Thoughts on the LA Times sale

Published in Media & Publishing | 10 minute read | Permalink

It seems that someone at the LA Times has finally woken up to what I’ve been saying all along – the saviour of regional newspapers is going to be content, content, content. Editor James E. O’Shea finally took action in unveiling a plan to continue publishing the paper rather than letting it go to the wall.

But what took so long? Instead of creating content syndication deals, cross-linking arrangements and deep content search the editorial team at LA Times has sat back and waited for the ad teams to deliver on an impossible target.

Times are tough in newspapers and if you’re a regional they’re going to get tougher. The answer to this nightmare doesn’t sit in the advertising, circulation and classified departments – it sits upstairs in editorial.

For too long editors have limited themselves to broadsheet and tabloid page sizes instead of taking the web by the horns and publishing for a more diverse, geographically spread audience. Local news is local news wherever it is read and this impulse of editors to think of their readership as being domiciled within a 15 mile radius of the newspaper office is simply wrong thinking at the wrong time.

Users want frequently updated, in depth analysis with links to relevant sources and further research and investigation made easy by the editors at large. TV is failing to deliver because it’s putting out news and comment in short broadcasts sandwiched between advertising and in some cases very dubious programming.

An opportunity sits in front of the LA Times Board. They claim they want to increase shareholder value – but what they are doing is ultimately destroying it. Don’t sell the company. Get your editors in and plan to stop printing the newspaper yourself. Let your readers choose what to read and most importantly what to print.

So does this mean it’s curtains for the commercial team? Of course not. Give them product, give them digital product – and not the rubbish they’re already selling. Banner ads are not digital product. Run of site advertising is not digital product. These supplementary income streams while comforting do not bring in the real money.

Digital product = content. Generating content from your customer base, your readership, your stakeholders – that’s digital product. Allowing local organisation to submit content and publish it directly to your website – thereby generating huge volumes of user generated content (UGC for those in the know) is the way to go.

And who should be driving this product development – why the editors of course, that’s what editors are designed to do – so why aren’t they doing it?

Mr O’Shea’s plan might seem bold on the face of it, but its been a long time coming and I think if you pick away at the edges you might just see it’s nothing but a reaction to the inevitable. No doubt he’s running a crusade to ’save the paper’ internally which has got the troops in line. But like their counterparts in Iraq this is one war Mr O’Shea may not win.