Friends and/or Foes Rock NAA

By: Jennifer Saba The Newspaper Association of America decided to shake things up this year by inviting a roster of outsiders to "tell it like it is" during its annual conference in New York. For four days in May, executives from tiny dailies to large metros convened at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square to hear advertisers and Internet figures speak to the industry.

The keynote panel during the 8 a.m. kick-off session could not have been more of an eye-opener. There sat Craig Newmark representing the scourge of newspaper classifieds,, fielding questions from talk show host Charlie Rose. Some attendees called him a "dork," but his message wasn't for the meek: "I do have a great deal of sympathy for people who run printing presses, because they are screwed," he said. "Even the kids realize news is important. The problem is, paper is too expensive."

That remark jazzed New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who turned to McClatchy Co. CEO Gary Pruitt and shot him a knowing grin.

There was a feeling during this conference that it's all about the news, regardless of the delivery form. Everyone there, including Sulzberger, knows it's important to stop circulation and advertising losses with print, but there was just as much talk about portfolio products and online initiatives ? and even some mobile talk.

Good thing, because two of the industry's largest advertisers delivered blunt criticisms as to why they're moving their dollars away from newspapers. Anne MacDonald, president and CMO of Macy's Corporate Marketing and a self-described "newspaper junkie," stated, "To win our ad dollars you need to be winning in the marketplace. But that is not the case."

As she delivered a precise and thorough presentation, MacDonald said she was very "concerned" about the latest FAS-FAX numbers released just a few days earlier: "The readership and circulation data is causing retailers like us to shift our ad dollars." She laid out a nine-point plan ? one conference observer mentioned to E&P that hardly anyone in the audience picked up a pen ? of how newspapers could win back the love (and money) of Macy's.

For all the talk about hyper-local content, MacDonald isn't seeing it. She suggested to push that kind of news to the front page. Another tip: Publishers should market their paper. Really!

Later that day, G. Richard Wagoner Jr., chairman and CEO of General Motors, said his company is fleeing newspapers because GM wants to "go where our customers are going" ? the punch line being the Internet. He added that newspapers should leverage their trusted content, which is "accurate, fact-based and unbiased. ... You have an advantage in this area over your digital counterparts" ? i.e., blogs.

Prime movers on the Web were present and accounted for, asking ? albeit from a high place ? for the companionship of newspapers. A panel on "partnerships in transition" gathered executives from Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. The giants have been busy getting newspapers to join their teams. Yahoo announced an audacious newspaper alliance that promises to share technology, ad revenue, and extend the papers' national reach. Google wants to be the middleman coordinating print ad buys.

Think that's not a problem? It's astonishing that after years of complaining to publishers how hard it is to buy across several papers, advertisers are still bringing up this subject. MacDonald had even made the issue one of her nine points.

Tom Phillips ? Google's director of print ads and the former founding publisher of Spy magazine ? sat on the panel, hat in one hand, flowers in the other. Speaking on behalf of his co-panelists, Yahoo's Hilary Schneider and Microsoft's Harry Patz, he gushed: "We want to be your best friends!"

Then he admitted that Schneider, Yahoo's senior vice president of marketplace, is doing a better job interfacing with the newspaper industry after some confused executives asked what's in it for them.

"Boy, what a difference a year makes!" joked Schneider, the one-time contender to run Knight Ridder before it was spirited away to McClatchy. "Even a year ago I was talking about how come newspapers can't come together.

"We are quite selective where we put our strategic alliances. Newspapers fit that so well. Our technology and reach and ability to engage audience is unparalleled," Schneider added. Something, it should be noted, that newspapers were able to brag about not so long ago.


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