The No. 1 reason for optimism about the future of newspapers? Our audiences


I was astounded this past week to receive the March 31, 2013, AAM Snapshot (formerly Fas-Fax) report.

It wasn’t so much the incredible year-over-year gains in total circulation. In fact, as has been discussed and reported in other blogs and articles, it is really meaningless to make year-over-year comparisons due to new categories of digital and branded edition circulation.

No, what struck me (and this is what newspaper companies have been trying to drive home for years) were the incredible audiences that newspapers continue to command!

When I was director of sales and marketing at The Spokesman-Review, one of my favourite things to do was to use readership studies to create promotional ads that compared the reach and penetration of The Review to other media in the market.

We would brainstorm clever representations that would illustrate the number of TV spots or radio ads you would need to run to match the reach of the daily newspaper.

There was not another media outlet in the market that could even come close to the number of consumers the newspaper touched on a daily basis, and this is especially true when you look at the net combined audience of print and digital together!

Advertising revenue continues to be a challenge at most media companies — not just newspapers. But in the newspaper industry, the transition from a focus on the number of net-paid subscribers to the vast number of audiences served by multiple products has clearly come a long way. 

During this time, I believe the newspaper industry has finally begun a shift that will secure its future in some form for years to come.

And this is what continues to excite me and why I was thrilled when asked to become an INMA blogger. It is truly a pleasure and an honour to be part of the INMA Satisfying Audiences blog team. And what a team it is!

I have had the pleasure of working in various capacities with several of the other bloggers and, while I feel slightly intimidated because of the talent on this team, I am thrilled to be writing alongside people whom I consider to be among the most intelligent and innovative in the industry.

Since many INMA members might not know me, I thought I would tell you a little about myself, my history in the newspaper business, and why I continue to be excited to work in such a rapidly changing, disruptive, yet still very exciting and vibrant industry.

I began my career as a part-time complaint driver at The Denver Post in 1988. Since that time, I have held jobs in customer service, circulation distribution, circulation sales, marketing, community affairs, and advertising.

Over the years, I have developed retention timelines, conducted route efficiency studies, and analysed channel sales pressure. I have launched new products and developed multi-channel marketing campaigns.

I’ve started new advertising and other teams. I’ve worked with smart people to develop and execute well-planned initiatives and programmes.

On the downside, I’ve had to develop budgets that reduced expenses, while maintaining the same workload. I’ve had to consolidate departments and move work spaces. And I’ve had to let people go. During one recent memorable year, I had to personally lay off more than 28 people, some of whom I considered close friends.

While that wasn’t fun, most of what I’ve experienced has been exciting and challenging. Through it all, there was really only one point where I felt slightly discouraged and unsure about my future in the newspaper industry.

Several years ago, it appeared to me that newspapers were “feeling around for the bottom,” so to speak; just waiting and hoping that things would simply turn around. There almost seemed to be a deer-in-the-headlight feel. Of course, that might have mostly just been me, as that is really how I felt for a while.

Now, however, when I attend conferences and talk to newspapers around the country, I feel more sense of purpose and long-term strategic thinking than I did before. I see newspaper companies making investments in their products, including the core print product.

The Spokesman-Review, for example, has developed three new products in the last year that have had substantial print components in the main product. (Needless to say, all of them were designed to reach audiences across different platforms.)

It also feels like there’s been a vote of confidence from “non-traditional” investors who are purchasing newspapers. They are betting that newspaper companies will continue to be a good gamble with reasonable returns attainable.

So just to summarise a few of my thoughts on the industry:

  • We are still moving too slow: While newspapers have made a great deal of progress toward changing and adapting to the “new world order,” they continue to be pretty slow moving when it comes to innovation and cultural change. (I used to say they were like wooly mammoths, but I don’t like to use that analogy anymore.)

    Even though most companies have a general idea of what needs to be done and the cultural shift that must occur within their organisations, there still seems to be some sense of “clinging to the old model” as much as possible and hoping things will level off. They won’t.

  • I think newspapers should be very careful about eliminating delivery days: I have a 4-year old grandson. When I look at him and his ability to interact with technology at such a young age, it seems unlikely to me that he will get his news and information from a printed product. In fact, he probably won’t even use the digital technology and social networks we know today. 

    So, I am not so naïve to think the economics of delivering a seven-day printed product will make sense forever. 

    That being said, I am leery of reducing print frequency simply as a means to reduce cost, which seems to be the most common motive. I believe newspapers need to do a better job now of redefining themselves and what they represent in their communities and make strategic decisions that drive revenue growth, instead of continuing to cut just enough that the overall lower revenue is profitable.

  • One of the best assets newspapers have in their markets is data: Needless to say, the reason that “audience development” and “satisfying audiences” are so important is that audiences have become more and more fractured, and advertisers can no longer afford to spend money on consumers who don’t (or won’t) shop in their stores.

    One advantage newspapers have over other media is their greater ability to know, specifically, who their customers are and what they are interested in. This gives newspapers the opportunity to command the best consumer databases in the local market.

    While, clearly, most local newspapers cannot compete with the economies of scale recognised by a Google or other large national search databases, for now at least there is money to be made as a local provider of quality, targeted consumer data.

  • Journalism will never go away: Newspapers may come and newspapers may go, but journalism will go on forever.

    I am always encouraged by the fact that journalism programmes at universities around the country continue to attract students. There will always be a thirst for knowledge and world events, which means there will always be an opportunity to provide quality news and other content to multiple audiences.

While the industry is clearly changing and will continue to change, the fundamental need the industry was built to satisfy continues to exist and always will, in my opinion.

In spite all of the challenges, this is a fun time to be in the industry: Come on, face it. As tough as our jobs are, they are not boring! I always say the thing I love most about my job is no two days are ever alike. I have experienced a lot of things in my recent career, but monotony was definitely not one of them.

By now, you’ve probably guessed I am somewhat of an optimist. I am, and I hope to infuse this blog with some of that optimism. I also hope to offer articles and other information that support (and, in some cases, temper) my optimistic view of the industry and how newspaper companies around the world are satisfying audiences. This, in turn, drives advertising and other revenue.

So, in addition to keeping up with the great minds I’m surrounded with on this team, my goal for this blog is to satisfy this audience. I look forward to our journey together.

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