Abrams: More Sex, Religion, Stars ... and Gay Florida!

The Sun-Sentinel's front page story this morning is both important and provocative. Reporter Jennifer Gollan found that Broward's cities face a $1.1 billion shortfall in their pension programs. The in-depth story's headline: "Were City Workers Nest Eggs Too Generous?"

Leading the Metro section is a story by Jon Burstein and Kathy Bushouse about millions of dollars in lost and stolen school board equipment. Again, depthy reporting that challenges the takers of our tax money.

It's a solid -- and increasingly rare -- one-two punch from the newspaper. That kind of reporting has been falling by the wayside at the Sentinel as the newsroom has shrunk and the newshole has dwindled. And if you're hoping to see an emphasis on that kind of hard-hitting journalism, the most recent "think piece" from Tribune Co. Chief Innovation Officer Lee Abrams offers no encouragement.

Abrams just finished a trip to the company's Florida newspapers, the Sun-Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel. Abrams writes that during meetings he spoke of things that "are traditionally not discussed for fear of offending someone, or simply failing to be honest about ourselves." The chief goal: To get more people in the "A.D.D. generation" who read Sunday's newspaper to read all week. Abrams suggested "theme weeks," including:

Sex: SEX AND RELIGION ARE THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT TOPICS ION THE WORLD! A weekly theme of Sex/relationships. Monday Gay Florida Tuesday Does E-Harmony work? Weds Teens & Sex exposed... etc...

Religion: Monday: Can Jews and Muslims co exist; Tuesday The religious ultra right; Wednesday Catholics in America.... etc...

You can hear the editor now: "Hey John, forget about that city hall piece. I need you to figure out if Jews and Muslims can co-exist. Need it for Monday's paper."

Or: "Sue, it's time we exposed teens and sex. Get photos."

Abrams also urges the newspapers to "star everything." Why just give star reviews to movies, when you can do it for all the events you list, like science fairs? Be the "expert," Abrams says.

A little problem with that is that to be an expert, you actually have to attend all those events, which means you won't have time to cover all that sex and religion.

Abrams also urges "logoizing," wants more poker in the newspapers, thinks it's time to write about those Nigerian email scams (because "it's REAL ... it's NOW"), and thinks the newspapers should focus on the all-important matter of "wording."

It's a full plate. Here's the entire piece:
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October 27, 2008
THINK PIECE: CROSS POLLINATING IDEAS IN FLORIDA, OLD CAMPAIGN ADS & IDEAS FROM THE TRENCHES

Spend several days in Florida at the Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun Sentinel. They reinvented themselves first so this trip was a re- invent of the re-invent. Great meetings that involved a wide range of people from all areas to discuss what works, what doesn't and what we can do better. A lot came to table...including the things that are traditionally not discussed for fear of offending someone, or simply failing to be honest about ourselves.

The attitudes of the Florida papers amaze me. Professional, focused, zero drama, no baggage, no games. They are all about delivering quality and being in position to GROW. Now...and when the economy improves, they will be in perfect position to reach new levels. It's all about re-gearing the product AND the culture to compete in the new world. They get it.

Especially positive was something we'll be doing more of--people from Ft.Lauderdale coming to Orlando and vice versa. Cross pollination of ideas. I presented a series of things that are being done or discussed at other papers. Slightly lowering the target age without disturbing the core and increasing the number of days the paper is read were two topics we dove into. A few of the things we discussed are below--- Things to think about...as components in re-inventing ourselves:

*WEEKLY THEMES to encourage 7 day readership. Start on Sunday with a highly visible presence. The idea is to drive readership by super-focusing on a "hot" theme. It's an old radio trick. Want to force listening? Do a "Beatles Week"--even though a station already plays them, FOCUSING and packaging/aggregating a core hot artist creates a must listen buzz. For papers, it could be:

Restaurant Week: Monday Celebrity Chefs; Tuesday Florida's Killer Steak Houses; Wednesday 4 Star restaurant recipes that a home cook can handle.... etc...

Sex: SEX AND RELIGION ARE THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT TOPICS ION THE

WORLD! A weekly theme of Sex/relationships. Monday Gay Florida Tuesday Does E-Harmony work? Weds Teens & Sex exposed... etc...

Religion: Monday: Can Jews and Muslims co exist; Tuesday The religious ultra right; Wednesday Catholics in America.... etc...

The idea here is to take a wide appeal topic and DRIVE readership, OWN it...and present this topic in a 'weekly themes' format. Where every day the topic is superserved. And of course there'll be revenue off opportunities with many of these

*STAR EVERYTHING. Are you a "listing service" or experts? Listing events for Kids? Star them. So Mom can say "Oh--The Sentinel gives the science fair three stars, lets take the kids". Give events and places a 'reason'...be the expert not just the lister. Same goes for restaurants of course, and well, just about everything you 'list'.

*24 HOURS IN PHOTOS. We "own" photos...so why not act like we do and give them a HIGHER profile via this compelling feature? A good example of importing FROM the web as picture galleries certainly do well. Te Baltimore Sun has been doing this well, and selling adjacencies to camera stores.

*LOGOIZING. Creating logos for features makes them noticeable. I love the boxing gloves and the I-think logos that Allentown. (These are logos for a point/counterpoint and a high school student editorial) Those logos take these features to a higher level. It's "competitive" thinking vs. 'assuming people know these features exist'. Some do...most don't unless we force it. A logo is a tasteful way to do just that.

