Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Commit to the Community: To Stop Newspapers' Slide, Empower Local Publishers

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Commit to the Community: To Stop Newspapers' Slide, Empower Local Publishers

Article excerpt

Here's a candidate for one accelerating tactic by big newspaper chains that appears to only make things worse: The elimination of local publishers.

The theory is that companies have built corporate leadership teams specializing in the different sectors of the business--advertising, circulation, news--and don't need the additional overhead of a well-paid manager pulling them together in every local market.

Instead, you increasingly see regional publishers in charge of three, four, even a dozen daily newspaper markets. The manager-to-staff ratio probably isn't that much different, considering how many newsroom and production jobs that have been cut over the past 10 years.

Tronc went even further in 2016, deciding it didn't need publishers at all. Across the board, it eliminated that layer, elevating the editor of each of its daily newspapers to an editor/publisher role, even though many had little to no background in the non-news portions of the business.

In August, after a year of plummeting print ad revenue and stalled digital growth, Tronc reversed course, at least in the case of the Los Angeles Times. It restored the publisher role there and hired former Yahoo interim CEO Ross Levinsohn.

An obvious concern in eliminating local publishers is that there's "no one home" in the communities you are serving--no one attending Chamber of Commerce dinners or being a member of the Rotary Club. If that sounds quaint and outdated, consider the mountains of evidence that community and reader engagement are key to digital transformation and reinventing newspapers' business models. Of course, that engagement is about a lot more than sending a suit to a chamber event. More on that in a minute.

But there are other major problems with the loss of local leadership.

It leads to corporate solutions for problems that don't exist. The forced rollout of products that won't work in a given local market, for example, or company-wide homogenization of content and design until local identity is erased. Before Gannett rolled out its USA Today insert into dailies across the country, who were the local publishers or editors saying that "more national news" was a top priority for their readers?

At the same time, local problems fester. Sure, the advertising, circulation and news staffs can report up to very talented corporate specialists in those areas, but what if the new newspaper business model requires native advertising and sponsored content solutions for local businesses? …

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