Let’s hear from the newspaper CEOs

3 min read
By Steve Outing

I’ve been writing columns and articles and doing research about the Internet and news media for a long time. A few columns over the years have been particularly well received; some landed with a dull thud; some attracted their share of criticism. Like many of my fellow industry pundits who opine about digital media trends, I’ve been called everything from an insightful expert to an idiot by journalism’s practitioners and leaders.


Is this your CEO?

I don’t always find it easy to judge my own work, but I thought my last column for Editor & Publisher Online, “My ‘Crisis’ Advice to Newspaper Company CEOs: 11 Points to Ponder,” was decent. That self-analysis has been backed up by a steady stream of personal e-mails as well as blog posts commenting on the column. Lots of folks are telling me that the crisis plan for newspapers that I presented was a pretty good one, and covers much of what troubled publishers need to do in order to survive this double-whammy of economic meltdown and secular media transition. I’ve had numerous news professionals, executives, and academics tell me that they’ve forwarded the column to their newsroom management teams and journalism students.

Of course, the 11 central ideas I presented aren’t all mine; many have been espoused by other smart and visionary media experts over the years. Names like Jeff Jarvis, Mark Potts, Rob Curley, Vin Crosbie, Amy Gahran, Mindy McAdams, Jay Rosen, and many more have given newspaper executives lots of great guidance. Much of our advice comes down to one central theme: Digital is without one iota of doubt the future, so even though print revenues still far outweigh digital, the print side of newspapers must be removed from the central organizational position. Build and innovate for the future, don’t prop up the past. Only when you execute that step can other necessary steps be taken.

So if I’ve succeeded in nicely organizing some of the best advice for newspapers to get through this crisis period, I wonder why I’m hearing so little from newspaper companies’ CEOs? Now that things in the newspaper industry have gotten so awful (e.g., the latest), why aren’t CEOs joining the great and insightful conversations and discussions that are swirling on the social networks where media folks hang out? (My guess: Most of them don’t participate in social networks, and thus can’t really understand the modern digital media environment.)

Of the 50 newspaper executives who attended API’s “Crisis Summit” recently, the only one I’ve found openly discussing the elephant in the newsroom is Chuck Peters of Gazette Communications.

So WTF? Why aren’t newspaper CEOs talking and writing more? Are they in their corporate bunkers trying to figure out what’s next? Planning their retirements?

Newspaper CEOs: How about mixing it up online with the rest of the pundits, professors, journalists, consultants, experts, and interested parties who are sharing their passion and ideas for saving the newspaper industry?

Especially following the non-communication that came out of the API CEOs Crisis Summit, it feels to me as though the thoughtful solutions and innovative ideas that are emerging as the industry crisis gets close to critical aren’t getting us anywhere. Are newspaper CEOs even listening? Do only they have the ideas to save the industry? (Yeah, right.)

If you CEOs need help or advice or ideas, reach out to the names above, or me (I do some consulting); reach into the collective intelligence that interacts on social networks.

(Hey, if I’m wrong about this and there are some online conversations going on where those newspaper CEOs actually are engaging with those who want to save their businesses, let me know.)

8 Responses to "Let’s hear from the newspaper CEOs"

  1. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 6 years ago .Reply

    I should also add that I asked a contact at API, which hosted the CEO summit, if API would be willing to share my E&P column with the 50 attendees. I was told that an e-mail went out, though it wasn’t felt to be appropriate for API to ask or request them to respond. I’ve heard from none of them, though I have had the occasional online exchange with Chuck Peters.

  2. Chuck Peters
    Chuck Peters 6 years ago .Reply

    Steve -

    You and I were approaching the same topic at the same time last Sunday. I laid out my thoughts, and my list of key tasks at http://cpetersia.wordpress.com/2008/11/30/new-mindset-for-new-game-highlights-new-tasks-performed-in-new-organization-which-develops-new-shared-mindset/

    I know the headline is a bother, way too long, but I was trying to make the point that we cannot achieve the new mindset required without fundamentally altering the tasks we perform and the organization of those tasks.

    Your list of 11 fits right in with what we are trying to do as a company. #7, including the micro-personal, will take a pretty big change in approach, and I am spending a lot of time in that area, both work flow and technology.

    #8 was a new idea, which we are exploring further this week.

    My blogs of last weekend, which include references to posts by you and Mark Potts, are being studied by our management team, with focused discussions this week on the changes we need to make to implement these concepts now.

    I am going to work on another post this weekend on the fundamental change in local information. It is coming. The only question is whether we will participate in creating the elegant organization so that our communities can be strengthened by our efforts.

    Thanks for pushing!

