presented their innovative projects to the audience. Walter E. Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, shared how they are converting their print readers to become more digital-savvy by distributing iPads to them so they can read the digital replica online. So far, it’s working with 40,000 converted readers and 28,000 distributed iPads. Salt Lake Tribune vice president of business innovation Fraser Nelson told the Tribune’s journey on becoming the first legacy newspaper to become a nonprofit. Sumter Item publisher Vince Johnson, along with the paper’s executive editor Kayla Green and chief digital officer Micah Green, shared how video and events have paid off big for the South Carolina paper. In the end, it was the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s project that took home the prize.

An afternoon session on “Making News Deserts Boom Again” told the stories of The Compass Experiment and the Daily Memphian. Led by Mandy Jenkins, the Compass Experiment’s first community launched in October 2019 in Youngstown, Ohio. Jenkins announced two more cities will launch this year. Eric Barnes, CEO of the Daily Memphian, shared how the digital-only paper launched in September 2018 after he saw a need for more local news written by Memphis-based reporters.

Seven roundtable discussions later in the afternoon focused on several, diverse topics ranging from changing your publication’s frequency to artificial intelligence.

The conference day ended with a presentation by Ryan Dohrn, founder of Brain Swell Media, who shared 20 revenue ideas from large and small markets that are working right now.

A complete program can be viewed on the Mega-Conference website.

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