Taylor, Skipper at E&P Confab: Papers Must Shift to Interactive Online Content

By: Jennifer Saba

The Editor & Publisher/Mediaweek Interactive Media Conference presented two speakers in its opening session Wednesday morning: Jim Taylor, vice chairman of The Harrison Group, who ventured a big-picture look at the future of media, and John Skipper, executive vice president at ESPN, who zeroed in on what works for his company on the Web.

Taylor, known as a futurist and brand guru whose claim to fame is the American Express Gold Card, among other accomplishments, told the audience of about 200 that newspapers push content with very little interaction, which needs to change if they industry wants to survive.

“Children have learned to negotiate — they’re great at it,” he said. “But newspapers don’t negotiate,” he continued, addressing why newspapers are having difficulty attracting young readers.

Taylor suggested that newspapers need to be bold, citing Gannett, where executives launched USA Today despite howls of criticism. They refused to be challenged, and they relied on travelers for feedback, he said about the success of the model.

Newspapers need to be more willing to hear from their readers, he said, and those publications that simply throw the print edition on the Web will lose out. Newspaper sites should allow readers to post their own, uncensored mini Op-Ed pieces. They should let reporters chat with readers, and they should put up polls regarding yesterday’s news events, Taylor explained.

Skipper’s presentation was almost a mini case study on Taylor’s suggestions, showing how ESPN’s online operations now work, after much trial and error.

“People don’t want to read a magazine online,” he said about repurposing content. “One of the least successful things we did was take the magazine, in its entirety or portions of it, and put it online.”

It’s not that ESPN won’t use content that previously ran on TV or in the magazine. For example, if ESPN shows a two-minute video on cable, it would be edited down to 45 seconds.

The Web site allows people to interact with writers, and it offers a new poll every day to ask readers what they thought about past events, Skipper said.

Also equally important is how ESPN sells its space. ESPN created a group to sell everything, Skipper said, as opposed to more methods that separate, say, online and print sales people. “We try and establish the value of each of those mediums and sell that,” he said.

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