E&P?s Interactive Media Conference Kicks off with a Wake-up Call

By: E&P Staff

Editor & Publisher’s Interactive Media Conference opened with a roar Wednesday with an opening keynote by Journal Register Co. CEO John Paton — who urged those in attendance at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas to put down their acoustic guitars and pick up the electrics. Now.

“I don’t know why, but the number of editors, publishers, ad directors and circ directors who don’t get this is still very high,” said Paton, who is trying to transform the thinking at his company to digital-first. “They act as if the last two decades are a phase.”

Most of the people running the newspaper industry, he said, lack a serious understanding of “how news is truly created and consumed today. It lacks an understanding of how audiences now assemble themselves. And more importantly does not prioritize what the customer wants and when they want it.

“We spend 20 hours of a day producing a newspaper then shovel it onto the Web,” he said. “True, we update on the Web sporadically, but essentially as an enhancement to print. And that is nothing like understanding that we are dealing with different mediums that have different strengths, and different audience expectations.”

Paton, who was smart enough to state that he didn’t have the magic bullet to reverse the fortunes of newspaper companies, nonetheless drove home the point that publishers need to accept the notion that their businesses have to evolve in order to survive.

“We need to get our priorities straight,” he said. Which means be Digital First and Print Last. Cut legacy model costs by outsourcing certain processes — but not in content, sales or marketing/research. Create an investment-worthy, well-researched business plan that stabilizes and grows the share of digital in the bottom line.

“If you want your newspaper company to change and you care about journalism and getting it out to the people you serve, then you have to make that change radical,” he continued. “The only way I know how to do this is to put the Digital people in charge.

“The print people have been in charge of this transformation for more than a decade and they are NO GOOD at it,” he said. “At JRC, the head of digital content is now in charge of ALL content. The Chief Digital Officer is now in charge of ALL sales. Our soon-to-be-named head of ALL business development’s only experience – is Digital.”
Such talk of much-needed change permeates the atmosphere at the Interactive Media Conference, where some 40 top media figures from inside and outside the newspaper industry are offering insight on such urgent topics as: Can Digital Tablets Save Media? Vendor Roulette: Choosing the Right One; It’s All About the App; Lessons From the Local Startups; Advertising Focus: Reaching Jaded Consumers; and Editorial Focus: Will Twitter Peter Out?

Over both days, E&P’s annual trade show will feature leading technology vendors and service providers to help newsrooms, operations, sales and circulation succeed in these challenging times.

Keynoting on the second day of the Interactive Media Conference Thursday will be another key figure in the new media ecosystem: Josh Cohen, Google News’ senior business project manager.

The Interactive Media Conference also includes the 15th-annual EPpy Awards, showcasing the best media company Web sites. The winners will be announced mid-afternoon tomorrow, so check back with E&P Online for the latest updates.

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