5 Powerful Takeaways from #NYC #IMAIM 2014

Three pillars of content @BuzzFeed

It has been a whirlwind trip thus far in #NYC for the 2014 Local Media Association Innovation Mission (#LMAIM.) I am writing this as I sit on a plane headed to San Francisco for the second half of our trip so I will provide additional insights from #SFO in a later post.

Face to face meetings we have had so far include The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Simulmedia, Gatehouse Media, RegionalHelpWanted.com, BuzzFeed, Russmedia and CBS Local Media.

1.  Native is front and center. 

Regardless of the controversy this new ad unit has created, all of the media companies we visited in NYC have some sort of strategy for providing native content. Advertising revenue is shifting, and focus on advertiser ROI is rapidly becoming more important as metrics and engagement continue to dominate headlines in the advertising world. BuzzFeed is clearly a front-runner in the native ad space: “We are the newsroom for our brand partners. We are helping them react to events that make sense to their brand.”  – Matt Trotta, BuzzFeed passionately conveyed during our meeting. “We do not monetize content. Rather we take the data and insights to help the brands.”

But other companies are moving into native with the same zest and vigor. The New York Times has been experimenting with native for some time now. They believe that the “agency world is not yet well equipped to deal with quality native creation.” This gives them a way to clearly differentiate. All of their native content is placed on a subdomain of their website: paidpost.nytimes.com. There is not a landing page, nor is the content available directly via navigation. But the rules of engagement are clear, from labeling, creation, price and down to how many times the content will show up in the newsfeed. It gets SEO lift and based on the Geico sponsored travel quiz I demoed on their site this morning, it appears brands are ready to get involved and support this with their pocketbooks.

Gatehouse and others also have clear plans to develop and sell native. Some strategies involve taking the advertisers content, others are about creating the content as a service. Content quality was also an important topic and resources are being devoted to ensure that this is not viewed as an advertorial play. Concentrating on verticals seems to be a common theme that is yielding good ROI for all parties in the transaction (consumer, brand, media company.)

Native is not a fad. Time to get on board and develop those products in your local market.

2. Innovation does not just equal digital. 

So much investment and focus is on digital and new technology, but we heard from several companies that are “doubling-down” on traditional media. “There is a risk in too quickly diminishing the value of print,” said Kirk Davis, CEO of Gatehouse Media. “Local is a very, very big space.”

Initiatives coming out of GateHouse Media’s new Print and Design Center in Austin, Texas.

Indeed, Gatehouse seems to be putting a great deal of financial backing into traditional media. From the investment in a new Print and Design Center in Austin, funding of surveys for data, and a billion dollars to purchase print and directories businesses, this company is actively working to innovate the core products, rather than throw them out with the bathwater. “Innovation is challenging, ” said Davis, “I do not want to let go of the great business we have now nor do I want to accelerate its demise. Print is valuable.”

CBS Local is also working hard to integrate its radio and digital products and leverage the traditional brand. “It is important to push the core (news) but we also need to provide what consumers want. We have to take content and put it wherever the consumers are,” said Ezra Kucharz, President CBS Local Digital Media, “How do I get a fan arguing with an expert?”

Strategy Presentation of the CBS Local Assets during the 2014 LMA Innovation Mission

And CBS is doing just that. Great examples includes new video content like the Tailgate Fan or music documentaries on Radio.com. “Take radio and turn it into video,” Kucharz said.

CBS has a very clear focus on profitability and ways to leverage content online. “Social media is the pipes of the internet. It moves people around. We want the traffic on our brand sites not Facebook.”

3. Journalism needs more than display ads to survive.

Probably the most ‘real’ or honest discussion we had came from Kirk Davis again: “There are difficult questions I am asked by our employees when I visit different markets like ‘When am I going to get a raise?’ Well, we are witnessing the liquidation of the newspaper business. In the future, Propel Marketing is going to fund journalism for our company.”

