By Dom Serafini
Tired of reading and listening to all the problems facing traditional print media, I went on a quest to find solutions. Solutions that, as we’ll see, have to be outside the box and require management that is not forward thinking, but retro thinking. It’s clear that the current print media management, raised and bred in today’s corporate environment, is not a solution.
For the consumer press, we need to call back the spirit of Henry Luce, Katherine Graham and even go back as far as Harrison Gray Otis, Adolph Ochs and William Randolph Hearst. Meanwhile, the TV trade media, which is in dire difficulty, demands the talent of pioneers like Broadcasting’s Sol Taishoff, Variety’s Sime Silverman, TV/Radio Age’s Sol Paul and the like.
Trade publications should trim their mastheads of presidents, executive vice presidents, senior vice presidents and plain vice presidents, each of whom requires an assistant and a secretary to function. This is the typical corporate environment where non-productive execs need to create bureaucracy, paperwork and meetings to justify their jobs.
To be viable, the trade press only needs reporters under editors, and production people. No corporate executives and no sales staff are necessary, since a trade publication has to sell itself. If a trade magazine has to be explained to potential clients, the publication is intrinsically insignificant.
For the consumer press the situation is more complex. Nonetheless, that did not discourage me from tackling the solutions. So, with this newfound, purely self-inflicted challenge, I first wrote to the Financial Times, commenting on one pertinent story it published:
“Sir, Your article ‘NY Times Eyes Local Edition in WSJ Clash’ was incisive and to the point. May I add a few ideas that, perhaps, to the people at the ‘Gray Lady’ [i.e. The NY Times] lie outside the box? First of all, to win against Rupert Murdoch’s WSJ [Wall Street Journal], the ‘Gray Lady’ needs some color. Perhaps, comics. Secondly, it should replace its business section with…the FT [the U.K’s Financial Times]. Imagine: the FT would get its U.S. edition printed for free, increase its circulation and benefit from added ad revenues. The NY Times would save money on staff, offer a better business product and greatly cut into WSJ readership.
Thirdly, The NY Times needs to completely re-think its ‘Sports’ section and move it from the current ‘games’ to the real sports side. What’s the sense in covering what the Post and the Daily News do much better? Instead it should start following football (and don’t call it by the derogatory name of ‘soccer’), Formula 1 races, rugby matches and bicycling races. All these activities would increase readership from the many ethnic groups that populate New York City.
Another section that needs some work is ‘Entertainment.’ The articles are too long and too few (it needs to imitate the L.A. Times).
Finally, The NY Times needs to revamp its readers’ comment page by copying the much better format from the FT. It’s not unusual to read in The NY Times an incomprehensible letter published only because it comes from some college professor.
I understand that these comments are not paid-for and thus not worth much. But, with Murdoch breathing down The NY Times’ back, perhaps moving outside the box isn’t such a crazy idea after all.”
As you can see, these are all pretty practical solutions, but they were not even acknowledged by the FT or The NY Times, to which I also sent the letter. The suggestion received just a comment from FT columnist John Gapper who wrote, “I’ve forwarded your note to our CEO John Ridding.”
The point is that there are solutions for traditional media to survive, but it’s important that it starts thinking outside the box and letting each publication produce its best content for itself and others. I’m sure that the L.A. Times can benefit from the international reporting of The NY Times, while the latter can benefit from the entertainment section of the former. Both papers can benefit from the Latin American coverage by the Miami Herald and all three desperately need the business content of the FT, while the FT can benefit from the N.Y. Times, L.A. Times and the Herald.
But, wait, I only took into account logic and good business sense. Unfortunately, I’m not qualified to take into consideration corporate myopia, territorial executive control, economy of scale, EBITDA, vertical integration and executive compensation; therefore my suggestions will never be implemented, even at the cost of traditional print media’s self demise.