Welcome to MediaReset.com

You’ve arrived at a blog about transforming the companies that publish newspapers. And it’s a blog with an unorthodox point of view.

Here it is: News will not save you.

Why not? Because the disruption that’s pounding newspaper companies is not about people switching their news consumption from print to the web, smartphones, iPads, Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else.

It really isn’t about news at all. It’s far bigger than that. Read the rest of this entry

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Family ownership — unique problems and solutions

Family ownership of a media company — or any other kind of company — can be a beautiful thing. But it has its own unique challenges and solutions.

Running or working for a media company presents plenty of challenges these days, as anyone in the business knows. But owning a media company adds even more issues, choices and decisions.

These can be immensely troubling and difficult, whether you’re a sole owner or a member of an owning family. If not handled well, these problems can compound the ordinary challenges.

They may even prove fatal to the business.

What kinds of issues? Here are just a few examples:

  • How will ownership be passed along in the family?
  • How will the family handle business leadership transitions?
  • What sort of governance structure — e.g., board of directors and officers — do we need? Who should serve in these roles? Family only? Outsiders?
  • How will the family agree on its core values, and how will they sustain those within the business?
  • How will new generations be brought into the business?
  • How will the family fund the investment needs of the business?
  • How can family owners who don’t work in the business be kept engaged and supportive?
  • As ownership disperses into new generations, how do you maintain unity and consensus?
  • To do this, what structures, roles and communication channels are needed within the family?

These can be life-or-death issues for a family business. More than a few media companies have been sold or restructured because they didn’t deal with them successfully.

As a third-generation member of a newspaper family, I experienced a number of these issues firsthand. And now, as a non-family executive at Morris Communications, I’ve worked on some of these issues with the Morris family.

Here’s my message in this blog: If you’re a family owner, you don’t have to invent new solutions for these issues on your own. There’s good help out there, and you would be very smart to take advantage of it.

It’s true that you won’t find this kind of help at the media industry’s major conferences. The only exception I’ve seen is the Inland Press Association’s family ownership conference. It’s held as a separate event in conjunction with Inland’s fall annual meeting — just concluded in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Many years ago, I attended the first of these Inland sessions. It was a breath of fresh air. Finally, fellow newspaper people were discussing the kinds of private and personal issues that my family, too, was facing.

But here’s the thing — these aren’t newspaper issues. They are family business issues — and all family businesses have them.

Several years ago, at Morris Communications, I felt we needed new thinking on these issues. So I went Googling, looking for conferences that would offer the best current thinking and best practices for family business issues, regardless of industry.

I settled on a conference called Transitions, put on twice a year by Family Business Magazine — itself a family-owned business. What persuaded me was the way the conference was and is structured. That is, as the conference tag line says: “The conference for family businesses by family businesses.”

In other words, the program consists almost entirely of speakers and panels who are family owners or non-family executives of family businesses. The sessions focus on important issues and challenges they have faced in their own businesses, and they describe how they have handled them.

Every item on the bullet list above is sure to be addressed at each Transitions conference, either specifically or along the way. And virtually all conference attendees — meaning the people at your table — come from family businesses of many types, sizes and descriptions. The networking opportunities come non-stop.

My first of these conference was Transitions East in March, 2014. I went alone and took exhaustive notes.

Afterward, I produced a detailed report for G2 and G3 (Transitions shorthand for second and third generation) of the Morris family.

My report included this matrix, summarizing the kinds of issues they could expect to hear addressed by attending the next conference. (To be read from top to bottom — not side to side.)

Slide1

My hope was to persuade the Morrises to attend the next Transitions conference — Transitions West 2014. And they did, as well as the Transitions East conference the following spring. (The West conference is a repeat of the East conference, although with different speakers and panelists.)

These conferences were hugely helpful in bringing key family issues to the table for discussion in the Morris family, and they showed us many well-proven solutions.

Those are the benefits you can expect, too. That’s why the Transitions conferences usually sell out, with roughly 300 people in attendance. Many of those people are regulars, and many families bring several members so they can all learn together. Businesses range in size from single auto dealerships to huge national brands (Bush’s Baked Beans, for example).

In the American newspaper industry, family ownership has been a firm foundation for decades. But tough times in business can bring bitter stress into families. Getting better ideas on how to make business decisions within the family can save not just the business, but also the family.

This year’s Transitions West conference is coming up, and there’s still time to make reservations. It will be held Nov. 1-3 at the Coronado Island Marriott in San Diego, Calif. Here’s more information on the conference, the program and the speakers.

There’s a saying often quoted in the family-ownership business community: “From shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” (And different cultures have parallel versions of the same truism.)

To improve your family’s chances of lasting into the next generation and beyond, I strongly urge you to take a look at the Transitions program and consider attending. In fact, I would advise you to take more than one family member.

I can say with confidence that you will gain a wealth of knowledge to help you preserve and sustain your family in business.

And if you’re NOT a family member, but you work for a family-owned newspaper company, I would urge you to pass along the link to this blog post to a member of the family. You may help your owners find their way forward.

