27 Jun 2011

Newspapers: The business of bringing you the news

Behind the scenes, uncategorized No Comments

PART THREE OF A FOUR-PART SERIES

In this post, Newspaper’s: The business of bringing you the news. Lets face it… Newspapers' needed to lean and cut the fat! As our newspaper's become nothing more than glorified flyer wraps; costs drastically need to be reduced, trees need to be cut down to deliver 24 hour old news information, and distribution needs to be rained in as we see tens of thousands of newspapers hit the blue bin every month. We won't mention the gas guzzling delivery trunks or the door to door delivery of the news… I don't want to break their perfectly crafted bubble, but… Everything runs its course in its own time.

The Newspaper industry has always been based on people's demand for information and different viewpoints. Nothing has really changed in 150 years of newspaper publishing but, isn't that the point? I don't see many horse and buggies on our streets do you? So what's the problem? Sure, editorial teams are trying to herd people online to read more, get more, and engage more. If their mandate is “we report the news” well, get with the times!

“No community newspaper will print anything contrary to its own interests” – George Bernard Shaw (adapted)

Maybe the best defense is a good offense. Scrabbling to stay relievant, these newspapers begun sharing a single newspaper staff, much like a "mini-news agency" providing copy to several newspapers. Headline news is repurposed from their publications and placed inside sister publications, which eventually find themselves online on one of their poorly managed web portals.

Social Media is completely different from traditional hierarchical broadcasting system. Newspapers have to find their own path in a new era weaved of social fabric along with the six degree of engagment.

Production was centralized and downsized. Those that chose to stay had their annual salary’s rolled back with the promise of a newly implemented overtime agreement – until they cut that off within the same year. Publisher's are trying their darndest to find cheaper ways to run their production departments.

The sales department on the other hand looked for other jobs have dug in for the long tough road ahead. 2011 will bring modest single per cent increases in advertising revenue.So ad reps will face another new year keeping there heads down, while trying to sell weary advertiser’s. The Art of the Sell-off! David Ogilvy coined the phrase "We Sell, Or Else". Your local newspaper sales rep swindle small business owner's by projected in some cases out dated distribution numbers, self serving – self interest or just out and out lie. Most sales reps have been forced to their own debt collectors or….

Oh, how times have changed. Now lengthy sales days have been replaced with; going to the gym, long lunches on the companies expense accounts, hair appointments and working second jobs to pay the bills. Sales reps check-in in the morning, disappear for the day only to return to the office around 3pm. Jacket slung over their arm, swiping the sweat from their brow exclaiming what a day I had!?

On the outside we’ve seen a our community newspapers shuffle the deck. As younger editorial writer's are pushed to the forefront, older "intrenched" editorial writers manage sections they never thought would interest them and photojournalists are cast-out as relics.

Thinking that maybe this tactic would shore up margins, streamline production and help the struggles within circulation. Like logic, practicality is hugely important but can often stifle innovative ideas. Case in point the new look of our local newspaper. However let’s not fool ourselves. Media company’s will always make money its doesn't matter what shade of lipstick they wear.

So what will 2011 bring? I my opinion much of the same. Rapidly changing customer expectations, local papers marketing their editorial have teamed with local advertiser's to sponsor give-aways in the hopes to captivative dwindling readers. But, the real question is will reader's fall pray to these cheap tactics and editorial handouts. Which leads us to ask is editorial marketing ethical?

The Editorial and Advertiser relationship is something that’s been readily accepted but is it ethical. Practicing ethics in marketing means deliberately applying standards of fairness, or moral rights and wrongs, to marketing decision making, behavior, and practice in the organization. Ethics are a collection of principles of right conduct that shape the decisions people or organizations make. Where does the line between "Church and State" or "Editorial and Advertiser" get blurred? Should your main advertiser dictate editorial consideration?

Like when companies sell advertisements to companies to be in the "best of ____________________" list or their Readers' Choice section.

Online efforts have been ramped up to create audience participation, as more and more people turn to internet to find and report the news. So since social networks and Web 2.0 newspaper companies have had to compete for page views as an alternate business models.

