How Newspapers Can Save Themselves

lotame-andy-ddt“Data Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media. 

Today’s column is written by Andy Monfried, CEO of Lotame

Old-school newspaper people are generally hard working, gritty, risk taking, roll-up-your-sleeve folks who aren’t afraid to go the extra mile. They will do anything to get the story and get it to their readers. As of late, many traditional newspaper companies have become the story. A story of falling ad revenue, of digital revenue failing to make up the gap, and of younger people increasingly less likely ever to develop the habit of buying a printed newspaper. Newspaper executives know they need to change the way they do business.

Here are five steps that can save the newspaper business in the face of this inevitable and monumental change — change that is crushing an entire industry, in the same way that Henry Ford’s cars crushed the horse-and-buggy trade in the early 1900’s.

1) Stop paying lip service to digital and quickly hire or move appropriate resources to digital. Too often we hear executives tell us how important digital is to their future, and how they are spending so much time and energy on it. And yet I’m frequently surprised by the significantly under-resourced digital teams we encounter in the news vertical, especially when it comes to bread-and-butter operations experts required to power a 2013 digital advertising strategy. Bottom line, news businesses need to invest more than words into (and onto) the digital team.

2) Bring your offline data online. Newspapers have home addresses of both current and former subscribers (and often other relevant customer data as well). Bring all of that information and data online — and partner with a reputable, privacy-compliant firm to do the matching to a cookie. This is a no-brainer, and frankly one that speaks back to point #1, above.

3) Become a technology company. “This is not in the DNA of newspapers” is something I hear all of the time. Well, you’d better start inserting it into your DNA, or you won’t be around much longer. And there’s no excuse not to. It’s become simple enough for each publication to employ data management, robust analytics, and customization tools across their content. It’s an inexcusable failure when a newspaper cannot tell each advertiser the size of the actual audience who viewed their ad and took some kind of action — or didn’t. Content holders are in an ideal position to harvest this information, but when will they share this kind of learning and information with their brands?

4) Give away tablets to subscribers. Think iPad, Kindle, or some customized device that receives only the content of that newspaper. Have advertisers help defray the cost by sponsoring it with their logo. Consumers have already moved to mobile devices anyway — give away a piece of inexpensive technology to deliver content. Then, cut back to three days a week of print, as the New Orleans Times Picayune has done, with others surely to follow. The people who complain about not getting their daily newspaper will have a tablet from their newspaper to read.

5) Stop making incremental changes. Make bold moves. The newspaper industry is like a big cruise ship, unable to quickly change course in the face of a big storm ahead. Executives who make large, decisive bets around digital will win.  Those who don’t will be interviewing for jobs soon, most likely in digital, anyway.

Any newspapers that are not following steps like those outlined above need to start doing so immediately. Some already have. The Atlantic, a major publisher, now generates more revenue from digital than it does from print, a milestone achieved by embracing these kinds of changes. Don’t say it can’t be done; they did it.

Follow Andy Monfried (@andymonfried) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

Enjoying this content?

Sign up to be an AdExchanger Member today and get unlimited access to articles like this, plus proprietary data and research, conference discounts, on-demand access to event content, and more!

Join Today!


  1. Montana Harkin

    Your third point, about becoming a technology company, is spot on. NYT understood this change and made it early, and now they are at least a decade ahead of their competitors with respect to their digital offerings.

    It might be a game of trying to convince newspapers that they shouldn’t play catch-up, but should instead carve out their own online niche. Creative valuable content will always bring the readers in, with a bit of online advertising.

    Once newspapers understand that they have something to offer digitally, I think their investment in on-boarding data and personnel will follow.

    • I would slightly disagree with “becoming a technology company.” There is no question they need to embrace technology and bring on talent, but as Andy mentions there are great solutions out there provided by vendors who could help accelerate their fast forwarding to the cutting edge. It would be very risky for the companies to take on big internal technology projects with key deliverables far out in the future. Best of breed light weight integration of third party solutions with their proprietary content/news gathering capabilities is probably a better bet.

      Great journalism/Great Content is a base requirement, the question is whether they have the right pipes to put it infront of the right audience and allow their advertisers to realize the value of this combination.

      • Agree with Rob on great journalism and great content. Paying attention to technology is important, but newspapers need to do their job first. The hard work that Andy mentions is too often missing. How many times do you see basic fact-checking errors at publications like the New York Times now, when corrections in the past used to be remarkable exceptions.

        Technology gives us the impression-creating slideshows of stars on the red carpet. Hard work gave us the Watergate papers. As an advertiser, I’m not willing to pay for the former. I wait, dollars in hand, for the latter.

  2. Aidan Cardella

    While I agree with Rob’s point on reducing risk and time through 3rd party engagements, I believe the core issue is less around method of execution and more around transformation (or lack thereof) to a technology focused (read technology DNA) organization.

    There are many non-technology DNA organizations (e.g. advertising agencies) who have attempted to gain the benefits of technology via 3rd party solutions…with varying though not not generally resounding success.

    Outsourced or in house, a question remains as to how to effectively make technology part of your DNA. A first place to look is your leadership team. How many of your top leaders grew up as software developers? Are truly passionate about technology? Have led true technology organizations? Can still actually write code? If the answer is “none” it will be very hard to insert the new technology genes into your current DNA.