*HEADLINES OF THE WORLD. A celebration of newspapers. What does the Teheran Times say about Obama? What does Pravda say about our economy? These are compelling and amazing headlines that shouldn't be hidden on Newseum for other journalists to see. There may be no better way to illustrate global opinion than to use headlines from around the globe.

*WORDING. At the Sentinel there was a story about exotic Asian restaurants, and the reefer was "Learn about Tasty Treats". Tasty Treats??? OK for Campbell's in 1955 or for a candy article, but other than that, it's old world newspaperspeak!

*SCAM PATROL. Identity theft...Infomercials that are questionable...Nigerian 419 scams...they're everywhere. We need to inform and BUST these 21st century menaces. It's REAL...It's NOW.

*POKER. I know the Sun Sentinel does this. It's HOT. Poker is the 21st Century Bridge.

*10 QUESTIONS WITH. Daily. A local icon. Ask him/her ten questions. Favorite restaurant...favorite vacation spot. PERSONAL questions, so you experience the "real" side of people you usually only read news about.
Fascinating insight into the 'real' side of politicians, celebrity chefs, sports figures, business leaders etc...

*GREEN ICON for environment stories. Are we engaged with green? Probably not in a noticeable way. A green icon is a classic example of thinking competitively. Green is important to many. STEP OUT AND TELL PEOPLE we are engaged!(and deliver)

*ARCHIVES. PRINT (NOT ON WEB) a classic front page from the past. We OWN this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Why are we avoiding our past???? Don't live in it---but DO celebrate it. Doesn't have to be a full page....but pull a great front page, and reprint it. Today? How about a page from JFK/Nixon race. It's fascinating stuff that we're hiding.

*LISTENER Q&A. A classic "oh we do that"...but you gotta make it BIG...and daily. Why? So WE are the centerpoint in aggregating LOCAL opinion. Letters to the Editor are fine, but we NEED a clear, simple, NOTICEABLE local issue vote vehicle.

*WEB DRIVE: We aren't great at this. It's easy: Use icons (Video, Audio) and GREAT headlines. In today's paper I saw
"More on running, goto www...." can you imagine even ONE person thinking "Oh running---where's my PC!!!???"
Be selective and create mini headlines to DRIVE awareness to the web. We GOTTA start thinking competitive her

*FIVE DAY OUTLOOK. Tim Frank drew up a great version of this. The NEXT Five Days: Weather, Sports, News, events. Look FORWARD! Why is weather the only thing we forecast???? Makes NO sense. Condition people that there are things COMING. Reading a paper on Sunday and not Tuesday is partially our fault... we have to create incentives, and ALWAYS having a FIVE DAY information forecast, PRESENTED BIG AND NOTICEABLY, can be a component to changing this.

*REVERSE WEB PUBLISHING. We GOTTA do better here. There is brilliant stuff on the websites that SHOULD be in the newspaper, ala the Scam deal at the Sun Sentinel...or crime maps. We must stop thinking print OR web, and seek opportunites that share material!

Thought starters--Elements that are nothing more than thinking a little differently:

1. We have the substance, but our style in delivering it is often average. We must balance Smart, well written journalism with stronger efforts to magnetize them...

Imagine:
Brilliant writing + Brilliant eye appeal + 2x4 executions

2. Wanna reach more 30-40? Well, make things more NOTICEABLE. This A.D.D. generation aint Ward Cleaver spending 90 minutes with his pipe and the paper. We need to magnify better---tasteful...but better.

3. Wanna reach more 30-40? Being THE experts rather than the listers.

4. Wanna reach more 30-40? Well, lose "Tasty Treats" and "Best Bets" and other newspaperspeak.

5. Wanna reach more 30-40? Well, start ATTACKING WITH ANTI A.D.D. NOTICABILITY. Mainstream topics---Green icons, a Pink cover for Breast Cancer Awareness, a Springsteen PRE-view, starred events, etc...

6. Wanna expand days read? Start doing Weekly themes about things like Sex, Food and Religion and other hot buttons that ceate "reasons" to expand reading.

7. Wanna expand days read? Start doing five day previews as 'reasons' ad incentives.

8. Wanna expand days read? Start installing new content Trademarks, promote them NOTICEABLY and with a 2x4

9. Wanna expand days read? Stop thinking newspaper and think #1 News & Information service that's BETTER than TV or Radio. It'll force new thinking that resonates.

10. Wanna expand days read? Quit saving the best for Sunday. Why can't Wednesday have an equally compelling look and feel? Personally, I just don't buy the "save it for Sunday" thing. EVERY day should be celebrated! YES--I know Sundays are dfferent in may ways from logistics to news to readerhip patterns, but with that said, I think there's an opportunity to import many elements traditionally used on Sunday to OTHER days.

11 SPREAD THE MISSION OF WHAT WE DO. So the security guard and janitor know the mission as much as the publisher does. CULTURE CHANGE MUST HAPPEN ON ALL LEVELS. The "why" we are doing what we are doing needs to be transmitted to all quarters.
....and "selective readeship". That's where we think of a "traditional" newspaper reader at the expense of the bulging mainstream. I think TV is a little TOO mainstream...newspapers not eough, and somewhere in the middle is the zone of mass appeal intelligence that's the big hit.

....In Video, the AFDI of the week: saw old campaign ads on YouTube. JFK, Nixon, Eisenhower etc...By today's standards they are, let's say, amusing and fascinating. Brought the idea up and within 5 hours, they were on the sites. Andy Friedman got it done.
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