Areas of strategic focus for news media

A friend from a newspaper industry association asked this morning what I thought were the most important problems, issues and opportunities facing our ragtag fleet.

Here's what I said — all aimed at the whole U.S. newspaper industry, not any company in particular:

  • We need to organize ourselves in ways that emphasize journalists and salespeople in the field, deemphasize or automate production processes, and reduce management layers as much as we can, such to make room for that emphasis.
  • We need to create new value, and promote new value propositions, for advertising in all media forms — in large part by recapturing a market position as providers of creative services and aggregators of commercial messages and local deals.
  • We need to establish the role of news content and relevant local information in mobile/handheld platforms, even at the expense of the roadmap for the mainstream Web.
  • We need logical, sustainable processes for new product development and deployment that coordinate with and feed on resources from newsrooms and sales organizations, while maintaining appropriate strategic independence from them.
  • We need to learn the fields of business-to-consumer and business-to-business marketing for ourselves. We sat on a dominant marketing vehicle for decades but never learned how to sell our own value propositions.

I also advised that we won't learn these things by sharing war stories in panel discussions or over beers at industry events. Our industry is by training and experience rather insular, full of managers prone to investing in “best practices” consisting of a few compelling PowerPoint slides from a peer company's unproven experiments.

Outside expertise and the willingness to listen would help more than any of that, although sometimes only a beer will do.