News has been subsidized for years by advertising. Classified verticals are probably the most noteworthy in newspaper’s past, generating profit margins into the 45%+ range. Those high profit margins attracted competitors, who picked apart the revenue hold newspapers enjoyed for 50 years. GateHouse’s Kirk Davis believes that digital services provided by Propel Marketing should eventually fund journalism. Gerold Riedmann, CEO of Russmedia said “Professional journalism can not be financed only by advertising. Something has to change.”

This begs a larger discussion outside of the scope of this blog, but one we as an industry need to address. If journalism  is not sustainable in its current form, what is it’s future? And in the case of GateHouse or other brands, is it fair to the shareholders to invest in this [now] loss-leader called journalism because we always have? It is easy for me to start thumping my chest and link the ideals of ‘the press’ to democracy and the constitution. But is it reasonable to expect a business to provide a service with no return? More on this at a later date…

4. Partnering is key to competing locally. 

Eric Straus provided the group an entrepreneur’s viewpoint. Founder and owner of RegionalHelpWanted.com (for the 2nd time), he provided valuable insight regarding running a business: “We need to get into bed together,” said Straus, “Let’s make a strong local brand primary over the national players.”

His logic is simple, and the success of his business shows that it works. In the markets he operates, local businesses and ‘jobseekers’ turn to regionalhelpwanted first. Rather than have all the local media players compete against each other in a market and have the national brand swoop in and take or continue to enjoy share, instead create a strong single presence that is #1 in that category. A great example of leveraging the strong brand power of traditional media into a vertical that was assumed lost by the local media industry.

5. Disrupt yourself before you are disrupted by a competitor. 

The Russmedia Formula: Geographical + Vertical = Multi-Niche

“You should jeopardize the newspaper. Would you want someone else to do it?” said Gerold Riedmann, CEO of Russmedia. “We do not integrate print and digital, and are actively trying to lure money away from print.”

Riedmann referenced disruptive innovation theories developed by Clayton Christensen and disruption in the newspaper industry by Clark Gilbert, President and CEO of the Deseret News and Deseret Digital Media. Utilizing the concepts illustrated, Russmedia developed a strategy that leverages the strengths of each media type separately. Russmedia believes:

1. Mobile traffic will exceed desktop traffic in Austria this year. Mobile is our focus.

2. There will be even greater specialization and fragmentation by digital portals.

3. Geography is becoming less and less important.

4. Keep things separate. Integration never works

5. There is not just one transformation inside the company occurring, but several.

Riedmann has dedicated sales resources for each product. No integrated reps. “We can get way more out of the market by going to the business 7x with separate sales representatives rather than just a single integrated sales person.”

When talking about digital products, his beliefs become even more clear: “I don’t want to explain to a local business what a CPM is. We sell  like a radio station would: we keep it easy and leverage the power of the brand. Targeting keeps CPMs high.”

Citizen Forum App created by Russmedia. See.Click. Fix.

Russmedia believes that that the way to create value is to ‘dig deeper than Google ever could.’ They create news for the ‘heads down’ generation. It is short, made for mobile, highly share-able (and via WhatsApp), and is highly consumable during periods of ‘short boredom’. But news is just one job to be done. New product development revolves around making life easier for people. So whether it is traffic, weather, gas prices or reviews of restaurants, Riedmann is focusing separate resources to continually disrupt his print hold in the market.

Some final food for thought from the innovators we visited:

“We have been raising prices like crazy, and the market supports it. Print is still very profitable, just less readers.” -Gerold Riedmann

“We don’t want one-truck Bob.” -Ezra Kucharz, CBSLocal Digital

“You can hit an audience of 3 people and expand it infinitely with the power of the social web.” – Jonathon Perelman, Buzzfeed

“Our relationship with Google is passable. They are the gorilla. They are awfully damn big.” -WSJ




2014 Elkhart Truth 11th Annual Awards Banquet Recap

Invitation to the 2014 Elkhart Truth Awards Banquet
Invitation to the 2014 Elkhart Truth Awards Banquet

Each year, we take time to recognize the hard work of our talented staff here at The Elkhart Truth. What follows is a recap of a fabulous evening at The Lerner Ballroom in downtown Elkhart, Ind on Thursday, March 13th, 2014.

