65% optimistic or “How many of you feel very optimistic about the future?” Mei-Mei Chan, president and publisher of The News-Press in Ft. Myers, Florida asked a roomful of newspaper executives at the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association (SNPA) Summit 2012.

Of the 75 executives in the room, representing more than 300 newspapers, a handful of hands went up.

“How many of you feel somewhat optimistic?” she asked. Nearly every hand went up. “Looks like 90 percent or more,” she advised the crowd.

How is that possible? As an industry we’ve seemingly trumpeted the decline of subscriptions, circulation and then of advertising dollars. Yet Chan was keying off a slide from Mike Jenner’s recent survey here at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, where he found that nearly two-thirds of more than 450 daily newspaper publishers said they were very or somewhat optimistic.

Upon seeing the survey results, a good friend who covers the advertising industry asked me: “What were they smoking?”

Just weeks after the RJI survey results indicated two-thirds of publishers had some optimism, 90 percent said they felt optimistic at the SNPA meeting. I was there. They weren’t smoking anything! As I mentioned in my last post, Gary Meo of Scarborough had some pretty positive audience numbers. If not in total numbers, in the quality of the audience the industry reaches: income, spending, education, voting. And in the effectiveness of advertising segments: i.e. coupons.

“The community likes us, the community values us,” said panelist Paul Tash, chairman and CEO of the Times Publishing Company in St. Petersburg, Florida. “This is a great business. Success will mean we earned it.”

Or, as McClatchy’s Bob Weil said: “Our best days are ahead. In 1981 Ted Turner said print would be dead in 10 years. We’re still here.”

Yet the optimism wasn’t about just the print products. “Our biggest challenge is getting news and advertising to embrace digital,” said Weil, vice president, operations. “There were some people who were not ready for this fight — good people. Now we have warriors that want to win this fight.”

“See your product from the eyes of a newcomer,” advised Carol Hudler, president and publisher of The Tennessean in Nashville. Identify the passion topics in your community and put your resources there, she said. And “you need a snappy user experience.”

My take on the conversations at Summit 2012 is that the optimism is a result of a growing understanding, if not comfort level, of building and growing a print + digital strategy along with a move toward monetizing content (pay models). Not just strategy, but actual growth in revenue. Perhaps not yet enough to offset the losses in print advertising revenue, but enough to envision such a time.

Weil indicated that about 47 percent of his company’s revenue is now non-print revenue. Our attitude has to be “bringing more than 150 years of experience to the web.”

Brian Steffens  
Director of Communications


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