The Tribune announcement to measure journalists based on their productivity and move to a 50-50 ad-news ratio came midway through the Florida Press Association’s annual meeting, in which I participated. The meeting was being hosted in Orlando, home to one of Tribune’s papers. Similar to what I have sensed at other recent newspaper executive gatherings, there is a relatively new sense of urgency among participants to find and discuss solutions to the current economic woes of the industry; the historic cultural reticence is quickly being eroded.
The Tribune plans didn’t create any particular panic as redesigns were already in process at many of the papers represented at the meeting, including more migrations of print content to online and merging of sections to reduce newsprint. Instead, thoughtful discussions ensued regarding which content needed to be created locally versus nationally (e.g. movie & book reviews). There were also lively debates as to whether certain sized newspapers could stop printing daily to save production and delivery expenses or whether that would accelerate the demise of the print publication.
In my conversations with both newspaper executives in Florida and beyond, I sensed some agreement with my premise that newspapers needed to reengage with their community. Give reporters, not just columnists, opportunities to connect and gain some visibility. Especially in view of asking the reader to pay the same (or more) for less in print and possibly more online, publishers/editors recognize a need to have more of a discussion with their readers to explain the changes.
So, the Tribune announcement garnered a lot of column inches, but it didn’t create the panic it might have even just two years ago. The newspaper industry is ripe for change and change it will.