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By Gordon Borrell
The CEO of a newspaper chain
recently asked my thoughts on separate
staffs to manage digital ventures, and
whether his publishers could effectively
manage those digital staffs. It was the
second such query I’d received in the
past week and one that seems to be on
a lot of publishers’ minds these days.
My response below applies to any type
of traditional media company, and I
thought it would be helpful to share
with Local Media Today.
Your publishers are dumb as punk
and will never “get” all this digital stuff.
OK, now that I have your
attention..... I lied. Your publishers are
smart — really smart. I’ve met them.
They’re so smart, in fact, that they are
likely to knock the ball out of the park
in print sales while using their heads to
score a goal off a corner kick in digital
I didn’t mix metaphors by accident.
How common is it for an athlete to
pro sport, and also in another? Never
happens, right? The star might be
pretty good in the second sport, but
never great. That’s why we haven’t seen
fantastic print innovations over the
past six or seven years. We’ve drawn
our print managers too far into figuring
out how to conquer the digital space
– to the detriment of the product that
generates 90% of our revenue.
Don’t get me wrong. For 20 years
I’ve been one of the industry’s biggest
proponents of chasing digital dreams.
Those dreams represent the industry’s
best growth opportunity when pursued
with the right strategy, but one of its
greatest nightmares when pursued with
the wrong one.
Remember “The Innovator’s
Dilemma” by Clayton Christensen?
The author took great care to say that
he studied the failure of “great firms”
— not weak or mediocre ones —
when it came to seizing a competitive
opportunity. In every case, smart
managers were unable to embrace
two competing opportunities without
screwing up one of them — or both. It
just can’t be done.
To succeed in the digital arena,
newspaper managers need to reach
a critical point in understanding. It’s
the point when they realize they might
be more of an
than an asset.
The result is a
shift in thinking
from, “We need
to move this
faster,” to, “We
to lead us.” It is
at that moment
realize that their chief role is one of
support, not leadership, control or even
Have you hired great people to
lead you in digital? Many newspaper
companies have, but have mitigated
that great leadership by putting those
people under newspaper management.
Hence, your “leaders” are actually the
publishers or GMs, not the leaders you
thought you hired.
Here’s the way I see things forming
at successful “media” companies that
happen to own newspapers:
1. The publishers report to the
CEO. They are in charge of the
newspaper, its website and related
sales. Everything they do digitally is
supportive of print goals of serving
readers and advertisers; nothing
strays from that mission.
2. The digital managers report to
the CEO. They are in charge of
the digital product set. They are
charged principally with building a
3. One doesn’t report to the other, but
#2 usually takes on #1 as a client.
4. There’s a simple test to determine
where you want to be as a company,
versus where your strategy actually
is. Simply answer this question: Is
the Internet a sustaining technology,
or a disruptive one?
Just about everyone answers “both,”
but their organizational structures
support only the “sustaining” portion.
They are expecting print managers to
be a pro in both sports.
The decision is not whether you
need a separate staff to manage digital.
The decision is what you want your
company to be.
Editor’s note: We will feature a guest
column written by one of our directors
for the next five months.
It cannot be emphasized enough
that if you are not taking advantage of
the educational webinars that are part
of your LMA membership than you are
missing out on a huge benefit. Several
webinars are produced every month
tackling a vast array of topics for all
divisions of a local media company.
Most are free; some have nominal
charges; all are recorded and archived
and can be accessed via LMA’s website.
E-mail alerts for all webinars
with registration links are sent to
all members. Alternatively, go to
the website and register under the
Webinars tab. Mark your calendars for
these upcoming webinars.
All webinars are scheduled for 3PM
Eastern unless otherwise noted. Here’s
the lineup for this month.
TUESDAY, APRIL 9
THE NEW DIGITAL
FREE to LMA Members
Speakers: Stephen Warley
In this webinar, sales managers and
account executives will learn the
innovative teaching-oriented sales
conversation approach. Key topics
covered in this webinar include 1.
Stop Cold Calling; 2. Get Leads by
Educating; 3. Sharing Success Stories.
Excellent training resource for sales
managers and account executives.
THURSDAY, APRIL 18
INVITATIONAL EVENT. The LMA
Board of Directors has studied this topic and
believes the valuable lessons in this webinar
are critically important for LMA members.
All members are invited to attend
this webinar at no charge. Register
org under the
a recent Harvard
article, “Two Routes
to Resilience,” that
was written by Clark
Eyring and Richard
At the heart
of the issue is the notion that there
are two transformations underway
in our industry (‘A’ representing the
core business and ‘B’ representing
disruptive opportunities). Lee will dive
deep into the concepts presented in
the article and will showcase concrete
examples. Read more about this
webinar in Nancy Lane’s column on
TUESDAY, APRIL 30
FREE to IMA & LMIA Members; $89
fee for others
Speakers: Joe Boydston, Vice
President for Digital McNaughton
Newspaper Group; Todd Gilbert,
Director of User Experience, Second
Street Media and more to come.
Responsive design is a strategy that
– at its heart – is holistic, open to the
idea that all users across an audience
will come looking for content,
information and advertising on a
number of different digital devices,
made by an array of manufacturers
and with screen sizes that vary from
the smallest imaginable smartphone
to the largest television screens.
Responsive design aims to create the
best possible experience for a digital
This webinar will take a close look
at the technology behind responsive
design and explain how many
publishers are now using this new
technology to deliver their content
across multiple platforms.
Divide & Conquer?
Local Media Association
Learn at LMA Webinars
Most are free to LMA members
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