The cost and the time required to attend these conferences are dwarfed by the rich experience of discovering that you’re not alone, and that there are tested and proven solutions to the problems your family faces.

 

 

Under summer’s spell

I’m on vacation in northern Michigan now, and I had intended to take a pass on writing for MediaReset.com this month, too.

But my mother and my wife changed my mind.

My mom brought to our vacation spot a copy of an editorial I wrote about 30 years ago while working at The Monroe (MI) Evening News — the paper our family owned at the time.

Mom pulls this piece out every August and makes me — and anyone else nearby — read it again.

This year, my wife was one of those. She read it and said, “You ought to publish this in your blog this month.”

So that’s what I’m doing. Read the rest of this entry

In a disrupted industry, how can you future-proof your career?

Here’s the plain truth: If you’re an early- or mid-career employee of a company that still depends heavily on print revenues, you need a plan.

Jobs have been disappearing from these media companies at an alarming rate for more than a decade.

Print-based newspaper and magazine companies are fighting hard to replace declining print revenues with digital revenues and other business models. But very few — if any — are winning. The jobs keep going away. Read the rest of this entry

In Jacksonville, a new business model for the local editorial voice

Downtown Jacksonville, Fla., straddles the St. Johns River. (Times-Union photo)

Back in April, I lamented the steady decline in commitment to local editorials across the shrinking newspaper industry with this post: “Editorials: Headed for extinction?”

It’s a sad story. As ad revenues tumble and newsrooms shrink, so, too, are owners’ commitments to strong, impactful local comment in editorial pages.

Editorials lack any clear business model, so they’re vulnerable to cuts. Never mind that a strong, community-leading editorial voice can be a hallmark of our local brand and a reason we are seen as essential in the community.

In April, I hinted that I would blog on this subject again soon. One of the Morris publishers, Mark Nusbaum at the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, was working on an entirely new way to amplify his paper’s editorial voice and build a bold new business model around it. But it was still in development.

Last week it hit homes and businesses in Jacksonville. Read the rest of this entry

In the political fray, don’t guess at motives — debate the facts

Motives, motives, motives.

Why did President Donald Trump dismiss FBI Director James Comey?

Why did Hillary Clinton operate a private email server when she was Secretary of State?

Why did FBI Director James Comey say the FBI wasn’t, and then was, continuing to investigate Clinton’s email practices?

What was Trump’s motive in announcing immigration bans on seven countries? Read the rest of this entry

Why the bitter U.S. political divide? Blame the digital information explosion

Business Deal FailureMost Americans would agree that our country is more fiercely divided along political lines today — Democrat/Republican and liberal/conservative — than ever before in our lives.

Through the last two or three presidential elections, this divide seems to have become more and more bitter. In the 2016 race, it reached a fever pitch, which has shown no sign of abating since the election of Donald Trump.

Why? Read the rest of this entry

Editorials: Headed for extinction?

Powerful local advocacy is essential to your news brand

20170322_120803As the relentless decline in ad revenues empties more and more newsroom desks, there’s been a little-noted side effect: Waning commitment to locally written editorials.

Nobody seems to be noticing, and that’s a shame. In this and probably a future post, I intend to make the case for strong local opinion-writing as a key element of community journalism.

In the local media business, we like to think that our brand has immense value. I believe the thoughtfulness and impact of our editorials plays a huge part in creating that value. Read the rest of this entry

Power structure: Another “Big-J” project for strapped newsrooms (Part 2)

Last time I blogged about a fairly simple but powerful “Big J” journalism project we did years ago in my hometown, shaking up the judicial system in a very positive way.

Here’s another “Big J” project we did back then. It can be done in any community, and it will reveal very interesting things about who has and wields power in the community. Read further to learn how, and to see clippings of the stories we produced.

It started in 1992, when I was editor of my family’s newspaper in Monroe, Mich. At the time, I was doing some serious thinking about the local power structure. Read the rest of this entry

“Big-J” journalism projects for resource-strapped newsrooms (Part I)

Justice sign on a Law Courts building

It’s an article of faith in the local media business: High-quality content is our trump card in the high-stakes business of attracting and monetizing digital audiences.

But how much of that high-quality content do we really produce? And how much of it really has the huge audience pulling-power we need?

It’s the same answer for both questions: Not nearly enough. Read the rest of this entry

The next media disruption tool: Predictive analytics

Yeah, sure — Big Data. We get it, right?

We all know that the digital age is producing huge amounts of data about consumers and their behavior. And, sure, we know that anybody who’s in the marketing and advertising business — like local media companies — needs to get good at it. Right?

Hand drawing Lead Generation Business Funnel concept with white chalk on blackboard.

Not that we’ve quite learned how to do it yet. But surely we know — don’t we?  — that we simply must master it to benefit both ourselves and our customers? And we’re working on it, right?

Well, I am. I hope you are, too.

Why? Because somebody is going to bring Big Data to Main Street. If it’s not us, Big Data will be the next big wave of disruption in our advertising and marketing business. It’s guaranteed to whittle down our local media ad revenues still further. Read the rest of this entry