Wednesday, December 3, 2008

20 Stars in the Sky

Segue: After yesterday's Gannassacre. it's another day on which we need some upbeat news. The Newspaper Association of America has posted its version of Presstime's "20 Under 40" -- brief bios of people who are making a positive difference in the newspaper business. One of them is written by my longtime pal Clay McCuistion.

Don't have time? Here are synopses:

News side
Bonita Burton, Orlando Sentinel -- the lead redesigner there and involved in many efforts by Tribune to refashion its papers. If you believe Sam Zell is the antichrist and that any effort to connect better with readers on their own terms is a cheapening of newspapers' mission, you can stop right here. Her design colleagues seem to like her, though; she's been elected to a top SND post.
Emma Downs, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette -- wrote a 16-part murder mystery for the paper set in the Three Rivers City. "She developed and often writes three columns, including the monthly 'A Week Without…' She has gone one week without swearing, one without using her car and another without styling her hair or applying makeup. Other columns include 'Rockin’ in the Region,' a weekly profile of a local band that includes song samples online, and the monthly 'Fashion Forward,' which showcases area residents who are artistic, creative or 'surprising' in their style choices, with an online audio slide show." In other words, everything she does is surprising. But perhaps a columnist's only role is to serve as a civic conscience. Or not.
Mike Fuhrman, editor, Statesville Record & Landmark -- Recently he helpted train 30 people from five Media General newsrooms on writing for the Web and alternative story forms. He also is working with the other papers to create an emergency response plan that would dispatch reporters, photographers and Web content producers to help a sister paper covering the event -- an obvious response to Roanoke's online fumble with Virginia Tech.
Chris Snider, Des Moines Register -- Brings his sensibility to digital news offerings, including "new excursions into mobile, live sports coverage, content-distribution widgets, video-sharing partnerships with Google and YouTube, and multiple versions of the site’s home page to accommodate different kinds of news events." In other words, as Doug Fisher says, not just doing print journalism online, but doing online journalism.

Digital media development
Brian Butts, Cincinnati Enquirer -- “By giving users a bird’s-eye view of local data," his product "has increased Enquirer Media’s ability to embed hyperlocal information on many of the Web pages produced, allowing readers to find information ranging from neighborhood home sales to school report cards to where to see favorite local bands."
Dan Cox, Lawrence Journal-World -- Developed a publishing system based on open-source coding. He cites the author Douglas Adams: "Anything invented when you’re between the ages of 15 and 35 is exciting and anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.”
Jeffrey Graham, The New York Times -- Director of the paper's first product research department. "Graham’s department found a general correlation between increased Web traffic and single-copy newsstand sales. So when the Times broke a story on its Web site last March about then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s penchant for high-priced call girls and saw traffic climb to 35 million page views, the paper printed extra newsstand copies for the next day." Gosh, online drives print sales? Can't happen. Print is dead, right?

Shannon Dunnigan, director of online revenue, Gatehouse Media -- "As her team works with sales reps and helps them become online specialists, revenues have climbed from $3.8 million that first year to a projected $25 million for 2008. In the second quarter of 2008, online revenue increased 41 percent year to date over the same quarter last year."
Chadi Irani, The Palm Beach Post -- His "six-pack program" boosted frequency for smaller advertisers who typically ran small ads one day a week, encouraging them to run ads at least six days in a 14-day period. The initiative generates between $200,000 and $300,000 in sales a month. Yes, that's right, print advertising.
Paul Kasbohm, Minneapolis Star Tribune -- "Helped the Star Tribune gain media market share in 2008 in the major retail, national and regional retail categories while showing year-over-year ad revenue growth in online and niche publication categories. In addition, Kasbohm has shown a willingness to invest in his people and take innovative chances with unique ad sizes and shapes, as well as sponsored content." Yes, that's right, growth in print advertising.
Tyler Mack, Spokane Spokesman-Review -- Created a print and online weather package that now generates about $190,000 in annual revenue, and an online directory that offers enhanced paid listings to area businesses.
Patricia Miller, Indianapolis Star -- Developed, the prototype for Gannett's Mom sites.

Circulation, marketing and business development
Brooke Christofferson, Arizona Republic -- Developer of a B-to-B Web site, a baby boomer readership campaign and increasing online community news. “We’ve been aggressive about understanding our audience and what’s important to them,” says Christofferson. I keep giving you opportunities to stop reading.
Giovanni Gutierrez, Tampa Tribune -- Product creation for Hispanics in the Tampa Bay area.
Amanda Mountain, Colorado Springs Gazette -- The paper’s good works help residents in need and also help readers connect with the paper, she says. Telling stories about area residents in need and giving readers guidance about ways to give back builds readership.
Wendy Reeves, Raleigh News & Observer -- Reeves contributed to daily circulation increases (2005 and 2006) and Sunday circulation increases (2005, 2006 and 2007), respectively. In one of her campaigns, subscribers received 13 Sunday papers for $13. Reeves adds that the campaigns’ number-based slogans seemed more effective than promoting specific editorial content in the Sunday edition. Yes, that's right, print circulation. Those of you who believe newspaper sales are about nothing other than journalism can stop...
David Sickle, Zerbey Newspapers -- Achieved “consistent home-delivery volume growth for the first time in many years.” Yes, that's right, print circulation.

Human resources and internal operations
Josie Martinez, Arizona Republic -- "In addition to nurturing staff with flex scheduling and improved career development opportunities, Martinez crafted a formal process that initiates new hire assessments at 45, 90 and 120 days to address employee concerns before they reach the point that the only communication left is the exit interview."
Sharon McGinnis, Ottaway Newspapers -- Seems like she just basically does a good job. Good for her.
Anna Singletary, Houston Chronicle -- A cost-saver par excellence: $250,000 by renegotiating a contract with a local courier service; $150,000 by reducing the number of printers in the building; $500,000 by shrinking the weekly TV book and streamlining its production and printing. Well, we need people like this today, particularly ones who can do it where you don't feel the knife.

OK, all together now -- Only one of these is about traditional capital-J journalism -- the editor at Statesville. Most of them are about -- how do we sell more ads, sell more papers, get more online viewers; what can we provide them that they will want to use, not how do we provide them what we do and get them to pay for it?

None of these is about winning prizes or landmark series that change the world, or at least a city. I don't know about the past of this particular recognition, but I can imagine that it might have included at least one Pulitzer-potential reporter or editor whose main accomplishment was a five-part series showing police harassment of the homeless.

That doesn't mean those are wrong. It means the current challenge is finding ways to raise the money to pay for them. Which means recognizing that readers don't need (except in a purely civic way), and are not willing to pay for, prize-winning landmark series. We should do them anyway, but the newspaper industry's crisis is not in creating journalism. It is creating ways to sell advertising to support journalism. Everyone, including newspaper journalists, has to be part of solving that. That will lead us back to Buzz Merritt.

But let's hope Gannett didn't lay off any of the five of the 20 who work for it.

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