Thursday, January 15, 2009

Another gathering at API, low key this time

I'm basing this info solely on hints in a few Tweets from participants, but it appears that "Round Two" of the American Press Institute's Summit for an Industry in Crisis is underway today. (Or perhaps it's just an interim session to plan for a full Round Two session.)

Round One, a gathering of 50 top newspaper executives, was held back in November, with considerable fanfare and zero results. It was criticized roundly for being closed-door, for bringing in just one outside expert, and more. It announced nothing other than a decision to meet again in six months, which seemed an impossibly long time to wait. A press conference was called to discuss results, then cancelled.

So for reconvening in just three months, kudos. For shutting the doors even more tightly this time, to the point of not even mentioning the meeting on the API site, well, whatever the opposite of kudos is. All I can glean from a couple of tweets by John Newby and Chuck Peters (who gained fame for liveblogging the November event) is that today's proceedings include small group discussions, and that they're more "nuts and bolts" (I like that). And by the way, that's a 100 percent increase in the count of Twitterers among the API crowd.

Chuck asked Twitterdom: "What is the game changer." My answer, expanded from a Tweet:
  • Stop the incremental cuts. Round after round of layoffs, content cuts, newshole cuts, bureau cuts, cutting out publication one day a week, Gannett's audacious furlough program—some of these may have slight merit but in the aggregate, they're just killing the industry by slow torture.
  • Instead, do something really reinventive. This may actually mean more cuts, but so be it. Decide what a successful local enterprise could look like 5 or 10 years from now, and go directly to it in one or two big steps. The model I've elaborated on often in this blog is a robust (some say "kick-ass") online-first, 24/7 web site, coupled with a printed paper published just once a week on Friday, distributed all weekend—in which you seek to preserve much of the existing print advertising. See the last part of this post for details.(Hearst's gambit in Seattle may turn out to be one of these transformative steps, and they have the opportunity to take such a step in the Bay Area as well.)
  • Build social networks around news and information content. Newspapers, even the New York Times, have barely dipped one toe in the social networking waters, but they need to take the plunge. What they might do is take a look at the enterprise social sites being developed by Newsgator and others and see if they can be adapted as community social networks.
UPDATE 1/16: Many thanks to John Newby and Chuck Peters for providing further information on API Summit Round 2 in the comments to this post.


jnewby said...

I do feel round #1 received a bum rap; as this type of meeting has never happened before, no one really knew what to expect in round one. Our industry is one that doesn't have solid track record of working well together and formulating team efforts in areas where other industries would consider it a no-brainer. With that as the backdrop, expectations should be very tempered out of the starting gate. The other consideration to take into account is that being able to speak ones mind regardless of how outside the traditional box it may be, is very hindered when all comments may be open to the public for all to review.

That said, without going into details which I am sure many would like to know; round #2 was VERY good and many potential game changers or modifiers were placed on the table. This is a dedicated group that appears willing to work together in areas that otherwise may have been taboo in years past.

While still young in this industry compared to most in the room, it is my estimation that you will see some very interesting developments come out of this meeting in the very near future. Will they all work? Probably not. But I suspect with the dedication I saw in the room today, the industry still has the ability to make some waves and I suspect some of those waves will change the current landscape.

This was a very refreshing day that was needed, now we just need to build upon the foundation that has been set in place.

Anonymous said...

I agree with John. Today's sessions were small working discussions focused on key actions. Thanks to API for a great job of organizing.

Michael J said...

My two cents:
Use the web to gather fans. Use social media to energize fans. Get whatever you can from CPM's on the web and take it to the bottom line.

Then keep on going after Print ads, that's where the ad money is. Print much smaller print editions, unless the extra pages need ad space. Three pages of table of contents to the web, three pages longer stories of the day, the rest of it ads, ads,ads. If you could edit the ads, even better
Consider an affiliate with commercial print sales forces. Lots of feet on the ground looking for stuff to sell. They sell ads AND printed collateral.

But the more sustainable money long term is develop and sell through the website stuff that various groups of fans, which you have identified will willingly buy.

SactoMan01 said...

One thing I would LOVE to see newspapers do right now is to go to smaller paper sizes, which has two advantages: 1) it drastically reduces the major overhead cost of printing a paper and 2) readers like the smaller format because it's easier to hold. Most weekly alternate newspapers are printed this way, and people like them because they're so easy to hold in the your hand.