Friday, May 25, 2007

The Future of the Beacon According to Publisher Moss

I didn't make it to the Akron Roundtable address by newish Publisher Edward Moss, but happily the Akron Roundtable posts the audio. His comment at the end of the Mizell Stewart story about the Beacon becoming "a multimedia company, as the industry grows online," is basically an extention of the thoughts he expressed in his address and in the Q&A afterwards.

He ran through the usual litany of news business woes. I would recommend for a primer on the newspaper business the Roundtable speech last year by Laura Rich Fine. She spoke more frankly, but then she is a financial analyst whose job is to describe the prospects of business sectors, as opposed to Moss whose job is to cheerlead his company. (My thoughts are on GABB)

The short form is that, while declining readership is a problem, the real danger to newspapers is losing classified advertising to the web. Until hearing Ms. Fine I hadn't realized how vital classified ads are to a newspaper's bottom line.

So the main challenge for Moss is how to overcome that, and how explain that to Akronites concerned about the future of the paper. I've heard serious people talk seriously about the day the ABJ will fold. A platform like the Roundtable is Moss's chance to allay those fears.

For me, at least the speech shows he Gets It. He's not whining about, say, competition from blogs. And he has a plan. Time will tell if it's the right plan.

Regarding the news, Moss's choice is hyperlocal coverage. Among the changes the Beacon has made to implement his hyperlocal vision are:

  • 60 community briefs
  • Road construction info
  • Information about how elected officials voted.
Moss also said the company is being more aggressive in advertising.
  • Monster dot com
  • The Drivers’ Seat (car ads) feature on Thursdays
  • Autos dot ohio dot com
  • Bringing in local small businesses that had been priced out in the past.
As noted, Moss accepts the prevailing wisdom that the future for newspapers is evolving into media companies, particularly moving from print to online presence, then branching from there. Moss says that Ohio dot com is the "key to future." Some of what's happening there includes:
  • Easier to search
  • More content on story-level page
  • Most popular feature list
  • Allow people to submit their own news items. The have identified "25 communities" in the paper's draw area and are hoping to cultivate news items from them.
  • Community Calendar function to launch in a few weeks. It would allow community groups to use tools on the website to schedule events.
  • More video and sound
The website stuff is pretty standard issue -- who doesn't have a most popular list? The big question is whether the mesh of online advertising and expanded online content will compensate for the loss of revenues.

Moss refered to getting input from the community. I have some input as well. Folks reading from the ABJ, here are my suggestions:
  • Expand the offerings for email newsletters to headlines and breaking news. Currently the ABJ allows members to sign up for emails for things like community events and sports updates. Pretty much every other major paper offer e-newsletters for headlines and breaking news.
  • Open links to past stories relevant to something in today's paper. This ought to include a temporary reprieve from pay wall. The PD -- whose website is generally pretty miserable to use -- offers links to all the past articles relevant to a developing story on a headline page.
  • Searchable databases I'm excited about the databases the PD is offering on Openers. The databases themselves aren't so interesting as the idea of using the interent and existing content to provide a more functional information tool.If the Beacon is transitioning from a newspaper company to a multimedia company, they can also move from writing the first draft of history to creating an ever-expanding permanent record.
  • Understand that hyperlocal means more reporters. I'd like to know more about what is happening in Goodyear Heights or Streetsboro, someone needs to do some sophisticated reporting to get the information and present it in a way that everyone will want to read it. Hyperlocal is labor intensive in a way that pulling stories off the wires are not.
You can also read the write up of the speech in the ABJ and reaction on BJ Retirees.


Anonymous said...

The demise of print media is over rated. There will always be demand by readers for quality. (Economist, New York Times, etc)

But the advertising is definitely going to change. I'd hate to be a paper relying on classifieds.