LA Times going digital-first to profit in new ways


A search for “new oxygen, new growth” is the theme of the 82nd INMA World Congress. Growth will come with moving to digital, speakers said at Monday’s opening session.

“That’s where the industry is going, so that’s what we had to do,” said Kathy Thomson, president and CEO at the Los Angeles Times, said.

Thomson joined Ravi Dhariwal, INMA president and CEO for the The Times of India, and Yasmin Namini, INMA vice president and senior vice president for marketing and circulation for reader applications at The New York Times in opening day two of the conference.

All three spoke about a changing culture in newsrooms around the world and a growing need to create digital-first media to adapt to new consumer needs and grow revenue. The World Congress will present an opportunity for those in attendance to learn from each other and teach other how to do just that, Namini said.

“Today we are no longer just a newspaper business,” Namini said. “We are a multi-platform business. We are navigating the evolution of print, digital, and mobile.”

Thomson spoke specifically about some of the challenges the LA Times faces in trying to make that transition to digital.

“We are creating more engagement to not only change our culture, but transform our company,” she said. “The reality of what we live in today, very similar to many of you, is fragmentisation. Consumers have more choices than ever. We have to face those choice.”

Thomson explained that in her case, the LA Times has had to do that with limited resources, as the newsroom is not nearly as big as it once was.

That’s coupled with the Times’ parent company, Tribune, facing Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“We are attacking these challenges head on,” she said. “We are continuing to innovate. We’re diversifying our revenue. We are reaching audiences everywhere. We’re getting them to engage with our brand — more than just reading the traditional newspaper or the Web site.”

To get to the bottom of this culture change,the LA Times had to take a hard look inside its company and examine some of the trends that were going on, Thomson said.

The first way to adapt was going mobile. One billion people will use smartphones by 2016, she said. Additionally, tablets users will increase by 50%.

“The future holds a severe case of hyper ADD,” Thomson said. “Our traditional media attention span is stretched.”

More people are browsing Internet and smartphones while watching TV, a habit Thomson said grows the market for “bite-sized news.”

The LA Times then focused on aspects such as localisation, personalisation, socialisation, and data visualisation, Thomson said.

Personalisation deals with not just getting people what they want, but creating context to help them to discover more of what they like.

The socialisation aspect is geared toward going where people are — Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts. Every day, four billion things are shared on Facebook alone, Thomson said, adding that Facebook and Twitters are magnifiers of the news.

The most important aspect of social media sharing remains in examining the changing changing demographics, Thomson said. 

“Forty percent of non-white are the millennials. They’re the first generation of digital natives,” Thomson said. “The vast majority consumes their news from TV and digital. They’re brand-agnostic and they don’t wait for the news. The news comes to them where they want it.”

Society as a whole is becoming more digitally fit. This changes not just content but advertising, creating “higher-yield opportunities,” Thomson said. She played a brief video showing how advertisers can go online to buy ads in the Times through just a few clicks. After it finished, she said, “Yes. it is that easy.”

The Times recently developed a membership programme for its online content, adding to the relationship between readers and the newspaper. Also, it launched the “Senti-meter” to measure public sentiment on certain issues. The newspaper teamed with the University of Southern California to measure things such as pre-Oscars predictions.

“It was just another way to connect with our audience,” while also creating new avenues to make revenue.

News organisations must take risks and have a lot of ideas — “big ones, safe ones, and risky ones” — and you have to be willing to experiment and have some failures, Thomson said.

She was certain about one thing — journalism will never go away.

“We firmly believe the world needs the kind of journalism provided every day by our organisation and organisations in this room,” Thomson said. “We believe it’s important. We believe it’s valuable. It always has been and it always will be.”

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