Greg Osberg’s Plans for the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com

From the Philadelphia Institute for Journalistic Innovation:

Very interesting blogpost by Prof. George Miller at Temple’s Department of Journalism, who blogs at Entrepreneurial Journalists of Philadelphia. It’s about Greg Osberg, the new CEO and publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com.

Osberg was hired by the new ownership group, Credit Suisse and Angelo Gordon. He has big plans for the company, including:

• Launching a media incubator inside the Inquirer building, where small media companies can exist rent-free.
• Forming content partnerships with universities and niche websites.
• Restructuring the advertising sales teams so that ad reps sell print, online and apps at the same time.


• He already moved philly.com into the building, meaning that philly.com staffers are now unionized (they previously were not, and they were housed several blocks away).
• Every editorial staffer has to think multimedia, all the time, he said.
• He wants reporters acting as pundits on TV, thus promoting the brand.
• He wants to financially reward anyone on staff who develops innovative efficiencies.

It will be a difficult transition. He said that the papers had lost 25 percent of their readership over the past five years, and 50 percent of the advertising dollars has disappeared as well.

Rather than use wire coverage or focus heavily on national or international news, the papers and website will concentrate on information not found anywhere else, Osberg said. And there will likely be a paywall established next year.
“We need to figure how to bring commerce back to our brands,” he said. He doesn’t have a business model yet, he admitted. He said that building audience should build value, bringing profitability.

“It’s going to take a couple of years to achieve this miracle,” he said. He later confessed, “I have no idea if it’s going to work or not.”

Overall, I really like all of this. Hooray! Very promising stuff…these are all important changes that will hopefully improve the quality and quantity of coverage, if they can just get the reporting staff on fewer than five beats per person. It sounds like they are thinking like a media company, not a newspaper company – the difference is huge. Certainly, the unionization is nice to hear, and I have no problem with paywalls. As iTunes has shown, people can be retrained to pay for content…and in the meantime, Newsdesk.org and everybody else only stands to benefit.

However, I was really surprised at what this said about how the company has been operating.

First off, my mind was completely blown by the idea that an advertising staff would be divided into two separate ‘print’ and ‘online’ sections. Generally, the idea is to look at the customer’s needs and budget and figure out a strategy based on the goal, and then decide what type/timeline of ads they should buy, appropriate for who they are trying to reach. (Who knows where they keep their social media or promotions people, probably sequestered in the janitor’s closet.)

**NOTE: after posting this I learned that it may have been a bargaining-unit thing… don’t have time to clarify so I will reserve all snark until later.**

And the fact that philly.com was housed elsewhere in online apartheid is a little weird. This isn’t unique; other publications did this when the online sections got started in the nineties. In some cases it created a space where an online brand and mission could evolve – especially important given the huge scheduling and distribution differences between online publications and daily print newspapers. I hope the new management team can integrate the newsrooms and make sense of it all.

On balance, you look across the country and it’s kind of amazing that so many local newspapers have had so much time to adjust and make these changes, over the course of an entire decade. If the local news/newspaper market were more competitive (as it has been in the past in Philadelphia, which used to have 8 newspapers) I think you would have seen a lot more volatility and quicker adapting.

Prof. Miller’s blog is Entrepreneurial Journalists of Philadelphia, great stuff.

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