Mobile platforms offer newspaper publishers a ‘do over’

  • By Tara McMeekin Editor-in-chief
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We've all heard — more than enough — that newspapers sealed their fate when they began giving their content away for free online in the ’90s. Our industry has also endured endless “barn door/horse” analogies about efforts to rein that content back in by instituting paywalls.

Now we’re well into 2015, and with our Internet atrocities in the rearview, the mobile era has fully taken root. There’s no question mobile represents a “do-over” for newspapers, and publishers are admittedly using the platform to right the wrongs they committed on the Web.

With mobile devices outnumbering the world’s population (there are some 7.2 billion smartphones and tablets in use currently) the platform certainly can’t be ignored. And while newspapers’ first priority seemed like a repeat of Internet mania as they clamored to filter print content to mobile and tablet apps with the launch of the iPhone and iPad, the majority have now adopted more strategic approaches.

The publishers that are successfully growing mobile engagement with readers are doing so because they’ve offered them something very different from their print and online products. They’ve capitalized on smartphones and tablet features that accentuate their best assets to foster reader engagement and grow ad revenue.

Our page-5 story details the Toronto Star’s efforts to maximize and monetize the platform.

Torstar nixed its online paywall in March, after some short-term success. Now, taking a cue from La Presse+, it is set to launch Star Touch in September. The iPad app will be completely distinct from the print and online versions of the Star, in hopes of growing its audience and advertising. In the case of La Presse+, the tablet news app currently accounts for 60 percent of that paper’s total ad revenues and claims a 45 percent increase in readership since it launched two years ago. We’d call that success. And we have a hunch Torstar will see similar results. That’s because, according to Torstar’s Joe Genautis, staff has focused solely on content that will lend well to an engaging interactive experience for readers. The publisher will leverage audio, video and all of the bells and whistles that keep readers in front of their iPads at night. Furthermore, Torstar has created a team that will work with advertisers to develop campaigns that get the most out of the platform. The publisher will also provide feedback on how ads are performing. That’s inventive and it’s the kind of approach that will yield revenue streams that run long and deep into the future.

On other pages of this issue you’ll also learn what publishers, including the Erie (Pa.) Times-News, GateHouse Media, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times are doing to grow revenues.

Without investment in journalism, GateHouse model won’t yield long-term success

  • Tara McMeekin Editor-in-chief
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One billion dollars in acquisitions in a three-year period seemed like a lofty goal when New Media Investment Group CEO Mike Reed made the proclamation earlier this year, but it appears the company will hit its mark.

In just the past year, the GateHouse Media parent has shelled out approximately $476 million for Stephens Media LLC and its flagship Las Vegas Review-Journal, Halifax Media, the Providence (R.I.) Journal and, most recently, The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch and its Dispatch Printing Co. It’s funded the deals through a mix of new debt, stock sales and operating cash flow.

Buying The Dispatch may prove to be its best move yet. Aside from its market position and size, the paper solidified its future three years ago when it became the first in the world to commit to a three-around printing platform. The move transformed the daily into a fully sectioned compact broadsheet, shaving some 33 percent off of its newsprint bill and landing it a contract with Gannett Co. Inc. to print The Cincinnati Inquirer and Kentucky Enquirer. All of that considered, the purchase price of $47 million certainly appears to be a steal.

In this era where we talk endlessly about digital and mobile growth GateHouse, has positioned itself for success by snapping up papers with little market competition, whose digital profits have nowhere to go but up and whose print products are still strong.

What remains to be seen, however, is whether or not GateHouse will change its pattern of handing down layoffs at the papers it buys. The company continues to make major cuts in copy-editing and design across titles since it shifted those functions to its Center for News and Design in Austin in 2013. Despite all of GateHouse’s recent successes, disregarding the core business of newspapers — journalism — won’t foster any real success long term.

Be sure to check out our page-6 story for more on GateHouse’s recent purchases and an in-depth look at the changing face of newspaper ownership.

This issue also takes a look at how newspapers’ paywall initiatives have evolved since N&T first began covering digital subscriptions nearly a decade ago. It was fascinating to take a look back at newspapers early strategies, the lessons they’ve learned and what’s working now.

Meeting the future of news with excitement, anticipation

  • By Tara McMeekin Editor-in-chief
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When we asked newspapers to talk to us about the steps they’re taking to modernize their newsroom infrastructures, we got a lot of feedback — too much, in fact, to fit into the pages of this issue. But we think that’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing because publishers are excited about what they’re doing and, for the first time in awhile, they have a renewed sense of energy about their jobs. The fear of new platforms that’s prevailed over the past five years, is being replaced with excitement as editors rise to the challenge to learn about and capitalize on new platforms and media.

