The American Society of News Editors (ASNE) kicked off its annual convention Monday with two key panels: “View from the C-Suite” and eight views of innovation in the newsroom.

Highlights from the Q&A with the CEOs:

Katherine WeymouthGracia MartoreMark ThompsonWhat have you learned from two efforts at establishing a paywall?

“Don’t call it a wall,” quipped Mark Thompson, New York Times president and CEO. “People are now more willing to pay for quality goods.” He also emphasized that the company is focused on execution, improving marketing based on its earlier experience. “The clearer the proposition, the more effective” the effort.

When asked the likelihood of reducing the number of days of print publications or home delivery by 2018, all said no. While Gannett cut home delivery in Detroit years ago, president and CEO Gracia Martore emphasized that each of the company’s markets is unique and seeks to emphasize what’s important in each community and focus on those opportunities. That might be politics in Des Moines or outdoor activities in Fort Collins.

Detroit was a unique situation in the depths of a recession, not a template for the rest of the company, she said. She said the company is focused on seven-day all-access delivery of the news. Yet later in the session, Martore reminded that the tablet didn't exist 5 years ago. “I can't predict what readers will do in 5 years.”

While Gannett’s USA Today and The New York Times support a national print infrastructure, and the Times has acquired full control of the International Herald Tribune, the Washington Post’s Katherine Weymouth noted that digital is allowing her company to serve a national and international audience without the expense of print.

The group was also asked what innovations they are paying attention to, especially from digital native companies that might disrupt the industry.

Patrick TalamantesBrian BoyerJavaun MoradiPatrick Talamantes, McClatchy president and CEO, said the need to be met is serving smaller, local businesses. “The Targets have their own” marketing staffs and divisions. He’s paying attention to True Measure and Press Local. McClatchy is aiming at smaller advertisers who don't know what to do, or how to do it. “We need to broaden our relationships and engagement with smaller advertisers.

Martore concurred that small and medium businesses are the future for the industry, and that news organizations must provide one-stop shopping for marketing services.

Thompson mentioned Flipboard and Chartbeat, but stressed that the industry needs to be innovative itself, not rely on outsiders.

The panelists believe big data will transform journalism. Thompson said he thinks citizens are comfortable with "anonymous" cookies, but suggested that could become a more complex equation should the divide between cookie and human identification disappear.

Of targeted content and advertising, Weymouth believes “if we're doing it right, it's contextual. They want that Target ad. [Readers] call to complain if they don't get it.”

“Mobile is the key,” said Talamantes. “Mobile takes us from 43 percent [print] penetration to 53 percent [total market penetration]. Mobile products have to be every bit as strong as any out there.” Given the audience, he elicited a chuckle when he said, “Editors are leading the charge. Now I wish publishers would catch up.”

Closing consensus: “It’s customer first, not digital first.”

Tina RosenbergJohn DrescherDale PeskinWhich led into the second panel and its directive: Mobile first.

If it doesn't work on mobile, it doesn't work, said Brian Boyer, NPR news application editor. “Design mobile first,” then go back to tablet, desktop, even print.

Colleague Javaun Moradi, NPR product manager, emphasized the need to transform the culture. “Technology by itself won't solve [our challenges]. We need to constantly reinvent the user experience.” Reader-user expectations change day by day and the industry needs to adjust to those expectations. When thinking mobile, make it easy for the user, simplify. If the user experience isn’t as positive as other digital experiences, you’ll lose your audience and opportunities to those other digital services.

Constant iteration and reinvention was echoed by Dale Peskin, iFocus and WeMedia co-founder. “It's about transformation, not innovation,” he said. Peskin believes the word “innovation” should be banned, that it’s become meaningless or indefinable in today’s constantly changing world. “News organizations must create social value by empowering the audience through their media experiences. Social purpose unites people and ideas.”

A more traditional response from John Drescher, Raleigh News and Observer editor and senior vice president: “More than ever, we need quality, distinctive content.”

To that challenge, Tina Rosenberg of Solutions Journalism Network suggested turning the industry’s focus from worst-case outcomes to where those same challenges result in successful outcomes. As an example, she mentioned data that compared hospital performance. The usual approach would be to do an exposé of the worst performer. Another hospital in that list, owned by the same company as the worst, had one of the best records. Her team focused on the best performer. The success of the one hospital drew a stark contrast to the other that it begged the question that, if that one could succeed, why was the other allowed to fail. It became a much richer story.

“Daily Armageddon creates apathy,” she said. “Success creates reader engagement.”

Learn more at the ASNE website

Brian Steffens  
Director of Communications


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