Friday, April 10, 2009

Fixing the Los Angeles Times--Students' View

How to fix the Los Angeles Times?

Well, running a front page advertorial is not gonna do it.

The Los Angeles Times has many of the same problems as any big city metropolitan newspaper, except that it's parent company, Tribune, is in bankruptcy court, and in the last twenty years the average tenure of one of its publishers has been about two years.

I asked the students in my graduate course on media business strategies at USC's Annenberg School (they are receiving a masters in management and communications) what factors have contributed to the downfall at the Los Angeles Times, and then gave them the assignment of writing a memo to the publisher advising how to fix the paper so that it could grow and sustain itself.

The students, all generation Y twentysomethings, (all of whom "live" on the web and rarely read print publications) came up with a list of factors that are causing the demise of newspapers generally, and then a separate list of those factors unique to the Los Angeles paper. Generically, newspapers are all dealing with the following, they said:

--Resistance to change
--Classified categories hurt by economy and internet
--Lack of relevance
--Lack of timeliness
--Online searching more effective
--Internet offers diversity and no geographic boundaries
--Public ownership
--Internet has unlimited ad inventory
--No time to read
--Web has targeted, measurable and effective advertising
--Family rituals (e.g. reading at the breakfast table)disappearing
--High debt
--Mass media doesn’t work anymore
--Free is better than cheap

As far as those things that were unique to the Los Angeles Times, they came up with:

--Role of the Chandler family
--Los Angeles itself (complex, diverse market with 85 cities)
--Ridiculously high debt
--No mass transit
--No national edition or strategy
--Arrogance and risk averse culture

It's a lot easier to explain the problem than to come up with a solution, but here are some of their (sometimes overly simplified) cures:

"There is no ownership continuity and no sense of personal responsibility."

Acknowledge that print is dead. "It's not challenged, and it's not struggling--it's dead and ready for internment."

Phase out the print newspaper.

Modify the print product to a slimmed down "express" newspaper that directs readers to the web site for the full story.

The print edition will be no more than "fries accompanying the burger."

Raise circulation prices, make consumers pay for the luxury of delivery.

Plan to publish a print edition once, or maybe only a couple days, per week.

Buy the Los Angeles Daily News and get consolidation savings.

Develop a lean overhead and a local, conversational focus.

Develop a Lakers fan application for mobile devices, using Sports section content.

The LAT web site is unimpressive, not creative, does not allow for enough interactivity and isn't translated into Spanish.

Partner, partner, partner.

Be the authority on local.

Offer one stop integrated advertising for print and web. Buying advertising "should be no more difficult than shopping at"

Monetize white papers, research papers, and in depth analysis with selective consumer pay models.

Develop new revenue streams from delivering news content and geo-specific advertising to mobile and other devices.

Expand audio visual advertising formats on the web.

One student summed up the challenge: "Turning the Times around and preparing it for the next wave of information technology innovations require more than strengthening the Times online presence and using the same old print business model to bring in the revenues....The Times has to watch the technology market closely, collaborate with device makers, be on the forefront of the art and science of digital delivery (e.g., user interface designs), and begin developing revenue models for a range of scenarios."

Well said.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Interesting and freightening. I'm beginning to understand how my Mother felt as mobile phone and Internet technology passed her by. It points out to me that any committee or group of people working on how to fix a newspaper is doomed if it doesn't include some Gen Y participants.