Newspapers now have a solid handle on streamlining their editorial and pagination operations, and can focus more heavily on how to get the most out of new and emerging platforms and devices.

Newsrooms are also taking different approaches to storytelling as competition from sites like Buzzfeed mounts. On page 48 of our digital edition, which you can find online at www.newsandtech. com, we share some tips newspapers take from Buzzfeed in an article by Italian journalist Valerio Bassan. Be sure to check it out. And as we wrap up this issue, stories about the Apple Watch are everywhere, and other smartwatches and wearables are gaining steam.

As with any new platform, newspapers must arm themselves with information and look to the early adopters to help them find their footing. In our page 10 story on wearable technologies, we’ve shared some information from WAN-Ifra’s report on wearables, released during Digital Media Europe in April, as well as the latest on newspapers that have released apps for the Apple Watch.

Only time will tell what the most effective content models will be for these devices, but out of the gate, newspapers including The New York Times and The Guardian of the U.K. have already launched apps and are gauging what audiences want. In NYT’s case, the paper rolled out one-sentence story alerts that seem well suited to the small screen size of the watch. The Guardian, meantime, is targeting readers with different features at different times of the day in an effort to capitalize on its readers’ news consumption behaviors.

We will certainly continue to see a host of new releases from publishers around the world, and it will take some time before the most successful models rise to the surface. As always, News & Tech will keep you updated on the latest developments on smartwatches, wearables and all of the latest platforms and devices.

An industry pushing ahead

  • By tara mcmeekin Editor-in-chief
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In this special issue we’ve taken a look at some of the most efficient newspaper printing operations in North America. Printers are rising to the challenge and pushing ahead. They’re growing their operations and newspapers are thriving as a result — a fitting theme as we enter spring.

Growing efficiency also means printers are looking at new technologies and the potential benefits those techs could have on their operation — and that’s good news for both newspaper production and the vendors that support it.

John Jenkins of Print Innovators, for example, said his plant has been keeping an eye on digital printing as more newspapers show interest in smaller print runs to fit the new economy (see our Page One story for more on Print Innovators).

The start of spring also ushered in the call from Associated Press President and CEO Gary Pruitt to make the killing of journalists a war crime. Indeed, we wholeheartedly agree as journalism continues to endure its deadliest period in history. More than 370 journalists have been slain since 2009, and the AP lost four of its own in 2014 alone. Sixty-one journalists were killed globally last year. Staggering statistics, to say the least.

“It used to be that when media wore “press” emblazoned on their vest, or “press” or “media” was on their vehicle, it gave them a degree of protection,” Pruitt said. “But guess what: That labeling now is more likely to make them a target.”

While the threat of a war-crime conviction will likely leave extremist groups unfazed, it will certainly go a long way to show solidarity with a group that is more threatened than ever.

On a similar note, News & Tech in March attended the Inter American Press Association’s Midyear meeting in Panama where much of the agenda was dedicated to press freedom — IAPA’s core mission. With struggles worldwide and conflicts in Latin American countries including Venezuela at a critical point, IAPA is poised to affect change. You can find our complete coverage of the event on page 18.

Finally, as we wrapped up this issue, featuring an exclusive with some of the most influential women in our industry (see page 13), we learned of the passing of industry veteran Marge Boatright. Marge was a pioneer for women in this industry and her legacy will not be forgotten.

NT blog: Halting of El Paso real estate deal could signify that DFM sale is near

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The El Paso (Texas) Times today reported that there is more speculation of a sale looming for its parent.

Following reports in January that major asset managers Cerberus Capital Management and Apollo Global Management were bidding for DFM, an El Paso commercial broker told the Times that the nixing of a major real estate deal may be proof of a bigger move on the horizon.

Stan Okies with CORE Counselors of Real Estate has spent four months in negotiations, working with a buyer to acquire the 63,000-square-foot building behind City Hall that houses the Times’ printing press, he told the Times.

“Then, last Friday (Feb. 20) we received a communication at a very late hour that the deal we’d been working on and thought was going into contract that day or soon was terminated,” Okies said. “No reason was given.

“In addition, we were informed that the property was being removed from the market.”

Read the Times’ complete story here.

Digital finds newspaper pulse once more

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It’s been awhile since we’ve seen any significant movement in newspaper adoption of digital inkjet printing. Some seven years have elapsed since vendors first wooed us with digital technologies at drupa 2008 and yet reports of newspaper adoption are still few and far between.

Enter Swiss printer Mengis Druck, which is transitioning to digital for production of its daily Walliser Bote this summer with an HP T400 color inkjet web press. The move is no doubt significant — mainly because it seems the publisher’s move to digital was made primarily with its flagship daily in mind.

