By: Jennifer Saba
Scott Smith, the newly installed president of Tribune Publishing, has his work cut out for him (as we detail in a feature story in this issue, starting on Page 28). Simply put, 2004 was a tough year for the company. The Newsday and Hoy circulation fracas, a potential $915 million tussle with the Internal Revenue Service, the Los Angeles market in a free-fall ? this welcome wagon is practically hell on wheels.
His first initiative, however, sticks close to home, and at a paper that is successful and scandal-free: The Chicago Tribune, where he most recently served as president, publisher, and CEO. Smith has been an executive with Tribune for 25 years.
Tribune’s marquee newspaper began a subscriber initiative aimed at retaining and rewarding readers through special offerings detailed in a full-page ad on Jan. 9. Then, the paper dipped its toe in the paid-online pool by charging for archives on its Web site beginning Jan. 16. If all goes as planned, it could serve as a model for other Tribune papers.
E&P spoke with Smith on the afternoon of Jan. 11, a mere week-and-a-half after he took the wheel, succeeding Jack Fuller ? and already he seems well versed in articulating future strategies.
What are you plans going forward?
First of all, we believe the publishing group overall is in relatively healthy shape. We view our position within our 10 markets as fundamentally strong.
Our challenge is, how do we best grow? Our priorities are four-fold: We want to grow responsive readership and online audiences through great journalism, marketing, and customer service. We want to grow revenue and market share across the board through compelling offerings. We want to continuously improve efficiency and smartly manage our expenses. And we want to continue to develop highly effective people.
Let’s talk about Los Angeles. The circulation at the paper is declining severely and ad revenue took a giant hit, despite the five Pulitzers last year. Is the paper a harbinger of things to come for the industry?
What I would say, is that the very largest metro markets are inherently the most competitive. So in the world we live in today, where competition with both audience and advertiser involves cross media … your market share is going to be a lower percent of the market.
How can we find smart ways to grow our share of readership as well as our share of advertising? That’s where we are focused. It’s not easy but we see real upside there.
Can you elaborate on how you plan to grow readership and ad revenue?
I’ll go back to the Chicago Tribune, for example. We are launching a consumer advantage program. It’s a focus on our very best customers. Essentially, we are offering them an even more compelling set of benefits in terms of increasing loyalty. It’s beyond classic subscriptions. It involves opportunities to go to special events sponsored by the advertiser.
We are also implementing an online subscription fee. We believe most people use online sources differently than their printed newspaper. It’s a hybrid approach.
For the online audience we are going to program the site for breaking news, classifieds, retail, and online shopping ? that will be open access. For another set, our view is that they use it as an enhancement to their newspaper. We are going to have another portion of that site as subscriber-only.
Will this become a model for other Tribune newspapers?
We’ll see how well it goes. We are very focused on subscriber retention in today’s world of do-not-call. We want [readers] to have a compelling experience, so they’re more inclined to stay.
The TV division had a weak year. How much does the newspaper division have to help the overall company? What is your philosophy on that?
We need to be the best we can be in a very challenging market. We need to smartly focus on how we can be more than just the sum of our parts and share our expertise so we can work together in terms of realizing our potential.
What are your overall thoughts for the rest of the year?
We are optimistic about our future. We say that knowing there are great challenges that we face in intensely competitive market place. We think we have a terrific group of people, and terrific places with good upside.