We serve dinner after an hour of cocktails and mingling. The food was fantastic. I had salmon with the most wonderful glaze. We were fortunate to have a wonderful MC, our own managing editor, Marshall King. He started with a joke and a selfie reenactment inspired by Ellen.

Marshall King, recreating a pop-culture event made popular by Ellen the week prior.
Marshall King, recreating a pop-culture event made popular by Ellen the week prior.

Marshall then introduced Truth TV, a video created in-house every year that has become feared by some, but loved by many.

The video stars the talented employees of The Elkhart Truth, and contains various parodies of popular TV shows, movies, music videos, viral media and commercials. This year’s edition included:

  • Stills of our staff mimicking the actors in Duck Dynasty, Mad Men, Real Housewives and the The Hunger Games
  • “Truth Honors” –  Several parodies of the Sprint TV Commercial with James Earl Jones and Malcolm McDowell from late 2013
  • “Priceless” – A parody of the popular MasterCard commercials from the mid 2000’s
  • Lip syncing to “What Does the Fox Say”, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “What Makes you Beautiful”
  • A parody of  “LIVE with Kelly and Michael”
  • A “Top Ten” list done in the style of Dave Letterman, poking fun at the pain we have gone through recently installing a new content management system named Libercus.

After the video, Greg Halling, editor, took the stage. Here are a few things he said:

“I was talking to someone in the industry — I need to be a bit circumspect here — and he told me that the leaders of a major newspaper in the upper Midwest were frustrated because they were looking for a hybrid CMS.”

“They want a content management system that starts with print content and repurposes it for digital.”

“I was stunned. Here at The Elkhart Truth, we grasp a basic truth about journalism, business and community that the Chicago Sun Times fails to understand — there is no such thing as a hybrid. There is only journalism in the service of those who need you.”

“Everything else flows from that.”

“If you understand your community, if you connect with it and care desperately about its welfare, you cover it with a sense of urgency.”

“You deliver news as quickly and effectively as you can, in as many forms as possible. Then you develop new products and business models to support that mission.”

“Essentially, you do what we have done over the last year.”

Greg went on to recognize all departments of our organization, having them stand, and thanking them for their contributions to our mission.

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Brandon Erlacher, publisher (me) then took the stage. Here is what was said:

“Now, let’s take a look into the story telling of the past year.”

“We have tried to break into video for almost 8 years now. At one point, we created daily video updates akin to what one would see on the evening news on TV. Bill Beck had a fantastic wardrobe, and I think he even wore make-up daily.”

“But we have evolved. We have learned. The videos we produce now provide depth and insight into the stories impacting our community. It just is not a roundup of the latest headlines. There is no talking head. It is about the content and the connection to the viewer. We need to be proud… journalists have always done this correctly, especially those that are part of The Elkhart Truth family, and they put the spotlight on what is important, not themselves.”

“So please take a moment to watch these pieces we produced. Our community has watched, engaged and shared them too.”

These four videos were then played for the crowd:

I then continued, “We also tell stories through photos. Here is a tribute to our talented staff relating the stories of our community through pictures and video…”

We then cued this powerful video highlighting our visual work as journalists in the Elkhart community:

The three videos featured in the above “Home” video are:

I then had a few more words to say, and our gracious Marshall was more infatuated with the cupcakes than what I was saying…

Cupcakes or a speech? Marshall's FB post during the banquet.
Cupcakes or a speech? Marshall’s FB post during the banquet.

I finished with the following:

“Damn it, we have been publishing for 125 years! Remember those videos we just watched. Who will document life? Google? WSBT? Fox28? Who will be the independent voice for those who have none? Who will hold government accountable? Who will champion a great life here in Elkhart County? I need you all.”

“I have never felt more excited about our future and the amazing people we have with passion, ideas, intelligence and endless energy. Our path to success is in your hands. Every one of us must continue taking steps forward and enlighten not only ourselves, but also our community with the enormous opportunities that are ahead.”

“Thank you all for your dedication to our great mission and company. I am honored and proud to work with each and every one of you.”

Next came the awards portion of the program. We present seven company awards every year. This year, a special one time eighth award was added labeled “Above and Beyond.”