Advertising Features were developed to target specific segments of our business community. The revenue gained, if only for the short term turned out to be significant. Eventually every Sales Rep had created their own advertising features. Primarily because sales reps could solely manage accounts tied to these features and gain overrides attached to managing them (usually a few extra per cent on top of their commission). But these Features allowed advertisers to dictate editorial content.

The reason might be that ad sale reps for these advertising features;

  • A) have no backbone.
  • B) have no idea what they are doing.

The benefits for advertising in these sections; Consistent Advertising = Familiarity = Trust = Customers. The question you have to ask yourself is, since you are spending your hard earned advertising dollars in a 'Advertising Feature' developed for your business or service. Shouldn't they put the time and effort into actually producing timely, relevant and local editorial showcased in these features? So next time you open your paper and see yet another 'Advertising Feature' take a second glance.When you read the advertorial content that appears in these sections you’ll see News Canada content (NC) or other types of ‘free’ editorial supplied by online news services. Why is this? Editor’s distance themselves and their reputations (cheaply intelligent) from these sections. Some might say their paychecks are like hush money.

With the advent of over night ad creation services both here and abroad. In house production staff are becoming costly expenditures, they are under appreciated and seldom utilize their creative abilities to the fullest. Anyone who has ever worked in production knows the frustration of doing, and redoing, paid advertisements for sales reps. Advertisers have to except that when it comes to ad creation they must pick two of the following; Price, Quality, or Timing.

Now it seems production departments are being manned by the new hero's. The under paid, brain drained, IT solutions specialist. These individuals with their feet firmly planted in newsprint, understand that without a significant, online presence printed publications are surely doomed. So media savy companies that downsized their IT departments in 2009 due to economic bootstrapping are now embracing these individuals as their long lost friends. That said, I wish them well.

Newspapers must keep up with or even anticipate the changes occurring today. Readership changes are influenced by lifestyles, demographics and technology. After the recession Newspapers needed a new 'boss' and the boss in which I refer to is content. But, newspapers concentrated their efforts on their own public image. Newspapers needed to show a new friendlier side to overcome their tarnished business practices. Just like celebrities have their own spin doctors when the 'shit' hits the fan. Local producers of newspapers are trying to spin their 'D-List' celebrity into honest, compassionate (yet at arms length), community involved philanthropists.

With the onset of another new year, we the reader brace ourselves for what is yet to come. Another severe decline and lip service to content. Take for example specialty Newspapers and Magazines. They are going to finally get what they've shrived for… a place in history. I have discussed in a previous blog, two such locally produced products and that I believe these type of publications need to dig deep.A conflict of interest, pleading ignorance, hypocrisy or just how's it done?

In this new era of transparency and ethics expected in delivering the news. What is considered a conflict of interest? The lines have have been blurred… A few years back, Newspapers implemented corporate policy mandating strict procedures regarding employee conduct. Obviously something they felt had to be addressed.

In my 5 years of working for our local newspaper I witnessed a lot of questionable activities. From the Sales floor to the Editor’s desk. Sure there are a lot of back-door-deals to every job but when certain individuals except in confidence certain ‘gifts’ above and beyond what is deemed acceptable. I once overheard a sales reps offering their client a huge discount off advertising rates in order to receive discounts off the advertiser merchandise. Editorial considerations were granted for free services and products, and yet again went go as far as to solicit free legal advice (family law) for printing a book review in one of the publications (only to assign a freelance writer). So, I guess the question is? What is the difference between soliciting favours and obtaining 'gifts' in confidence without bias? I guess it comes down to who benefits – surely in my opinion not the newspaper.

"Conflicts can also arise from nonfinancial sources such as competing editorial responsibilities, academic or professional competition and affiliations, and personal relationships." – Journalism Watch

Lack of accountability from superiors leads to the lack of motivation from sales to production. Putting unfair pressure on individuals leads to misdirected insubordination. The lack of respect for process, who's job is that anyways (the amount of responsibility vs. the amount of authority) and hypocrisy towards work place issues.

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