By Mark Contreras
(The following is an excerpt from the speech Mark Contreras gave at the Newspaper Association of America's mediaXchange conference in Dallas, March 25-28, 2011)
The cowboy-poet Jim Moroney has always been an inspiration and role model for me, and a comment he made several months prior to the April board meeting of the NAA made a lasting impact. He said, "I don't mind getting together to do things. I just don't want to waste our time getting together to talk about doing things and then never accomplishing anything."
Much of what Jim said helped guide the tone, cadence, and sense of urgency for what the NAA board accomplished during the past 12 months, and I now hear Jim's prodding in many of the discussions occurring in the industry today.
Last April, we sent out a widely distributed note to those in the NAA database asking a simple question: "What are the two or three issues important to your business that the newspaper industry should try to solve collectively?"
The note went on to say, "Our goal is to cull your responses and, early this summer, gather a group of willing industry participants to discuss appropriate action and then act."
We got a very good response from a large cross-section of NAA members, and Randy Bennett and his staff whittled the responses down to approximately 60 themes. Then we got them down to 13 themes, and then - during a special board meeting in August in Chicago - to four:
* We must better protect our intellectual property and better monetize our content.
* Newspapers must agree upon mobile advertising standards.
* We must better communicate and promote the full value of the audiences we deliver across multiple media.
* We must provide an industry-wide digital shopping experience, particularly for our national advertisers.
I'd like to walk you through each of these four areas of opportunity and share how your board turned each of these opportunities into action.
Getting Paid for Content
A recent PEW study confirmed something very important: Newspapers still account for more than half of all originally reported journalism in the United States.
That journalism comes from our talent, our investment, our infrastructure, and our experience. It's the very heart of our business. But the question is, what do we get for all that?
The answer: not enough.
Way too many Web businesses are getting a free ride from the content we create. We've worked hard at the policy level to protect our intellectual property, yet the content produced by more than 1,400 newspapers is still circulating out there in a literal free-for-all of electronic cut-and-paste.
Technology and the Internet will continue to morph, tantalizing consumers with new devices and even more ways to receive news and information. Getting our content on those screens is easy. Getting it there in a way that is profitable and protects our investment is another matter entirely.
The good news is that it can work.
Working from the foundation provided by the AP's news registry, and from consensus achieved during last summer's board meeting, the industry is forming the News Licensing Group: a separate, industry-operated organization dedicated to tracking, licensing, and finding new models to monetize our medium's high-quality content. None of this would have happened without the courageous leadership
of the AP's Tom Curley.
Today, they have received commitments for funding and are putting leadership into place.
Mobile Ad Standards
While we eagerly follow the progress of the News Licensing Group, we're also tackling issues related to the explosion of digital mobility.
By next year, there will be 250 million wireless devices: Smartphones, tablets, iPads, e-readers, and other mobile screens are being activated at the rate of 200,000 per day worldwide.
In the past, newspaper companies have left money on the table by not making it easier for customers to buy across markets in print and on the Web. In the mobile space, we now have a sizeable opportunity to collaborate on standard business practices and a national sales strategy.
One industry watcher refers to it as our "digital do-over."
Jim Moroney, publisher and CEO of The Dallas Morning News, and a large group of companies are leading the effort to develop a more efficient sales network for advertisers; one that offers easy access to high-quality newspaper audiences across the nation.
The NAA board approved an industry-wide promotion campaign that you'll be hearing lots about in the near future. The campaign will highlight the powerful attributes that our audiences bring to the table.
Donna Barrett, CEO of Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., demonstrated impressive leadership in moving us toward a campaign that companies with both big newspapers and small newspapers could get behind. She wisely enlisted the help of the Martin Agency, famous for the GEICO Gecko campaign and several others.
You'll find the campaign new, fresh, and complete with a great tag line: "Smart is the new sexy."
Digital Shopping Experience
Advertisers also communicated their needs in digital media, and so our next focus is to better position newspapers to capture retail dollars as they inevitably move from print to digital.
Several companies are building robust digital-shopping platforms, and we have asked the industry to coalesce around two or three, rather than 10 or 12, to again provide a more efficient buy for retailers.
We're also looking to develop standard business practices across platforms and exploring a national sales channel to promote our value proposition and drive more digital revenue to newspaper properties.
We're in about the 7th inning of this process, and Doug Franklin, the recently promoted president of Cox Media, deserves enormous credit for his fair and persistent leadership in this endeavor.
All of us owe Tom Curley, Jim Moroney, Donna Barrett, and Doug Franklin a very big thank-you for their selflessness on behalf of our industry.
Will these four initiatives automatically solve all of our economic and audience challenges? No, but I firmly believe that they will help change minds and change perceptions of our industry in the years ahead.
A Single Definition of Online Audience
There's another area of concentration that I'm partial to, one that cuts across the four priorities I've just laid out, and that is to create a more unified and powerful argument concerning the audiences we reach.
Have you ever tried to get directions from a group of people who all want to help? How about if they all spoke a different language? That's what our advertisers are grappling with.
Three or four different systems are competing to tell the world how to measure and value our digital audience. We need a gold standard of measurement: one way of looking at digital audiences and one way of presenting the facts to advertisers.
We've just signed on to a coalition led by the Interactive Advertising Bureau that includes the Association of National Advertisers, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, and the NAA.
The long-term goal is to create one trusted third-party with broad oversight of the audience metrics process that will be clear, consistent, accepted, and unimpeachable - driven by the business needs of buyers and sellers, not the interests of the research suppliers.
It's an important step for advertisers and media buyers across platforms, but it's a critical step for newspapers because without this there is no credible way to tell the story that I believe to be true with all my heart: Newspapers have never reached larger audiences than they do today.
There's just no mutually agreed-upon way to tell that story today, but I believe that's about to change.
The excellent work being done by NAA staff is helping to further this business in so many ways: from the wonderful programming for this meeting, to creating a bridge between our industry and digital giants such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google.
And they ensure that critical messages about the growth in online ad revenue, the realities of our reach, and our increasing digital muscle are well-covered within the business, financial, and trade press.
Overall, the staff of NAA - John, Paul, Randy, and others - have been extremely hard at work on our behalf, and we owe them a debt of gratitude as well.
We have a large, complex, and pressing to-do list. We have to accept the complexity and embrace the urgency. But in the process, we can't lose our identity or forget why our newsrooms are so important to the communities we serve.
The reason I got into this business is because I worked for Paul Simon, former senator from Illinois. He was a great legislator, first in the House, then a long career in the Senate.
He was a very smart man: author, Harvard professor, presidential candidate, but he started as a newspaper publisher.
He turned a bankrupt paper, the Troy Tribune, into a successful chain of 14 weeklies. His editorial stances - particularly campaigns against government corruption - pointed him toward politics.
At the height of his legislative power, he told me something I've never forgotten: "I love being a senator," he said, "but I made much more of a difference as a publisher."
It wasn't until I was well into this business myself that I began to understand the full meaning behind those words.
A cheap laptop and some free software means anybody can publish, but that does not make them a newspaper publisher. With enough time, some smart investment, creative thinking, and shared commitment, we can do what anybody in media can do.
But nobody can do what we do.
Nobody has the infrastructure, the history, or the responsibility. It's ours. And we can build on it. But to build with effectiveness and relevance we can't look at the world from 1,400 perspectives. We're one industry.
We have to use the leadership and the resources of the NAA to maximum effect. We have to focus on the main pillars of transformation, the value of our content, the value of our reach, and the value of our role in a free and informed society.
* Mark Contreras is senior vice president/newspapers at the E.W. Scripps Co.