Following, you will see a description of each award, the nominees for the award, and the introduction of each award recipient.

Above and Beyond (special award for 2014):

Becky Fain- Winner of the 2014 Above and Beyond Award
Becky Fain- Winner of the 2014 Above and Beyond Award

“This is a special award. One that is not given every year. The recipient this year has deserved it every year they have been employed. She has always been kind and helpful. No is not in her vocabulary. She is one of those people that is always busy, always approached by others for help, and yet she always finds a way to succeed. Some of her additional traits are:

  • a calm and positive attitude even through difficult times
  • a determination to get things done accurately and on time
  • always willing to assist where needed and take on new responsibilities
  • often stepping in to work with customers when the primary contact is unavailable
  • taking the lead in long range planning and scheduling
  • a go to source of information for practically every element of our business
  • assumed the duties of other positions during a year of extensive volatility”

“During the past year, she emerged as not only our safety net, but as a leader, trainer and inspirer.”

“It gives me great pleasure to present this special Above and Beyond Award to Becky Fain!”

Customer Service Award:

Mishanna Cramer- winner of the 2014 Customer Service Award
Mishanna Cramer- winner of the 2014 Customer Service Award

The winner of this award makes serving others a first priority and practices the golden rule.  This is a person that consistently sets high standards and lives by them.  This person will do whatever it takes to help the other members of the team and is a positive influence.

Nominees-  Mishanna Cramer, Joe Kuharic, Carol Reid

“This year’s customer service award winner demonstrated leadership and consistency during a very difficult year of change.”

“She continually identified areas of need and stepped up to make things happen. She is extremely competitive and makes the extra effort, whatever it takes to meet goal. She is fiercely dedicated to customer results and return on investment, and will stop at nothing to make sure obstacles are removed for success. She mentors her team members to develop and instills in them the same work ethic necessary to achieve outstanding results.  This year’s Customer Service award goes to – Mishanna Cramer.”

Leading Change Award:

The winner of this award develops a vision, communicates, establishes a sense of urgency, and empowers employees to achieve a change in major process in culture.  He or she builds on short term wins to provide a foundation for a permanent organizational change.

Nominees-  Anne Christnovich, Lydia Sheaks, Natasha Tucker

Anne Christnovich, winner of the 2014 Leading Change Award
Anne Christnovich, winner of the 2014 Leading Change Award

“To effectively lead change requires more than simply doing things differently on an individual level. It requires scrapping the old systems entirely so you can approach your job — and your mission — in an entirely new way. Even more important than that? It requires working across disciplines and across departments to help others change just as quickly.”

“This newsroom staffer does all of that. She collaborated with the advertising department to build new engagement opportunities on elkharttruth dot com. She worked with other newsroom staffers to use new forms of storytelling. She even built a new way of covering news that’s happening in real time, which is the blueprint that was used for coverage of the Martin’s shooting, Lami-Plast fire and other major news events of the past several months.”

“And she started making an impact on her first day. Given what she’s accomplished in her short time at the Elkhart Truth, it’ll be exciting to see what will come next for the recipient of this year’s Leading Change award  — congratulations, Anne Christnovich.  

Newsroom Staffer of the Year:

Dan Spalding- Winner of the 2014 Newsroom Staffer of the Year
Dan Spalding- Winner of the 2014 Newsroom Staffer of the Year

The winner of this award is the top Newsroom performer.

Nominees-  Amanda Mitchell, Dan Spalding, Rachel Terlep

“This journalist is a leader in every way. He writes deep, well-reported stories that inform our readers and make an impact on policies and life in our community.”

“He’s one of the newsroom’s most prolific bloggers and has gotten national attention for a blog post in 2013.”

“He live-tweets meetings.”

He holds city officials accountable, but has established good relationships with them so that they keep working with him even when he’s shined a light where they wish he wouldn’t.”

“But he also works with others to add layers to his stories online. His collaboration makes this hard-working journalist an even better one. He has developed the tools a modern journalist needs and wields them wisely.”

“This year’s Newsroom Staffer of the Year is Dan Spalding.”

