When I think of the role of publishers today why am I suddenly reminded of a certain movie about a professor who accidentally shrinks his kids and his neighbor's kids to 1/4 of an inch with an electro-magnetic ray gun?
I rarely interview a publisher for this site; the critical task of upshifting ( while the rest of the organization is down-shifting) is being largely pursued by others inside local media companies. Some publishers got stuck with the preserving and downshifting. Heads of interactive increasingly report through channels to someone in corporate. At the local level, heads of revenue departments are absorbing direct reports who once answered to the publisher.
It makes sense. No longer will the ad director have to fight for his or her sales agenda, or to harness marketing and creative resources at endless team meetings.
Many publishers, have been rendered "harmless" by top-down digital initiatives from "corporate" and technology bottlenecks; caught in the middle of organizations changing around them. John Payer of Journal Register even stated at an Editor & Publisher convention, "Don't put the publishers in charge" of digital change, "it never works."
But there is better a role that a few publishers and broadcast general managers have embraced. As one great industry veteran, Henry "Buzz" Wertzer (40 years, Hearst and Tribune) said in his "checklist" for publishers way back in 2008, "I would fire myself as publisher and rehire myself as CEO, Local [name of local market] Information Utility."
I reread his full sixteen points over the weekend and they are still dead on. Unlike Wertzer's missive, however, my suggestions this week are tactical and ready for action on Monday. The CEO role seems to lacks a sense of personal mission the word "publisher" once implied.
CEO publishers are out there looking around over the horizon. Embracing how the community narrative will emerge from hundreds of chat threads and the business model will take on partnerships with companies born yesterday (see the St.Petersburg Times new paid press release site) requires a shift in focus from operations. It's no wonder that this role does not appeal to all managers who spent most of their adult life shaping the single dignified raconteur of the print or TV brand. It is is as if Walter Cronkite died allover again.
But new roles for media leaders are exciting in different ways. Because of new ways to create and serve micro-communities. Because of the instant feedback from the marketplace. Because of the entrepreneurial pace. Because of new kinds of creative teamwork and need for leadership. Publishers who thrive in this environment are rising into great CEO's of their companies, in title or in reality.
Here are my picks for ten, actionable items that publishers and general managers can and should get involved in, simply because they take coordination and clarity from the top.
This week we also look at revenue-side progress made at Source Media Group, recently rebranded from Gazette Communications, a combination print, media and digital company. I first met Source Media's CEO Chuck Peters when he was the lone voice at a newspaper convention, along with, I think, an executive from Detroit, talking about the failure of old business models and the birth of a new one. Peters' Director of Sales and Customer Service, Chris Edwards, has been on the job about one year using traditional management to obtain extraordinary results. Edwards' case study here will also be included in the American Press Institute's new sales force insight report.
You may or may not agree with Chuck Peter's approach or find fault with his pace of progress. But it speaks volumes that when we talk about how to run local media companies in 2010, we still want to mention a print/broadcast company in Eastern Iowa.
We are in much better shape as an industry than the blogosphere portrays, in part because of the courage leaders like Peters (and I include other in this category like John Payer of Journal Register and Ron Redfern of Riverside Enterprise) who said things that no one wanted to hear before, during and after revenues dropped off by 30%: That they needed to take their company apart and put it back together, and more importantly, how that might occur.
Though today though many publishers are still reeling from the complexity of cultural issues, local media as an industry is in better shape than outsiders think. It will only be a failure of will and culture that keeps legacy media from claiming what they already own: the role as the dominant news media and revenue powerhouse in the local space. Nothing else even comes close. Publishers: Go on vacation this summer. When you come back, don't forget to use this site to save time on "what and how' to develop new digital revenue streams.
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