What Publishers Really Want To Talk About In Dallas p.12

By: mark fitzgerald The future of classifieds, flat circulation and the price of newsprint are just some of the
hot topics that will be taken up in the gathering's many unofficial meetings
AS ANY CONVENTION veteran knows, there are at least two meetings going when the Newspaper Association of America gets together for its annual publishers meeting.
One is the official meeting, being held this year from April 19-22 at the Wyndham Anatole Hotel in Dallas. Troy Aikman will be at that one, and there will be discussions about diversity, small market newspapering and what's up with the Associated Press. Check your program for times and locations.
The other meeting is more free-form. It will be convening whenever and wherever two or three publishers are gathered together: in the halls, at Sunday's party, in the hotel lobby and at Deep Ellum bars.

There's no printed program for this meeting, but make no mistake ? there is an agenda. And, like the official NAA program, that agenda changes from year to year.
"Last year in Chicago, people were really interested in the Web, and everybody was asking everyone else about what they were doing on the Internet. There won't be much discussion about that this year, because now we've all got Web sites," said William C. Marcil, president of Forum Communications group and publisher of the Forum in Fargo, N.D. (Incidentally, the Forum's own Web site at www.in-forum.com is logging more than a million hits a month, Marcil says.)
This year, the hot topics will be flat circulation, rising property values, uncertain newsprint pricing and ? especially ? the future of classified advertising, an informal survey of newspaper executives indicates.

Net impact on market share?
"You are hearing so much about what the Internet and Bill Gates can do to our classified franchise not only from the trade press, but Forbes and other business magazines. What will it do to our market share, and how fast is it happening? That's the sort of thing I expect to be hearing about in Dallas," said Daniel E. Baumann, president and chief operating officer of the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights, Ill.
Wooster, Ohio, Daily Record publisher Raymond Victor Dix, who will be attending his 18th NAA convention this year, similarly wants to talk with colleagues about Internet classifieds.
"I feel there will always be a need for the printed word," Dix said, "and that TV, radio and the Internet, although important, are not meaningful substitutes for the printed word. . . . But like other papers, we are wrestling with the issue of whether to put our classified ads on our Web site. How do you come up with the right mix between print and the Internet?"

Readerships vs. Circulation
Publishers are also clearly worried about circulation, and seem more inclined than ever to emphasize readership, which is generally encouraging, over raw numbers, which have not been as good.
Lee Enterprises president and chief executive officer Richard D. Gottlieb, who will be among the busiest publishers in Dallas as he prepares to become the new NAA chairman, nevertheless says he expects to talk up readership in informal discussions with colleagues.

"We've got to, as an industry, talk more about readership because we've got a good story to tell," Gottlieb said.
"In some markets where newspapers have lost circulation, we see that readership is holding its own or actually up," he continued.
Gary G. Gerlach, publisher of the 10,000-circulation Ames, Iowa, Daily Tribune, says he, too, expects to talk about circulation ? but from a different perspective.
"If you look at some of the healthiest trends in this industry ? in terms of paid circulation growth, growing readership ? they are coming from the smaller-sized papers. So maybe there's something (big) newspapers can learn from us," he said.

New Emphasis on Small Papers
Even the presence of small-paper publishers like Gerlach at the Dallas meeting symbolizes something of a transition at the NAA.
"It seems the NAA has become a lot more sensitive to the small daily and community newspaper publisher," Gerlach said. "I didn't go to the NAA much because it was becoming a super-large newspaper association, period. But now with changes in the dues structures . . . and with the Sunday morning (small market) ideas sessions, it seems they realize this is an important constituency to focus on."
Whether they are running newspapers big or small, however, publishers observe one ritual in the informal NAA gatherings that never changes year to year. "Typically, the first thing you say to each other is, 'How's business?' " said Jeremy L. Halbreich, president and general manager of the Dallas Morning News.
That question is likely to produce as many smiles as it did last year, but the discussion may be more nuanced this week.
"Business is still very good," Halbreich said, "but a lot of newspapers have gotten off to a somewhat slower start than they had expected."

Among the topics Halbreich says he will be discussing in the halls and lobbies are the state of national advertising ? which industrywide is down a bit after the strong surge last year ? and the the encouraging prospects for NAA's Partners 2000 advertising initiative.
Newsprint prices are an evergreen topic in the informal meetings. But this year there seems to be far less buzz about newsprint, despite the attempt, on April Fool's Day, to make another price increase stick.
That's not surprising given this year's business climate, Halbreich says."I think it's human nature. Budgets are done and most everyone had made provisions for a reasonable newsprint increase."

More Newspaper Sales
Expect much more buzz about newspaper sales, publishers say.
"I think consolidation and the clustering of newspapers is going to be a big topic," Forum's Marcil said.
"From a publisher's standpoint, these high multiples you're getting for newspapers these days is very interesting," he continued.
"You certainly always talk about the prices of newspapers, especially now that they are sky-high, and you always talk about what the next big sale will be," commented Frank Shepherd, president and chief executive officer of 21st Century Network Inc., which is publisher of the Oakland Press and two other daily and 22 nondaily papers in southeast Michigan.
However, Shepherd is one publisher who will not be a permanent fixture in the informal NAA meeting.
"There really are two meetings going on at the NAA, but I tell you what, I attend all the sessions," Shepherd said of the formal meeting.
"I get something out of every session and it seems to me if you are a CEO you have to go back to your department heads and know what they are talking about.
"I think those people who spend all their
time outside the meeting are really missing something."
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