Outstanding Achievement Award:

Natasha Tucker- Winner of the 2014 Outstanding Achievement Award
Natasha Tucker- Winner of the 2014 Outstanding Achievement Award

The winner of this award demonstrates ingenuity, determination and innovation.  He or she seeks results using their drive and passion while breaking down barriers to achieve success.

Nominees-  Rachel Terlep, Natasha Tucker, Sarah Welliver

“With very little training, this person was given the task of almost single-handedly forging the way toward a new digital opportunity. She spent countless hours researching, testing, and experimenting, while juggling her everyday duties. As the year progressed, she started to teach her co-workers the tips she had learned along the way.”

“The digital publications she has developed have become an integral part of the company’s future, opening many doors and ideas for new exciting products. She keeps calm and carries on no matter what is happening around her – and she does it with great creative flair.:

“That’s why this year’s Outstanding Achievement award winner is Natasha Tucker.”

Outstanding Sales Performance:

The winner of this award is our top sales performer.

Nominees-  Kelli Bienz, Mishanna Cramer, Minnie Hutch

“Kelli Bienz had an outstanding sales year in 2013 exceeding goal for the year. Kelli is a strategic thinker and develops integrated marketing solutions to deliver business-building results for her clients. Internally, she manages her account base with advanced planning, always working several months ahead. She has developed great working relationships with her accounts and is dedicated to being on time for every appointment. Kelli is a true role model for sales success. We are grateful for her continued success. Once again, this year’s Outstanding Sales Performance award goes to Kelli Bienz.”

Positive Mental Attitude Award:

Amanda Kolarich- Winner of the 2014 Positive Mental Attitude Award
Amanda Kolarich- Winner of the 2014 Positive Mental Attitude Award

The winner of this award encourages and coaches others to overcome obstacles.  He or she sees the “glass half full” and focuses on solutions, not problems.  Above all, he or she embraces change with enthusiasm and a smile and makes The Elkhart Truth a better place to work.

Nominees-  Amanda Kolarich, Christine Larson, Jen Price

“Even as a newcomer to the newspaper industry, this reward recipient has managed to hit the ground running. From her initial interview to her contributions on various committees and projects, she has exhibited a liveliness and enthusiasm that has helped energize many departments.  Determined to take customer service to new heights at the Truth, she focuses on solutions rather than problems, offers to help opposed to complain, and personifies service with a smile.”

“In her short tenure as the Customer Service Supervisor, she endured a most difficult winter, maintaining a professional and positive demeanor, while encouraging others to view the glass as half full when many times it was painfully obvious that it was completely empty.”

In the words of Winston Churchill: “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”

“And despite her small stature, she has made a big difference for us.”

“Congratulations, Amanda Kolarich.”

Newsboy (Employee of the Year):

Rather than a written description, we show a video:

Nominees-  Angelle Barbazon, Mishanna Cramer, Becky Fain

“We respond to breaking news more instinctively; we provide context and analysis more immediately; we use multimedia to illustrate our stories more extensively.”

“That helped create the largest audience in our history — and with it, new opportunities for financial growth.”

“Our newsboy led the way.”

“When we required staff to blog and promote their work on social media, she became an expert.”

Angelle Barbazon- 2014 Newsboy (Employee of the Year)
Angelle Barbazon- 2014 Newsboy (Employee of the Year)

“When we went digital first, she broke stories on a national crisis — the fungal meningitis outbreak — and used every tool at her disposal to provide valuable context.”

“She connected deeply with Sarah Crane and gently told a devastating tale of loss that helped unite an entire community.”

“If our newsboy had not gone first, no one would have followed — and we would not be poised today for the great things ahead of us in 2014.”

Our Newsboy for 2014 is Angelle Barbazon.

News 2.0 – Is there a need for an editor anymore?

**Published originally on my work blog here.

Last week I attended the Social+Mobile, Show Me the Money Conference, put on by Borrell Associates, Local Media Association and Local Search Association in Chicago. (Twitter feed: #somoconf and also check here and here for coverage). There were some amazing, and frightening, statistics presented by comScore, Facebook, Google and other speakers including this eye-opening video shown by Mark Preston of Hubbard Radio.

