UPDATED: NAA Gathering Not a ‘Secret’ Meeting, Say Participants

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By: Joe Strupp and Jennifer Saba

Michael Golden, vice chairman of The New York Times Co. and chief operating officer of The New York Times Regional Media Group, defended the controversial Newspaper Association of America meeting Thursday in Chicago, saying there was nothing secretive about it.

“The characterization in The Atlantic that this was a ‘secret meeting’ was inaccurate,” Golden, who attended the event, told E&P Friday. “If it were secret, there wouldn’t have been a sign on the door saying ‘NAA meeting.’ This was a meeting that had been planned for weeks — you can’t get these people together without planning it over a period of time.”

He referred to The Atlantic’s James Warren, who broke news of the meeting Thursday.

Golden added that even though the meeting was not publicized by NAA, that does not mean there was any effort to conceal it: “There is a difference between a public meeting or a town hall forum and a working group meeting and a secret meeting. It wasn’t a convention, but NAA does a lot of things.”

“This was no attempt at a clandestine meeting,” said NAA President John Sturm, who called the summit a productive “information exchange.”

Sturm added, “Price was never discussed, and interestingly enough, there was no reason to discuss price. [That’s] always a local decision.

“There was a lot of talk about what people think works and doesn’t work,” he said, “and success stories of what does work.”

Steven Brill, one of the co-founders of Journalism Online and who was among the particpants, added, ?It was much a do about not a lot. It wasn?t like it was in a cave or anything. We had talked to half of the participants in the room individually in meetings in their offices. For me it was an opportunity to meet some of the others with out having to do a ton of traveling. We don?t think it?s necessary or advisable to get the industry to act as group.?

The Times’ Golden also pointed out that at the recent NAA convention, a similar meeting of top newspaper executives also took place.

Asked about the specifics of what occurred at the gathering, which some have speculated included charging for Web content, Golden declined to comment, but added, “there were a lot of people there facing a lot of similar issues to the ones we are facing.”

The Times has reportedly put in place preliminary plans for some kind of Web-payment program. Following a recent meeting between staffers and Executive Editor Bill Keller, word leaked out about several options being considered.

Golden declined to comment on any specific plans for charging online, stating only that “newspapers everywhere are looking at this question.” But, he added, “I am not aware of what every newspaper is doing.”

Mark Newhouse, executive vice president/newspapers for Advance Publications, also attended the meeting, but declined to comment to E&P. Associated Press President and CEO Tom Curley, who attended, referred requests for comment to NAA.

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