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Publisher: Biggest threat is continued downsizing of newsroom

Carlie Kollath Wells, a New Orleans-based freelance reporter, is attending the Key Executives Mega-Conference this week in New Orleans. She will be sharing what she’s hearing from news executives. Follow the conference attendees on Twitter at #2013megaconf.

A newspaper’s competitive advantage over TV is the size of its newsroom, according to a Texas publisher.

Jim Moroney at The Dallas Morning News  said newspaper newsrooms typically are two to four times larger than their TV counterparts. The larger scale, Moroney said, allows newspapers to devote the resources to more in-depth stories with analysis and perspective.

“That’s how we compete and differentiate ourselves from the TV stations,” he said. “The biggest threat to our industry is the continued downsizing of our newsroom.”

Four publishers on Tuesday discussed their thoughts about the future of the industry. From left, they were consultant Alan Mutter (moderator), Terry Kroeger of The Omaha World-Herald, Jim Moroney of The Dallas Morning News, Larry Kramer of USA Today and Mike Klingensmith of Star Tribune Media Co. (photo by Carlie Kollath Wells)

His comments came as part of part of an executive roundtable Tuesday at the Key Executives Mega Conference in New Orleans. The roundtable featured the publishers of the Star Tribune Media Co., USA Today, The Omaha World-Herald and The Dallas Morning News.

The publishers also attributed their paywall success to the local, unique content from their staffs. All the papers represented, except for USA Today, have some form of paywall.

Mike Klingensmith, publisher and CEO of Star Tribune Media Co. in Minneapolis, stressed the importance of putting value on digital content. The paper’s site rolled out a pay meter and Klingensmith said it’s the “most important and most successful thing” he’s done during his three years at the paper.

“We’ve been able to price subscriptions up,”  Klingensmith said. “We have a product we can now sell statewide and nationally.”

The Star Tribune has 27,000 paying digital customers.  Print circulation is at 300,000.

“Those were 27,000 people we didn’t have a subscription relationship before November 2011,” he said.

Terry Kroeger, publisher of The Omaha World-Herald, credited the paper’s reporting to subscriptions rates.

“We talk about journalism that makes a difference,” he said.

His paper, he said, has been reporting about beleaguered politicians in the state and the solid reporting has resonated with subscribers.

Larry Kramer, president and publisher of USA Today, said a paywall is harder for a national paper like USA Today because there is more competition for content. However, Kramer said the paper wants to capitalize on the strength of Gannett’s 5,000 reporters.

“Our philosophy is to move to more and more unique content,” Kramer said.

Kramer said Gannett owns about 80 local papers and he sees synergies with the reporters.

“If anything, I see us working more closely with those local papers,” he said.

Already, he said, content is written by USA Today staffers or by reporters at the local papers.

“You will see more and more of that,” he said. “You will see more of USA Today content in our local papers.”

Making money from archives

The Dallas Morning News is converting its story archives into revenue through content marketing. Companies in the Dallas area, Moroney said, are in need of content to populate company newsletters, websites and blogs, and the paper is making its archives available for customers of its digital agency. Clients’ monthly bills average $4,000 a month for services that include access to the archives.

Four publishers on Tuesday discussed their thoughts about the future of the industry. From left, they were consultant Alan Mutter (moderator), Larry Kramer of USA Today, Mike Klingensmith of Star Tribune Media Co., Jim Moroney of The Dallas Morning News and Terry Kroeger of The Omaha World-Herald. (photo by Carlie Kollath Wells)

“Marketing has become a content war and nobody is better positioned to win a content war than a content company,” Moroney told the more than 500 attendees at the national conference. “I urge you to have conversation with your newsroom about it. …  I think it can work on any scale in all markets.”

Moroney said when the paper first started the service, there was a minor uproar in the newsroom about it. But, he said, he explained that if American Airlines wants a story to put in its employee newsletter, the paper historically would allow that. The stories, he said, run with a byline and aren’t edited by the client.

The newsroom then got it, he said.

ATTRACTING YOUNGER READERS

Question from panel moderator Alan Mutter of “Reflections of a Newsosaur”: What are you doing to attract younger readers? Advice to other papers?

  • Larry Kramer of USA Today: Younger readers are coming to us from digital. I think we are guiding them to print.
  • Jim Moroney of The Dallas Morning News:  Focus on busy moms. They finally get a break around 8 p.m. Focus on tablet experience for them.
  • Terry Kroeger of The Omaha World-Herald:  Put their names in the paper – for good things – and write about things they are interested in.
  • Mike Klingensmith of Star Tribune:  Use/produce/publish high school sports apps. And we distribute a free alt publication.

Question from Mutter: Do you envision a time when you won’t print every day?

  • Kroeger: No.
  • Moroney: I believe seven days of newspaper is really important to our brand. We’ll be printing 7 days a week for a long time.
  • Kramer: We may go to seven days from five days. (Editor’s note: He appeared to say this in jest and got a laugh from the crowd)
  • Klingensmith: No way. We will charge more (before cutting print days).

OTHER TIDBITS AND COVERAGE FROM THE CONFERENCE

When The Times-Picayune moved to digital-first strategy, it rolled business news into main news section.

The Columbus Dispatch redesigned to a smaller format three weeks ago. Before the redesign, business was on the back of a section. After, it is on front of a section each day.

The Columbus Dispatch spend $260,473.50 to promote/market its new format. More than 500 former subscribers came back after Columbus Dispatch launched smaller, redesigned paper. And, 275 subscribers canceled, but Phil Pikelny of the Dispatch said he suspects they’ll come back in a few weeks after they’ve made their point. He added that the paper had 1,347 compliments about the redesign and had 1,009 complaints.

The new Times-Picayune newsroom is meant to encourage brainstorming and collaboration. And, it features so-called hotel seating. Read more.

Media organizations will be better prepared for the future if they hire platform-agile employees, according to the opening speaker at the industry convention Monday.  Read more.

Of course, someone had to do Storify posts for the conventions. Here is the Day 1 Storify and the Day 2 Storify coverage.

Parts of this story originally appeared on Poynter.org

In Basics, Featured, Networking.

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