Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Future of News – Part Two (Kate Marymont & Tom Curley)

By Weston Gentry


Kate Marymont, Vice President/News of Gannett Co. and Tom Curley, Associated Press President and CEO, followed Dean Singleton's assessment of the past, present and future of journalism with a behind-the-curtain view of what they are emphasizing to their employees in the digital age.


Marymont's strategy at Gannett is localization through consolidation.


 "We want to be a local community's center of news and information and a local community's center of marketing and advertising services," she said.


In order to accomplish this localization of resources, consolidation has become inevitable. Marymont cited printing, distribution and front office functions as things that can be easily be consolidated.


For example, Gannett is in the midst of consolidating the newspaper design of 81 of their newspapers into 5 "design studios" in New Jersey, Nashville, Louisville, Des Moines and Phoenix. That announcement received more than a couple of grumbles from the audience, but Marymont attempted to preempt skeptics.


"They are about efficiency, but efficiency in the pursuit of quality," she said. "We know print readers want sophistication.  During the contractions of the past several years, we haven't been able to sustain that at all of our newspapers. "


"We can't do everything so we have to be very selective," she said. "Our firepower needs to go to watchdog journalism, great storytelling and tailoring high-end, high-impact, unique content."


Her strategy for creating this local, unique content has three components:


1.     Cultivating partners – Partnering with groups that can absorb time-consuming tasks.  (eg. calendar information, sports scores, business briefs, etc.)

2.     Using reporters as curators of information – Moderating community experts in addition to writing.

3.     Turning to the public – User generated content makes users feel apart of the narrative.


After Marymont concluded, Tom Curley offered three suggestions for his bureaus in the current media economy by way of alliteration: accelerate, adapt and aggregate.


"I can't tell you the bad times are going to end," he said.  "In fact, you should go back and prepare your teams for the likely event that the change process is going to accelerate—not slow down."


The Associated Press will be instituting sweeping digital initiatives in the coming months and 2012 according to Curly.  One example is a separate news-licensing group that will allow for more effective aggregation.


"Aggregation is managing complex partnerships, bringing together content from many places and about serving customers in the manner they are getting their content," he said. "It's not about us.  It's about the customers.  We have to adapt."


Despite obvious drawbacks, Curley pointed to the positives of where journalism is headed.


"Mobile is a great opportunity for the 'do-over," he said.  "In the open-web days, we made some decisions that ended up seriously disadvantaging us and our revenues. Mobile provides an opportunity to do business very differently with a lot more controls."

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