As our page 5 story reports, Mengis Druck selected the technology in response to an aging newspaper press, but also to react to increasing demand for regionalization of Walliser Bote. All of us who have been keeping an eye on digital inkjet for the past seven years know that’s where proponents of the technology claim that it shines. In the case of Mengis Druck, the publisher also cited declining circulation — always a doomsday harbinger for publishers — as a factor in moving to digital. But Walliser Bote is arming itself to get more out of the newspaper subscriptions it’s still got with more targeted and regionalized content. We’ll be anxiously waiting to see how the initiative progresses.

In the U.S., meantime, it’s been a year since Topweb LLC in Chicago — which perhaps represents the most successful digital newspaper printing model in the U.S. to date — ramped up its second TKS (USA) JetLeader digital press.

Here at News & Tech, we’re curious about industry sentiment when it comes to digital. Top decision makers on the production side of most major newspaper companies have no doubt familiarized themselves with digital by now. But what about the rest of the folks that ensure papers get printed each day? Are newspapers at large ready for digital? If not, is it a case of too little information? Too high of a cost? Or is it simply that good old-fashioned fear of change for which newspapers are so often criticized? Send us an email and tell us what you think.

Finally, with Spring just around the corner, N&T will take to sunny Panama City, Panama, in early March to participate in the Inter American Press Association’s Midyear Meeting. We’ll host a session on March 6, where we’ll share technology insights from North America with the Latin American market, and get a pulse on what’s working well for the newspapers in that region.

We’re looking forward to being part of an event sponsored by an association that so strongly advocates press freedom and safety. To our readers in Latin America and worldwide, we look forward to seeing you there.

New year brings victories, challenges

  • By Tara McMeekin Editor-in-chief
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It’s a New Year and as we put this issue of News & Tech together, we enjoyed talking to newspaper executives who are bullish about the future of print. As an industry, we love to prove the naysayers wrong, and our Page 1 story on newspapers’ various approaches to ensuring print’s bright future proves once more that we’re far from done.

We’re emerging from the doldrums of years past stronger and better poised for an exciting — and changing — future.

On a more somber note, 2015 also began with the bloodiest mass rebellion against freedom of the press in recent memory when the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo were terrorized on Jan. 7. The attack left 10 journalists and two police officers dead. And a list of numbers compiled by WAN-Ifra on journalism deaths are staggering — 370 journalists have been killed in the past six years alone.

We in the media should be the last to need reminding of the imperative mission we serve in the name of liberty and democracy. Yet we do need reminding occasionally.

So often focused on layoffs, cutbacks, and newspapers closing their doors, the tragedy of Charlie Hedbo serves as a stark reminder of just how crucial our societal mission is. It is more important than ever, and we must not ever lose sight of it. To that end, we invite you to check out the insightful column penned by WAN-Ifra’s Andrew Heslop on page 61 of our online digital pages.

And as we enter 2015, let’s heed the call of WAN-Ifra and other newspaper-industry champions to defend liberty and display visible unity.

In the words of WAN-Ifra World Editor’s Forum President Erik Bjerager, “Stand in solidarity with your colleagues around the world in defense of common ideals. Show no fear.”

Indeed.

Elections epitomize newspapers' strengths

  • By Tara McMeekin Editor-in-chief
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We’ve come to the end of another year, and once again our industry will be holding its collective breath as it determines whether or not advertisers will renew contracts. That coupled with another poor financial quarter for the majority of publishers and more declines in readership (see the latest figures from the Alliance of Audited Media in our page 18 story) could certainly make for an anxiety-ridden holiday season.

In spite of that, though, we’re reminded of the invaluable attributes of newspapers that are rarely reflected in the numbers. Quarterly reports and circ stats don’t show the entire picture. So, in the spirit of the season, let’s put the numbers aside for a moment and reflect on some positives.

The Midterm Elections were a reminder of newspapers’ significance as online and print coverage intersected to illustrate the best of each medium. Readers tuned into publisher’s websites and Twitter feeds for up-to-the-minute results late into the night on Nov. 4, and snapped up print editions on Nov. 5, to learn about election outcomes in their regions and nationwide. The front pages of The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post told the stories of the GOP’s surge to Senate control, while other publishers’ front pages focused on election results that hit closer to home. (The Newseum has put together a collection of the Nov. 5 front pages of daily newspapers around the country where you can see how various publishers covered the election. Check it out at http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/.)

Political coverage may best epitomize newspapers’ strengths, and often reminds journalists why they became journalists in the first place: It’s exciting. It matters. It allows us to be a part of chronicling our nation’s history. And newspapers should be proud of the role they continue to play in covering our nation’s democratic process.

