Magazine article Editor & Publisher

E&P Technical: New Focus for Tech at NAA

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

E&P Technical: New Focus for Tech at NAA

Article excerpt

Already substantially smaller than it was 25 years ago when the American Newspaper Publishers Association absorbed the Research Institute (RI), the Newspaper Association of America's Technology Department is no more.

When it restructured and relocated to Arlington, Va., last year, the NAA moved technology from a largely operations-side concern over to the revenue side, within the broader purview of the new Business Development Division, under Senior Vice President Randy Bennett.

"I think the intent, as we cut back on our resources, was to be more focused" on where and how "we can leverage our expertise," Bennett says. Now, in line with the theme of "restructuring for growth," he says technology's focus is more strategic rather than on the day-to-day concerns of, say, printing the daily editions.

That change also is reflected in committee work. NAA's Technology and Telecommunications Committee and several standing subcommittees (see sidebar, p. 35) are gone. Today such groups are of an ad hoc nature, say, for newsprint or integrated content management. The association's three advisory committees -- revenue, audience and digital -- look to technology as needed.

In a 40% work force reduction accompanying last summer's restructuring, the NAA's last technology chief, Tom Croteau, and veteran engineer Harshad Matalia were among those accepting buyouts. At about the same time, Production Operations Director Michael Brady became field operations manager for USA Today. Also gone was Nicholas Nocella, newsprint analyst in Production Operations and staff liaison to the Newsprint Committee.

Of six tech staffers who moved from the Vienna, Va., offices to Arlington, only two remain, forming the new division's Technology Applications department: Owen Smith, technology applications vice president, and John Iobst, technology vice president.

As part of business development, says Smith, technology applications will explore and evaluate "emerging technologies and what they have to offer our industry as a response to the membership's expressed need to grow audience and revenues." That also means looking outside the newspaper industry, he adds.

In the area of consumer and business-to-business self-service, Smith says, NAA will survey "leading practices" of other industries, looking beyond the low-hanging fruit of starts, stops and the like to a range of decisions customers can make, including ad submission and perhaps even their choice of news. Smith envisions creating a dashboard that allows users to define their relationships with a newspaper company.

At the same time, he adds, consideration will be given to how technology-mediated relationships will affect such things as sales force compensation and rate structures.

Five years ago Smith was named president and managing director of Technical Solutions, a joint venture between the NAA and Ifra, the international media technology research organization based in Darmstadt, Germany. Technical Solutions offered specialized training programs, consulting services, and seminars to U.S. newspapers.

With a background in production management at the Arkansas Gazette, in Little Rock, and The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee (where he later served as government affairs director), Smith was named Rochester Institute of Technology's Paul & Louise Miller Distinguished Professor of Newspaper Operations. He also consulted on a broad range of newspaper operations issues.

NAA and Ifra gave Technical Solutions four years before reviewing their venture. When that time came, Smith says, both decided it "was not serving their interests." Ifra, as it happens, already had spun off its consulting. The venture was dissolved and NAA absorbed its U.S. staff, but not its mission. It had offered training and consulting before Technical Solutions, but those functions ceased to be among its principal objectives. The association still will provide them -- through connections to qualified consultants -- but for fees. …

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