By: Jennifer Saba
David Hiller has become a lightning rod since taking on the job as publisher of the Los Angeles Times. During his short tenure, two editors abruptly and very publicly left their positions mainly on the grounds that they were averse to making more staff cuts in the newsroom.
It’s no wonder why Hiller goodnaturedly asked himself aloud why he would ever agree to accept an invitation as a participant on a panel titled ?Making the Publisher/Editor Partnership Work.?
“When I got the invitation, I said, you’ve got to be kidding!” he laughed.
Perhaps he agreed due to timing: It was the last session planned during the Capital Conference, which included the annual meetings of the Newspaper Association of America, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and NEXPO. About a quarter of the room was filled with attendees, roughly 70. The majority of those at the conference exited Tuesday after a somewhat discouraging confab that spanned five days in Washington D.C.
Or maybe too many editors were still chasing down Associated Press CEO Tom Curley, who during an earlier panel, raised their wrath with one of the most spirited question and answer sessions of the conference on rate changes and turf invasion.
But back to that Publisher/Editor panel– Hiller was on the receiving end of the first question fired-off by moderator Gregory Favre (cousin of football player Brett!), the distinguished fellow in journalism values at The Poynter Institute. He asked Hiller, since two editors fled under his leadership, what did he tell Russ Stanton, the new editor of the Los Angeles Times, to expect?
?I chose Russ to figure out how to break us out of the cycle of short term cuts and get us to sustainability,? Hiller said, later adding, ?How do we build a business for years to come? We all know how critical it is to keep these enterprises going.? Stanton?s work as innovation editor and the fact that he is a Los Angeles native helped too.
Hiller, along with his fellow panel members, went on to address the anxiety in the newspaper industry and echoed a common complaint heard often during the conference?that newspapers are too dour in the coverage of itself. He called for more positive thinking about the future of the medium. ?We read so much of the doom and gloom about our industry,? he said, acknowledging it will be different, probably smaller. ?We?ve got to suck it up.?
Panelist Barbara Henry, publisher of The Indianapolis Star (others alongside were publishers Elizabeth Brenner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Charles Pittman of Schurz Communications) said that her paper tries to find the positive things, like a rise in readership, and publicize it. ?Let?s tell our story. We?re hunkering down instead of beating our chests!?
Henry added her paper crows about its market reach in its own pages. When she explained to advertisers that the Indy Star and its products reach well over 80% of the market, she said they were shocked. They had no idea.
As the industry transforms its model, there is the looming question of it can sustain quality journalism. Hiller thinks the conversation needs to move away from the idea of fat cats wanting to maintain their margins. ?We need to change the debate from greed to how do we keep these great newspapers going,? Hiller said, explaining the days of high profit margins are of the past.