Dec 4, 2009

The bottom line

The search for silver linings has already started in response to yesterday's announcement that the Dallas Morning News would have section editors report to sales managers and sales managers oversee content.

In analyzing the "business/news integration" scheme, Berkeley journalism professor Alan Mutter writes that "maybe - just maybe - this isn't such a bad idea." He goes on:
Instead of the advertising people infecting news coverage, maybe – just maybe – the creative energy and constructive skepticism of the newsroom will rub off on the ad guys, who sorely need all the help they can get.
Even if this were true, which I don't think it is, the first flaw is having the sales staff in charge of the journalists. If the Dallas Morning News switched this dynamic around, maybe there would be less to worry about. Maybe.

But there are better ways to "integrate" the news and business sides of a news organization without inviting corrupting forces into the newsroom. Management at the Dallas Morning News wants to cast all of this as a tension between advertisements and stories, and so they say that stories will not be written for or about advertisers. But the problem isn't so much what gets covered, it's what doesn't get covered - and that's much harder to measure.

What beats don't fit the integration plan? Which reporters don't get the resources to pursue certain lines of inquiry? Which story ideas get the stink eye from ad manager? I doubt that the outside advertisers will be the ones bringing pressure to bear, it's going to be the sales managers inside the paper. They are going to test what coverage draws in readers or ad money, and they will in turn make sure that the newsroom resources - and the niche products - are targeted in that direction.

All of which makes me wonder: If business is so bad you have to compromise fundamental principles, what exactly is it that you're trying to save?


Anonymous said...

No need to close the door, the house has burned.

Anonymous said...

The past is an indicator of the future. An idea that hasn't worked prior because of better leadership and execution can succeed.

This one will not. Think about the conflicts that can arise between advertising and editorial.

Aside from those critical points, exactly what type of relationships will come out of this that puts this newspaper in a better, more cohesive sales function. I am afraid none. It is about revenue and reorganization to this structure will not improve revenue.

What will improve revenue is sales effort, clear and worthwhile compensation plans, rate cards that make sense for the customer, and solid sales management. All clearly lacking at most newspapers.

Anonymous said...

The vast majority of the contributors on this blog fall into two camps. One camp says the sky has fallen and there is no hope. That would be anonymous 1:39. The second camp says that the whole problem is that sales and/or management just doesn't know what they are doing and there should be more editorial. That would be anonymous 4:51. The simple fact is that the old newspaper model will NO LONGER WORKS. There has to be a new model. So drop the "bad management, bad sales, more editorial" crap. Come up with a real plan for once. For journalists, you guys a really unwilling to look at the facts.

Anonymous said...

You are assuming a journalist wrote the first tow comments here. You would be wrong.

In rereading the first two comments, clearly the comments are a reflection on a dying industry that has been on a slow deathbed for over a decade.

What Belo is doing has been done before and failed. As stated, no gurantee that it won't work this time, but, I would wager it won't.

Since my career has been in newspaper sales, and this is my opinion, management today is worried about their own skin...not being layed off etc. Have you taken a look at a major newspaper's rate card lately, their compensation plan, their creativity?

What belo has done is simply redo the organization chart and added confusion to the sales process.

Hey, you are entitled to your opinion, and, frankly, I hope you are right.

My money is on not.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think you might be right. The odds are good. But the infrastructure costs of the old model cannot be sustained. Rates are one thing, a costly, slow moving, bureaucratic monster is another. How do you make newspapers nimble, fast, in touch with the market in a dynamic way instead of the old "we will lecture to you" approach?

Anonymous said...

"How do you make newspapers nimble..."


Anonymous said...

Along with being glacier like, newspapers have yet to figure out what they need to be. How can a major daily charge t3n dollars a month for a new product delivered daily? Yet, they continue to reduce "expensive" circulation outside their so called area. Look, I like a newspaper and cheaper is better. But, I would pay double for the product even in its diminished state. There is good value.

Hey, I am pulling for Dallas, alas, these experiments have failed in the past and this one gives me no hope either.

The organization chart/structure of the newspaper is not the problem.

Anonymous said...

This is not news. Look at the LANG papers. The entire content has been for a long time and still is mostly one big ad. All their special sections are all ads disguised as journalism. They have "journalists" doing stories on companies who pay for one big positive PR story after another. Look at their living here, the rose, the earthquake survival guide, the health best and whatever else they come up with - 1 big ad done by journalists - make me sick.

Anonymous said...

To be in a position to defend lang makes me ill. I won't throw a barb your way for your thoughts on special sections...a problem at a lot of papers. Clear identification is critical and the sections if done by journalists should not be influenced by advertising.

However, lang produces a product 365 days a year, not a great product, not even as good as it was a couple of years ago, but, still passable. Their entire product is not a special section.

You do raise an issue that Dallas and other newspapers need to guard against if this structure persists. I for one think it is a fart in a won't be here long. It has been tried and failed in multiple newspapers. This will have the same outcome.

Anonymous said...

How much do you suppose readers would be willing to pay for a subscriber-only product completely free of advertising, and copy that addresses real issues head-on without having to worry about upsetting advertisers/politicians?

Anonymous said...

Newspapers are a habit with traditional readers. Give the good people in advertising some credit, some readers like that content. I don't think that model would have much success.

However, the current model doesn't appear to be exactly thriving either.

Anonymous said...

"All of which makes me wonder: If business is so bad you have to compromise fundamental principles, what exactly is it that you're trying to save?"

Exactly. If a newspaper sells its soul, then it is no longer worth saving. Just because a publication still resembles a real newspaper with stories and photos does not make it a newspaper. Instead, if its journalists report to its ad sales managers then it is dead. The Dalla$ Morning New$ is now the living dead, and its journalists should seek employment elsewhere as quickly as possible. Let the zombies have it.