Incoming NAA CEO David Chavern Is an Optimist

"This isn't the videocassette industry."

If newly appointed Newspaper Association of America president and CEO David Chavern is concerned about helming an organization representing the interests of an industry routinely depicted as being in freefall, he isn’t showing it.

Instead, the sense we got from speaking with Chavern about his new role was optimism rooted in his belief that the public’s demand for journalism will be the lodestar that guides the industry to new and long-lasting monetization strategies.

Chavern comes to the NAA after 10 years at the Chamber of Commerce. While he arrives with no newspaper industry experience, Chavern has long been a newspaper fan. “It’s an industry I really believe in,” he says. “I’m a huge consumer of their product.” But it goes beyond that for Chavern. “The press is not just another industry to me,” he says. “It’s central to our democracy.” This is why, he says, “As soon as I heard about the job I was interested in it.”

He sees parallels between his experience at the Chamber and his new role, especially in his work representing what Chavern calls “industries in transition.” “I’ve spent a long time going around the country talking about manufacturing,” he says. “And the manufacturing sector, they’ve had a really rough 20 years, with a whole bunch of technological and economic change, and you know what, they’re coming out the other side of it. They’re coming out different, it wasn’t always easy, but they’re coming out successfully.”

As important for Chavern is his confidence that there is a future for newspapers, a point he comes back to more than once during our conversation. “If you make something important and that people want, even if there’s transitional challenges and technology,” he says, “you usually figure it out and come out OK on the other end.” After all, he says, “This isn’t the videocassette industry.”

Even digital advertising revenue, whose role in newspaper sustainability isn’t as strong as it was expected to be, gets the Chavern half-full treatment, with a dose of all-in-it-togetherness. “There is technological flux and digital ad challenges are true for everybody in the digital space, not just newspapers. I think we’re sort of in midstream sorting out digital advertising.”

While Chavern firmly believes it can be sorted out, he’d like the NAA to focus on alternatives as well. He’s interested in the possibilities of long-form journalism, both in terms of its appeal to readers and as a source of revenue creation, as well as other “experiments going on with non ad revenue,” like events, which Chavern sites as being “potentially very lucrative for newspapers.”

Outside of the hunt for new and sustainable revenue streams, Chavern really wants to get newspapers in conversation with each other, and wants the NAA to play a role in facilitating those conversations and keeping members informed about each other’s work:

One of the other bad raps is that it’s sort of a throwback industry, it’s not very technologically advanced. The fact of the matter is, there’s thousands of newspapers across the country. Everybody is doing experiments trying to figure out what their deal is. That’s true about The New York Times, The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. It’s also true about The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (I’m a Pittsburgh guy). And I think one of the best things a trade association can do is inform everybody about what everybody is doing. Everybody is trying to figure it out.

Chavern brings his rose-colored gaze to the NAA on Oct. 14, his official start date.