The theme of this year’s Newspaper Association of America conference, held at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, was “transition.” With ad revenue from print sources falling, papers around the country are struggling to find new sources of income before the business model totally collapses.
Despite the bleak outlook, the NAA urged its members to stay positive with encouraging words about the Internet. After a Mayor Bloomberg-welcome speech more about the state of the union than the state of the industry (“the finest non-campaign speech I’ve ever heard” joked Boisfeuillet Jones Jr., publisher and CEO of the Washington Post and chairman of the NAA) John Sturm, president and CEO of the NAA, took the stage to say there’s “a huge difference between an industry in decline and an industry in transition … the Internet is not our demise, it’s our ace in the hole.” He and Jones Jr. both touted a study showing that pageviews on newspaper Web sites are increasing at twice the rate of general pageviews. 59 million people (39.7 percent of all active Internet users) visited a newspaper Web site in the first quarter of ’07, an increase of 5.3 percent versus 2.7 percent for the Internet as a whole.
After Sturm’s speech, newspaper public enemy No. 1 Craig Newmark sat down with Charlie Rose for a discussion of the industry. The founder of craigslist disputed the fact that his site and its 7 billion(!) pageviews a month is destroying the newspaper classified business. “You have a bigger problem with niche publications that actively call advertisers and get them,” the self-proclaimed “nerd” said. He also questioned the industry’s struggles, saying “I hear people talking about the losses in classified advertising, but people in the same article are talking about profit margins of 10 to 20 percent.”
Citing his job as customer service representative at craigslist, Newmark wondered if “maybe [customer service is] what newspapers need to do these days.” He also called for an increased focus on investigative journalism, referencing a report in this month’s Atlantic arguing that this will help revenue.
When pressed by an audience member on what type of paper he would start were he to begin one, Newmark described “a little muckraking paper on the multi-billion dollar scams we are seeing out of Washington D.C.” The reluctant mogul also repeated his catchphrase “We need people to speak truth to power” multiple times during the chat, but remained humble. “If I ever start growing a comb forward and putting my name on buildings, that’s a problem.”