INFE speakers stress versatility in workplace

By: Lucia Moses

INFE speakers stress versatility in workplace
Financial execs must adapt to changing industry

LAS VEGAS ? Bean counters no more, today’s newspaper financial executives need strong management skills and an understanding of the entire organization. That was the theme of the 52nd annual convention of the International Newspaper Financial Executives (INFE), which met June 13-16 at Caesar’s Palace.
More than 350 members and non-members attended the 828-member organization’s conference held in the gambling capital, where sessions focused on the managerial, financial, and strategic areas of the business executive’s job. The group met, as it does periodically, in conjunction with Nexpo ’99, the annual newspaper technology and operations trade show, giving INFE members a chance to attend operations sessions and visit the show floor where more than 400 vendors were exhibited.
Highlighting the conference was a panel discussion with four of the industry’s star executives, who discussed the changing shape of newspaper companies. The Internet threat, consolidation trend, and anticipated change in cross-ownership will drastically change how newspaper companies of the future look and operate, the executives say.
The participants were Tony Ridder, CEO of Knight Ridder; Gary Watson, president of Gannett Co. Inc.’s newspaper division; Dean Singleton, CEO of MediaNews Group Inc.; and Ralph Martin, CEO of Birmingham, Ala.-based Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.
Ridder encourages newspapers to team up to compete in the online world, as Knight Ridder has done by forming online partnerships with other newspaper companies. “What concerns me is, the newspaper industry is not taking the Internet as seriously as it should,” Ridder says. “I think newspapers spend too much time competing with each other. I think we have to do a better job of working together.”
Another piece of advice from the panelists to the audience: focus on building and retaining circulation, and be strategic partners with publishers and other key executives at the newspaper.
The four-day networking and education conference opened on an inspiring note, as participants were treated to a pep talk from motivational speaker Art Berg. Berg, who was left a quadriplegic after a car accident 15 years ago, told listeners that just as he had to adapt after his accident, their success depends on their ability to adapt to changes in their industry.
In the spirit of afflicting the comfortable, Gregory E. Favre, vice president of news for McClatchy Newspapers, warned INFE members during a luncheon speech that paying too much attention to delivering profits threatens the product, and he urged newspapers to make quality journalism their core value. Favre, who peppered his remarks with good-natured humor, emphasizes, however, that the editorial and business sides can ? and must ? work together in a spirit of mutual respect.
During a legal update, a staple of every INFE annual convention, association general counsel L. Michael Zinser cautioned executives to be ready to react as unions are focusing attention on organizing groups at newspapers. “The Teamsters right now are very actively looking at newspapers,” he says. He also recommends that newspapers update their sexual harassment policies to reflect last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that establishes greater liability for employers, and to make sure that the newspaper’s contract with adult carriers clearly states what benefits carriers are entitled to.
Family-owned newspapers lobbying for a change in the estate and gift tax code won’t get any major relief in their next federal tax bill, Greg Jenner of PriceWaterhouseCoopers told INFE members during a tax update, also an annual event. The code, blamed for the declining number of family-owned papers, is insignificant from a revenue standpoint but a political hot potato, Jenner explains.
And on the strategy side, newspaper consultant Tom Arnold told executives that they can make their newspapers more profitable and reduce waste using analysis tools that measure the cost of providing a service or product to the reader or advertiser and help newspapers set improvement goals.
?(Editor & Publisher Web [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher June 19, 1999) [Caption]

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