So as our industry gears up for what will no doubt be another challenging year, it’s imperative that we not lose sight of our strengths.

And, as the year draws to a close, News & Tech would like to extend a sincere thank-you to all of our readers, advertisers and fans for your continued support. In 2015, we’ll mark our 27th year in publication — and we wouldn’t be here without you.

We also invite you to tell us about your plans and initiatives for the New Year, whether that be upgrading your production infrastructure or launching a new product or app. Drop me an e-mail at tmcmeekin@newsandtech.com.

We wish you all a joyous and safe holiday season!

NT blog: Remember the Univac?

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Here’s a little history lesson I’m not sure our kiddos are learning is Social Studies these days: On Nov. 4, 1952, CBS News commissioned a Remington Rand Univac Mainframe I computer to help with predictions during its presidential election coverage. That computer correctly forecast the victory of Dwight D. Eisenhower over Adlai Stevenson.

“This is not a joke or a trick, it’s an experiment.” CBS Reporter Charles Collingwood told viewers. “We think it’ll work. We hope it’ll work.”

Despite predictions of a close race between the two, the Univac predicted Eisenhower’s win after just 3 million votes had been tallied.

Collingwood was instructed to downplay the landslide the computer predicted because his boss believed the prediction was so skewed that it couldn’t possibly be accurate. So instead of telling viewers the computer’s actual prediction of 100 to 1, Collingwood said the computer was predicting 8 to 7 odds in favor of Eisenhower.

When the landslide win proved to be true, Collingwood announced that CBS had initially covered up the accurate prediction.

I learned about the Univac in the 4th grade and, along with several of my classmates, built what we interpreted the computer to look like. It was a big box, spray-painted silver and strung with Christmas lights. It was such an eyesore, in fact, that our school janitor, Bernie, mistakenly cut it apart with a box cutter and piled it up with the trash (I also recall a fair amount of 9-year-old tears when that happened). I later discovered that the actual Univac computer was only slightly more attractive than our rendering.

Trivia buffs out there may also know that Univac stood for “universal automatic computer,” and that the machine was also used in predicting the weather. This evening we’ll watch election results pour in, predicted from far more sophisticated computers, but I’m not convinced they’ll be any more accurate than those of the Univac 62 years ago.

—Tara McMeekin

Exploiting the newspaper production dichotomy

  • Tara McMeekin
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A strange dichotomy exists in newspapers today: For every publisher that ramps up new equipment, several more shutter production plants or are forced make the choice to outsource their printing. We all know the mantra well by now: “Print or be printed.”

That dichotomy was keenly illustrated at Block Communications’ daily newspapers on Sept. 8: While the first issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette rolled off the publisher’s new Goss Uniliner press at its new 245,000-square-foot facility in Clinton Commercial Park, the first issue of The Toledo Blade rolled off a press owned by the Detroit Media Partnership in Sterling Heights, Mich.

For Block Communications, the silencing of flexo presses at The Blade’s Superior Street production facility meant huge savings vs. the alternative of a printing infrastructure upgrade (see our Page 1 story). It also meant the elimination of 131 jobs.

And the contract is a coup for Detroit Media Partnership, which because of its advanced press and mailroom infrastructure was able to land a commercial printing gig from a newspaper some 80 miles away.

In Block’s case, the publisher will benefit from both printing and being printed. The much-anticipated ramp up of its new Post-Gazette facility will not only net the publisher savings in terms of insourcing jobs it previously farmed out, but will also position it to take on commercial work (although it hasn’t outlined specific plans to do so). And while Block Communications shelled out severance packages to hundreds of employees when it farmed out its printing to DMP, the move also spared the 179-year-old daily billions of dollars in new equipment expenses — to the tune of $30 million, according to Blade President and General Manager Joe Zerbey.

If you’d have picked up an issue of News & Tech 10 years ago and seen a story on The Toledo Blade being printed in Michigan, you probably would have thought you were looking at an April Fool’s edition. Today though, nothing is out of the question when it comes to adjusting in order to survive. Newspaper production certainly looks very different than it did 10 years ago, but the industry’s greatest strength going forward will continue to be its ability to adapt; to recognize where there are opportunities to right-size its way to survival, and ultimately (fingers crossed) profitability.

With this issue, we welcome back former N&T columnist Ray Marcano. Ray has more than 30 years of traditional and digital newsroom experience, mostly with Cox Media Group. He is now president and CEO of Canis Digital, a firm that helps publishers implement digital newsroom strategies. Our readers will no doubt benefit from his expertise.