The way we consume news and information is changing at a pace that is impossible to catch. Believe me, I know. I cannot tell you how many times I have been approached by family, friends and complete strangers in my local community offering their condolences about being a newspaper publisher. Fortunately, our influence and reach continues to grow each and every day through our use of social media and our coverage of the life of those in the Elkhart area. We reach more people than we ever have before. But let’s save that topic for another blog. What I want to discuss is whether there is a need for an editor. That is, someone to tell you what is important and to prioritize the news.

According to Nielsen, 92% of people trust recommendations from people they know.

“People don’t trust advertising, at least not as much as they trust recommendations from friends and consumer opinions expressed online.”

So, back in the day, a newspaper with your morning coffee, drive-time in the car (radio) and watching local TV before heading to bed was pretty much the way to get the news. The local newsrooms were the editors who fed you information that was “important” and provided the topics to discuss around the water cooler or dinner table.

Times have changed dramatically. I look at how technology has impacted my life and interactions. I have a cell phone that keeps me connected 24/7. I really no longer need a desk, or the company phone that sits on it, a home telephone, or in many cases, even a computer. My children and I communicate via text messages throughout the day. I look to apps from Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flipboard and Pinterest to gather information and communicate with family, friends and peers. I keep my files in the cloud so they are available from anywhere. I even stream entertainment from Chromecast, YouTube, Pandora and Google Music.  But more often than not, I click on links that my friends “share” or “promote” and attach relevance to those before I go to other more traditional sources. I rely on their influence to guide me to what I need to know.

Unfortunately, there is a dark and dangerous side to this system. Many of the links take me to a source that is politically motivated or just plain incorrect. Our access to this breadth of information on the internet does not make any of it true. Frankly, it is difficult sorting through all the “tabloid” stories, blogs and even websites created by marketers or persons with agendas. How does one decipher what is real and what one can trust? Google makes its living off of search, and providing relevant results. But no matter what logic is programmed into the code, it cannot filter this stream of information and provide only the truth. Is there still value in investing in a trained journalist who adheres to a code of ethics?

Make no mistake, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media services desperately want to be your editor, the position held by local media just a few short years ago. In fact, at the conference last week, I saw this slide:

A slide from a presentation at the Social+Mobile Conference 2013 by Matty de Castro of Facebook

A slide from a presentation at the Social+Mobile Conference 2013 by Matty de Castro of Facebook

Facebook indeed is personal, relevant and useful (based on your friends and likes). In this new world, you get to pick and choose what is important. All of social media gives you this choice, and I find myself quickly scanning through hundreds of posts, multiple times a day, stopping to click on a few that are of interest to me. Google and others are watching and recording my movements, and they serve up more and more content that an algorithm chooses based on my interests. In my case, I end up seeing more information about technology and fantasy football. It is like always eating dessert. The editor is just a self-serving computer script. And that is what worries me the most. What are you missing in your newsfeed? There are still veggies on the plate that we need to consume to be healthy.

The role of an editor is great in scope and growing with all of the additional ways we push information today. Assigning journalists to write stories, editing and deciding how information is “played” are some of the primary functions. They are vested and passionate about the areas in which they cover. They have an ego and make strong judgments on what is really important for the community to know. They should be like mom and espouse our local values. (If you can stomach having Marshall King as mom that is…) In reality, an editor takes the firehouse of information and filters it to a manageable stream that is prioritized and consumable. If you trust the brand for whom the editor works, you buy in to that particular set of importance. Trust is paramount.

Not one internet giant or social media company truly cares about my hometown here in Elkhart. In this new age, there is a need for balance. Social media is a great thing and has changed our lives for the better. But it does not replace the need for watchdog journalism. Someone that is monitoring the actions of local government officials, school boards and police. Someone that makes sure the community is up to speed on issues like taxes, budgets, crime, education, high school sports, etc. Someone who provides a voice to those that have none. We need to solve our problems on a local level, celebrate our successes and work through our unique challenges as a community. We can use social media as a tool to engage and communicate. In the end, I believe that an editor helps us see and prioritize those local issues most important to the health of our community.

So what do you think? Is it important to have an editor providing that front page story?