Newsmedia transformations: steps we can take today


He who steals from me runs the risk of stealing twice!

What can a newsmedia company do right now, today, to reduce its legacy expenses while at the same time improving its overall production and thus preserving the life of its most valued revenue stream, the printed word?

While I don’t believe there is a silver bullet, here are just a few legacy expense reductions that can actually improve your situation, customer service, and ultimately your printed product.

First, without a doubt, our most expensive legacy cost is the cost of gathering all the various pieces of content that fill our pages. Deseret Media CEO Clark Gilbert shared a chart at the conference in St. Petersburg, Florida, that was a real eye-opener. It compared the cost of the average newsroom to bring various story items to the public via the printed page versus the cost of our competitors. Newsmedia companies spending hundreds of dollars versus only US$10 spent by our competitors will not survive the test of time. Let me repeat: will not stand the test of time!

So what to do? The old adage, “if you can’t beat them, join them,” certainly offers a lifeline. Newsmedia companies have access to dozens, if not hundreds of freelancers, stringers and yes, that curse word, citizen journalists. The time may be right to maximise that lifeline while there is still time to do so. Valued content is what the readers tell us it is, not what we believe we should write about.

For example, instead of the current model of 25-30 writers and 5-6 editors, a future model might have five writers to cover the usual items expected by readers; 100 freelancers, stringers and citizen journalists to provide reader-generated content, along with 10 editors to refine the copy and bring it into line with journalistic standards. Can this be accomplished? Absolutely, but it will take a real switch in conventional thinking to turn this ship around.

Not to be outdone, circulation offers excellent money-saving opportunities as well. On the customer service side, consolidating all circulation phone room functions into one call center makes sense. Before you jump up to dispute this, I am not talking about the outsourcing-to-India call structure; I am referring to consolidation with local companies on a local level.

A great example of what small newsmedia companies can do is the Northwest and Pioneer newspaper groups in the United States. All 9+ of their newspapers have elected to have all circulation calls go to one location. Through e-mail, texting and so forth, they are able to serve the customers’ needs as if they were located in the same city. All nine companies saved money, and customer support was actually enhanced in some cases.

In real estate, the mantra is “Location, Location, Location!” In our newsmedia industry, it needs to be “Outsource, Outsource, Outsource!” This is the fastest way to reduce expenses while increasing much-needed innovation. None of us are able to keep up with the amount of technology and innovation that has and will continue to fly past us.

Outsourcing to the experts makes all the sense in the world. Sure we want to learn as much as we can, but we can’t simply do it all even if we wanted to. If your printing press isn’t operating 7-10 hours a day, chances are you can save quite a bit of money by outsourcing. Back-office functions better done by experts at less cost are always an option.

These certainly aren’t my ideas. As I said before, “He who steals from me runs the risk of stealing twice.” There are many ways in which to save a buck — some easy and non-controversial, and others difficult and very controversial. But at the end of the day, the numbers simply scream out: Get your cost structure in line and do it quick. The real question is if most companies really understand this.

I am convinced that if we put 10 industry executives in a room and brainstormed for eight hours, we might be able to transform the industry, if not certainly a company. Watching the Deseret News and Journal Register companies transform is truly inspiring. They haven’t given up on print because they understand the value it brings to the table. They are transforming print and seeing the reward as they do so. We may not have the resources of either of those companies, but we have the ability to take ideas and scale to each of our local operations, maximising our bottom lines.

The only real question is: Do we have the resolve to take the steps that economic reality mandates we take?

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