Fredrikstad is a small, sleepy town in Norway that is home to Fredrikstad Blad, a 23,000-circulation newspaper. INMA Executive Director and CEO Earl J. Wilkinson used that small newspaper as a big example of the impact employees can have on corporate decisions.
The newspaper's employees noticed growth in digital media and asked corporate to revamp the organisation to take advantage of the trend. It resulted in The 50/50 Project, where the time and work at the paper was split equally representing the print side and the digital side of the newspaper.
The newspaper was re-organised around its path of growth, Wilkinson said, rather than around revenue. It was a success for Fredikstad Blad because revenue from the print edition remained the same while digital revenue began to increase.
The moral of the story? “If you don’t have the culture right, you are never going to change,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson spoke to the packed room at INMA World Congress about the importance of cultural change in the rebirth of newspapers as multi-media brands. As part of that cultural change, he said, it's important to see that print is holding back digital, and every time they intertwine, it is toxic.
“There are enough print people touching digital, but not enough digital people touching print,” Wilkinson said. “The print people are slowing down digital.”
Wilkinson’s advice is to organise tomorrow’s audience instead of today’s revenue. He elaborated by citing several examples of newspapers who are captivating their audience, and engaging in finite communities.
One case is The New Paper in Singapore, which teamed up with a local bar owner to revamp its sports section so they could reach the audience on a more personal level.
Wilkinson said newspapers are still prominent, even though their popularity might seem to be dying. He pointed to research conducted in Australia by News Ltd. which showed that there isn’t a decline in news demand; people are just switching how they get their news.
“Newspaper readers view the print edition as a promise," Wilkinson said. "It entertains, it inspires.”
Wilkinson said that newspapers are gravitating toward technology that is based on mobility, although "the game changer isn’t the iPad. We are more in love with the iPad more than our users are.”
Wilkinson also observed that newspapers are having a difficult time utilising social media. He said that when newspapers use social media outlets such as Twitter or Facebook, they often use automated social feeds, making it difficult to have meaningful engagement with the audience.
Wilkinson said that no one wants to follow newspapers because the papers have not given their brand a “voice,” and that social media is a way of claiming that voice. For example, he said, the Chicago Tribune experimented with social media by training 1,000 employees to use Twitter efficiently.
“Social media is big and mobile is big,” Wilkinson said.
Ultimately, Wilkinson said, newspaper survival hinges on changing the overall culture. “Newspaper isn’t a dirty word,” he said.