Wednesday, November 4, 2015

You Don't Kill a Brand in 2015. You Adapt.

The Philadelphia Daily News has lived under threat of extinction for as long as I can remember, largely in part because the newspaper is owned by the same company that owns The Philadelphia Inquirer.

As the company struggles financially with their legacy media products in an increasingly digital world, calls to shutter the Daily News have increased. Today, the parent company reportedly axed 46 journalists, though management has said they will continue publishing the Daily News for now.

I clearly have many conflicts of interest in this discussion, having spent nearly 12 years in the Daily News newsroom. I still have many friends there and I send students to intern there all the time.

But I am also a person who runs a small business. I think about money in and money out, and how to be sustainable. I recognize opportunities and I see potential pitfalls.

Simply put, eliminating the Daily News is just not good business. Here's why:

Closing the Daily News will not help The Inquirer.

The Inquirer continues to try to cover too wide of an area, even though the staff is much smaller than it was during the glory years. The Inquirer can no longer comprehensively cover the Jersey shore to Harrisburg, from Trenton down to Wilmington. By attempting to do so, the newspaper seems to scantily cover anything with any authority. And people want the information that pertains to their lives, not briefs about the entire region.

Because the Inquirer's coverage has become so scattered, more and more of the affluent readers in the area are choosing The New York Times instead. And why not? Half of what you find in The Inquirer's A section is from the New York Times wire service anyway.

The Inquirer needs to tighten their focus. They can no longer be one of the world's great newspapers, as they once were. They do have the ability to own their coverage area though - Philadelphia and the counties immediately surrounding the city. They can effectively document this metropolitan area and actually become a force here.

The Daily News has had a much tighter focus for years. It should be seen as a model to replicate, not shutter.

Oh, and the audience at the Daily News will not go to The Inquirer if the Daily News no longer exists. They are two completely different products with different audiences.

Closing the Daily News does not make financial sense. It's a stop-gap measure.

There is very little infrastructure behind the business of the Daily News. Ads are sold for The Inquirer and then tacked on to the Daily News, which means the Daily News actually generates additional revenue that would be lost if the paper were gone. Very few people - if any - sell ads specifically for the Daily News.

Even before today's cuts, there were very few people left creating the actual news product at the Daily News. With their content also being used in The Inquirer and on philly.com, they were rather efficient.

Eliminating the Daily News would not make The Inquirer's bottom line any stronger. It might appear to save some money at first but the problems with The Inquirer - and with philly.com's inability to generate more revenue  - will continue.

We've already seen this with other stop-gap measures, like shrinking the size of the physical newspaper, ending The Inquirer Sunday Magazine, newsroom cuts and other cost-cutting steps.

Rather than chop, the company needs to think about how to maximize their talent and brands.

Digital does not pay the bills.

You might argue that print in 2015 is a waste. The reality is that the company generates more than $150 million per year in ad revenue, around $135 million of which is generated via print.

Digital only draws around $15 million per year and that number is reportedly flat. It has not increased in recent years, signifying that their online ad revenue potential is pretty well capped.

You can argue that eliminating print would save printing and distribution costs. Of course. But instead of focusing on that, the company should be thinking about how to keep that $135 million of print revenue in the company.

You don't kill a brand in 2015. You adapt.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to create a new brand and make an impact in 2015? There are literally millions upon millions of options for everyone to get everything, from medical advice to news information to free music. Competition is fierce.

The Daily News has been around since 1925. The paper has long had a reputation for being a bulldog that fights for the citizens of the city. The sports section, historically, has been one of the best in the country.

You don't throw that away. You take advantage of it. You adapt.

Maybe it becomes the daily magazine that the staffers have talked about for years (but are not given the time to create), focusing on enterprise stories every day. Hammer the sports coverage in the back and up front, present analysis of the big stories that no one else is covering.

Or make the newspaper a weekly magazine with really strong, daily online coverage. Have the sportswriters focus on ideas rather than events, essentially making them all columnists. The best Daily News sportswriters already do this, and have for decades. Capitalize on it.

At bare minimum, the Daily News should be the online home for everyone interested in sports in the Greater Philadelphia region. The fact that the company did not effectively integrate the Internet with the newspapers 20 years ago allowed places like Comcast SportsNet, The 700 Level and Crossing Broad to exist, thrive and dominate sports coverage.

The Daily News has an identity. In a sports-crazed town, a decent business person should be able to make that work. Adapt the product and continue. That's what businesses do.

It's probably too late.

I write this now knowing that the cuts are too severe. Decisions have already been made, mostly by people who do not have a real connection to these newspapers or this city.

The demise of the Daily News seems rather imminent.

The Newspaper Guild has offered to buy the Daily News from the current owners in the past but those offers seem to have been rejected (or not taken seriously, as the ownership has put forth ridiculously high sales prices).

That's a shame.

What will we lose when the Daily News disappears?

Honestly, not a lot. The operation has been so stripped down over the years that little remains. The remaining folks have been kicking ass every day but there are fewer and fewer people, forced to do more and more work. And now, the place will be nearly empty.

That leaves us with a newspaper of record that is already spread too thin to be effective, superficial coverage on television, super quick stories on news radio, a bunch of random, local websites and an overall uninformed citizenry.

We need more journalists doing good work, not fewer.

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