    Chuck

  3. [...] need for a whole new structure to create the Complete Community Connection (C3). So, with a nod to Steve Outing, I am trying to be as transparent as I can be, both to our employees and the industry, about the [...]

  4. Tim Windsor
    Tim Windsor 6 years ago .Reply

    Steve,

    My experience with newspaper CEOs and other top leadership within the business is that they are struggling mightily to come up with new ideas, but are not at all comfortable with discussing the process in public.

    The reasons for this are as different as the people themselves, but often touch on one or more of these:

    - A sense that the pundits, the bloggers and the tweeters can’t possibly grasp the subtleties of the business and should stop talking endlessly about how bad the business is. I heard this a lot over the past three years or so.

    - A belief that the discussions around the executive table are private and, thus, not grist for discussion in the blogosphere. I know I subscribed to this, more out of a sense of duty than of a belief that this was the best course. This is why I did not blog and rarely commented while I was an officer of the company (and why I still don’t use any of the Christopher Buckley-quality inside stories I watched play out over the years. Stays in Vegas.)

    - Ill-advised competitive considerations. Why discuss our strategy in public? That’ll just give the playbook to our competitors. I didn’t agree but, again, considered it compulsory, so rarely floated ideas for comment/advice before we launched new initiatives.

    - Hubris. A sense that we’re just smarter than the rabble.

    - No time. This is probably the one that’s truest currently. With all hands busy patching holes in the battleship, there’s no time to enter into what can be seen as thumbsucking in public.

    Chuck Peters is a breath of fresh air, who just might bust open the cone of silence. But there are lots more like him, struggling behind the scenes. I worked with a lot of very smart people who started ringing the alarm about newspapers four and five years ago. These were people at mid- and high-levels of local operations around the country who tried to create a sense of urgency around the business model, which they saw as veering in the wrong direction. But a wider conversation – at least an honest wider discussion of the looming disaster – always took a back seat to short-term efforts to jack up revenue or cut expenses.

    I don’t think there’s a publisher working today who doesn’t finally get it (OK, there’s one…). But like the driver watching the airbag FOOMP open in his face who “gets” that his day just turned to crap, it’s a little late.

    I think it would be great if those publishers engaged with you here. I just wouldn’t hold my breath.

  5. Vin Crosbie
    Vin Crosbie 6 years ago .Reply

    The whole exercise is ridiculous.

    Why in the world would anyone think that the very people who put the industry into these straits could conceivably be people who could admit that how they’ve managed the industry for so many years — the guidance, ‘vision’, and leadership they’ve given the industry — was so demonstrably wrong and who have the intellectual capability and flexibility to so radically change all that they’ve ever thought and done?

    Newsprint is inanimate and not at fault. The news isn’t at fault. The newspaper companies’ mid-level and lower-level employees aren’t at fault. The fault for the crises that the newspaper industry is in is clearly that of the CEOs and senior executives of these companies.

    As Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Indeed, those CEOs and senior executives are the last people who can solve these problems. The fact is that they are the people who’ve driven the industry off a cliff during the past ten years.

    Almost all of the executives who gather behind closed doors at the API’s crisis ‘Summit’ are people who clearly — indeed, how much more obvious can the obvious financial reasons be? Do we need to have business school professors spell it out? — deserve to be sacked by their companies’ stockholders and should not be continuing to manage their companies business at this time. Were this crisis about some other industry, that’s what the their newspapers’ editorials would be saying.

  6. Patrick Thornton
    Patrick Thornton 6 years ago .Reply

    @Steve,

    Why would the people who drove us to this precipice know how to turn things around?

    That’s the real problem. Most newsroom managers, CEOs and publishers don’t have viable solutions. They grew up working for, and later running, monopoly companies. They’ve never known true competition.

    Many — if not most — large mainstream newspapers will begin to fail over the next 10 years. It is what it is. It may be too late for many companies to be turned around.

    I also fear that the organizations that are in dire trouble don’t have the political will to try something drastic. It seems like many of these companies would rather die remaining print first than trying to survive by becoming something much different.

    Maybe many news leaders don’t want to succeed in a digital future. Maybe they didn’t sign up for that.

    I don’t really know. But I fear it is too late already for many companies. I’m starting to tire of worrying about the past (and offering suggestions that no one in power takes seriously) and beginning to focus on how we can make new, modern journalism companies.

  7. [...] Let’s hear from the newspaper CEOs. Steve Outing wonders where the CEOs are in the wide-ranging and vibrant discussion about the future of newspapers. [...]

  8. [...] better at the new information ecosystem. People are talking about new business models. And CEOs are meeting every six [...]

Leave your comment