Ailing newspaper? The doctor will see you now in the INMA Clinic

In the INMA Clinic at the European Conference in Berlin, a real European newspaper company is presented anonymously to the public with all its facts and figures.

Then specialists, each in their own field, give their view and sugges­tions on how to turn this newspaper into a modern, healthy news media company. Let’s take a look.

Doctor No. 1: Strategy specialist “Dr.” Ricard Robbstål, CEO of Göteborgs-Posten, Sweden.

The patient was born in the mid-20th century, a daily newspaper that focuses on the city and building local communities. It has 500,000 daily readers interested in local, regional, national, and international news.

Published in broadsheet format with circulation of 199,000 Monday to Friday and 224,000 on Saturday, it has 8.7 million users every month.

The company has set up a paywall on both news section and digital archives. It is available on all platforms: iPhone, iPad, Android, and Kindle, and also in social media, Facebook and Twitter.

In terms of topics covered, it focuses on political and business but with regional context.

The patient has received many journalism awards, and 50% of its readers are in the 30-to 59-year-old age group and are quality conscious readers.

Part of its business is organising local events. As most newspapers, it is fighting declining circulation and falling ad revenues.

The strategy cure: Robbstål’s company publishes six paid daily newspapers and nine free newspapers, serving one million readers daily in Western Sweden. The company is active on 25+, mostly digital platforms, and its goal is to be the best local newspaper in the world.

So how to turn a struggling newspaper into profitable one?

Dr. Robbstål suggests looking at what they do as an inspiration and relate it to “patient.” Göteborgs-Posten operates in three main areas: organisation, products, and costs.

In terms of organisation, the newspaper is very locally based, with strong local editorial and commercial presence. The patient would benefit from simplified organisation and should consider choosing the management group carefully.

In terms of product optimising, everything has to be considered: format, number of sections, publishing frequency, number of segments and supplements.

Other things to be consider by the patient according to Robbstål:

  • Broadsheet vs tabloid format.

  • Tradition vs modernising the change.

  • Niche vs everything for everyone.

  • What readers are really willing to pay for.

  • What is the unique content: international, national, regional, local, and ultralocal.

With falling revenues, the biggest challenge is costs. Home delivery might be a big cost; same with production costs. The patient should consider cutting those. The best strategy for the news media company/patient just might be to stay extremely tuned in to changes that affect the business and act on them.

Specialist No. 2: Advertising specialist “Dr.” Kirk MacDonald, executive vice president of Digital First Media, United States.

Upon beginning his diagnosis, MacDonald quoted quoted Blake Masters: “Your mind is software. Programme it. Your body is a shell. Change it. Extinction is approaching. Fight it.”  

The uncertain is the unknown, and the unknown is the future, and you cannot predict the future. But the unfamiliar? Publishers can learn to operate in that. They have to get used to unfamiliar because everyday something is going to change, MacDonald said.

The advertising cure: The patient suffers from a sickness familiar to many publishers worldwide. Its symptoms? Declining circulation and loss of print revenue.

Current solutions by the patient include: metro daily, digital newspaper, local product, free tabloid weekly, yellow pages, in-house agency, retail products, event marketing.

The problem, Dr. MacDonald noticed, was that the newspaper never mentioned audience. So rethinking the model (an audience-based sales model vs product-based sales model) could be the solution.

What should the patient do in the near future? Quick tips from the doctor: more local print editions, further digitalisation, enhanced cross-media efforts, enhanced marketing activities, and more hyperlocal services.

But, as the doctor noticed, the past can’t be the future. The future must be built. So, how to build it for this patient?

The newspaper needs to become the leader of the discussion. To achieve this, it needs to focus on different areas:

  • Print: The patient is now distributed to hundreds of thousands of households. It should not give it up, but it must be careful. It is very expensive to print and deliver yesterdays news today. The patient should keep an eye on the future here.

  • Desktop: Never leave this; develop the strategy here.

  • Ad network: Sales organisation needs to be fluent and sell all of the platforms, including search, RTB, programmatic buying, video – everything that advertisers would be interested in buying.

  • Events: Not in the context of community events, but including digital summits, such as INMA conferences in search for inspiration.

  • Focus: Should be on local brands.

  • Mobile: This is the most important. Tablets and smartphones, everything on the market is going into this direction. Focusing on mobile is essential for the patient.

The patient must not forget some of the fundamentals: The consumer is driving the discussion. The consumer decides what platform he wants to use. Consumer behaviour is going to continue to change quickly.

Specialist No. 3: Big Data specialist “Dr.” Dirk Van den Poel, a professor at the University of Ghent in Belgium.

The Big Data cure: This doctor sees that newspaper as an alignment between two groups: journalists and readers. The question from the doctor was whether the patient in between is really needed as a middleman.

The middleground between journalists and readers might not necessarily be the newspaper. It could be a lot of IT technology in the future.

Many reasons and challenges brought the doctor to this conclusion. Many organisations become media companies (e.g. loyalty programmes with magazines targeting specific groups): retailers like Tesco or big companies like P&G. More journalists go to work for these organisations than traditional media companies.

In terms of Big Data, three v’s are to be considered: volume, variety and velocity.

Big Data does not mean just a lot of data. It is so much data coming in to the company that you have to decentralise your data processing and storage into thousands of more databases.

With digital media, we can now observe what articles people read. But the key is to tie that information back into the CRM system (managing dynamics in customer files) to describe the readers. The patient needs to start linking content to the CRM system. This will help targeting the new customers.

Dr. Van den Poel’s ideas to save the patient were:

  • Use your data, link databases, improved CRM.

  • Use public/private source data (e.g. Facebook app).

  • Create alliances with other organisations that want to become media organisations.

  • Create highly localised content.

  • Create strict quality control (background story/interpretation as opposed to just bringing the facts).

  • Publish in-depth articles (not just reporting the news but going deep into background information).

  • Focus on a combination of newspaper/digital/events.

Specialist No. 4: Content specialist “Dr.” Olivier Bonsart, director of Délégue Ouest-France and CEO of 20Minutes, Rennes.

The ontent cure: According to Dr. Bonsart, two basic things must be done immediately:

  1. Change of format. If the patient does not want to change the format from broadsheet, the doctor suggests adding supplement in the form of a big IKEA desk together with the newspaper.

  2. Change of layout. This is necessary for the newspaper to become the brand it wants to be.

The real question for publishers today is how to reinvent themselves, Dr. Bonsart said. If they can’t do it, they can as well be dead.

The patient, a local newspaper, should live the town’s life, and find answers to questions like how do people organise their lives together, what are their problems, how do they get together, who those people need, how can the town news help them?

At Dr. Bonsart’s newspaper, everyone believes they are not in the news business. Instead, they are in the community business. Their role is to help people who are building communities.  

Maybe that is the secret of their success in crowdsourcing, with 70% of its content written by 2,000 community members?

Bonsart wrapped his diagnosis with these do’s and dont’s:

  • Know your town, not only from statistics.

  • Understand the town.

  • Be the brand you want to be.

  • Find people who have the same goals as you.

  • Keep a strond audience, create local products. With no audience, there will be no local brand.

  • Use digital to be more efficient for the community.

  • Use readers as broadcasters.

  • Don’t think you are in the news content business.

  • Don’t use accept the use of word cannibalisation.

  • Don’t try to make quick money from new businesses.

About Marek Miller

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