Three newspaper leaders talk to NAA audience about change

Three top newspaper executives — including my boss, Mike Reed, CEO of GateHouse Media — spoke to a general session of the NAA Connections conference this morning. 

I didn’t take close notes, but I’ll share a few points.

The best quotes of the morning came from Dean Singleton, CEO of Media News.

Dean: “If you read Romenesko every day and you hear our people in newsrooms whine — they whine and whine and whine wishing for the old days to come back. Damn it, I wish the old days would come back, too, but wishing for it isn’t going to make it happen. You must be focused on the future.”

And: “When we had to make cuts at one of our larger papers somebody in one of our unions put out a letter that said, ‘Well, we won’t be able to put out the same newspaper we have over the past 30 years.’ I said, ‘Precisely. Our readers don’t wnat the same newspaper we’ve been putting out over the past 30 years.'”

Brian Tierney’s strongest point as also about how the newsroom responds to change.

He noted that when he took over in Philadelphia, his team had to make the painful decision to cut 60 people, but today, he said, his papers are better journalistically than they were before the cuts. He gave credit to executive editor Bill Marimow. “Bill is a better leader. It’s about leadership, not numbers.”

Mike Reed’s primary points were about investing in sales — hiring more sales reps and training them better to sell more products. He said online is the biggest opportunity for newspapers and that is were most of the future revenue growth is going to come from. He also exhorted newspaper companies to spend 98 percent of their time on doing and only 2 percent of their time on talking.

Reminder: I’m on BlogTalkRadio from the convention at 1 p.m. today.

5 thoughts on “Three newspaper leaders talk to NAA audience about change

  1. As all of these excepts serve primarily to cover the speaker in glorious justification, I’m assuming we’re supposed to mock these comments.

    My favorite is Tierney’s which begs objective measurement — both the “better journalism” and the “better leader.”

  2. Well, I don’t know if I’m willing to shoot the messenger, our gracious host Mr. Owens.

    But I’m still looking forward to some stirring words from MSM leaders, and haven’t seen it in the three fellows in question.

  3. Randy:
    I am pretty beginning to belie e Mr. Owens is one of the good guys.

    I think I would agree with you that the three leaders cited don’t offer much in the way of vision beyond ‘deal with it.’

    What I want is someone to lay out a vision. ‘Deal with it” is not a vision.

  4. It’s entirely reasonable to say adapting sometimes requires painful cuts, but Mr. Singleton has zero credibility on this issue.

    All evidence suggests the newsroom cuts in his company are for no reason other than cutting costs so he can service his debt.

    Granted, he can’t help it if the newsroom leaders he forces to make the cut don’t do them intelligently, but there’s no way to argue a 20 to 30 percent newsroom cut at a small paper is pruning. It’s herbicide.

    That said, I too have no patience for my colleagues who sit around and whine about the old days. Committed reporters can still do good and important work, whatever the obstacles.

    Full disclosure – i lost my job last year after MediaNews bought my paper.

  5. @ Randy: I didn’t quote Mr. Tierney in full because it was only in hindsight after his remark that I thought — this is something to take a note on … so no full quote. There is, however, measures for how much better the Philadelphia papers are doing. Mr. Tierney mentioned these.

    In essence, I agree with Mr. Tierney. In the 1970s, when newspapers had more readers than ever, newsroom staffs were much smaller than now, and certainly smaller than in 1990s. There’s no evidence that larger staffs leads to better journalism. It is about leadership.

    @ Matt: I have no real opinion about how Mr. Singleton runs his company, because I have scant personal contact with Media News. However, it would be a logical fallacy to judge his comments in an way other than on their own merit. I find his remarks spot-on correct.

    And naturally, I stand behind everything Mr. Reed had to say. If I didn’t agree with his ideas and his approach, I wouldn’t be working for him.

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