Abrams: Time To Give Readers "Recession 101"

On the day the company declares Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Tribune's Chief Innovation Officer, Lee Abrams, issues a "think piece" to staff in which he says Tribune newspapers must "own" the recession:

THE RECESSION: Discussion on we should position our papers and TV as the vehicles that helps people through the recession. Well, I'm surprised that this is even being debated...BUT--- Talking about it and AFDI'ing* are two different things. The "series" approach I mentioned to them below might work on TV and Online too. Instead of reporting to doom and gloom, AGGRESSIVELY OWN it, via ongoing series'. New one weekly...AND being the guys that make sense of it to the non MBA. Please see below.

1. It's probably going to be a crisis for a looooong time, so NOW is the time to establish ownership.

2. We might consider the "multi part series" approach. Every Sunday, a different recession topic that touches people is introduced. THEN---Part 2 on Monday, Part 3 Tuesday...all week until another topic is introduced.
I'd keep the topics reasonably intelligent vs. low brow. Might even drive readership, and/or interest throughout the week.

3. One service we can offer is "Recession 101". Maybe a glossary kind of thing. I was watching CNBC (yeah--I'm the one), and you needed an MBA to understand what their 'experts' were talking about.

In any case...NOW is a good time to run with this if you are going to go this way.

The Allentown Morning Call is taking a different approach: (from publisher Tim Kennedy)

We have been running a series we call "Surviving The Economy". Combination of local angles (i.e. local auto dealers) on the recession and ways individuals are dealing with it (i.e selling old gold jewelry). It's not a "Part I, Part II etc... series. It's a brand that umbrellas coverage related to the recession.

*(AFDI: Actually Fucking Doing It.)

I find this terribly ironic. Who needs a primer on how to survive the recession more than the bankrupt Tribune?  

Abrams also cautions that he thinks the TV business may be about to hit the wall and that the company needs to get on the ball and start AFD'ing things all over the place right now to save its 26 stations.

"I think TV is where newspapers were a few years ago," he writes. "Maybe just a little denial in there. Meaning things aren't THAT bad, relatively speaking, in terms of revenue, audience and costs, so re-thinking should be accomplished NOW to stay ahead of the game." 

Read the entire morass after the jump.

December 08, 2008

THINK PIECE: MISSING OPPORTUNITIES, AND CHALLENGING...EVERYTHING

"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; it's also what it takes to sit down and listen."

--- Winston Churchill

The reason this is a significant quote for us is that:
Too often we don't speak up. I get people coming around with an idea or a "Why do we do ___this way"? In asking why they don't bring it up to the folks they work with/for, the answer is "Oh, I may get in trouble for that" Afraid to speak up ? Not good. Then there's a tendency to selectively listen. Listen to some executives, but not to the rank n file. Kind of a media caste system. If everything was amazingly successful, OK....but it isn't. There are big challenges. We need to speak out--right or wrong...and listen. If we're afraid because peers may not like what you have to say. Too bad. No-one is immune. TV, Online, Print---it's all the same battle. We're in this togeher and our combined brainpower is a big factor.

We aren't alone in trying to evolve things...and there are companies that we directly or indirectly compete with that are doing some really good things. There are also competitors sitting on their butts and hoping things get better with downsizing and a hopeful economic revival. Well, those are facts of life. We need to MOVE on things we can control. Something not as good as if can be? Don't accept it....change it. Turning things around--REALLY turning things around has a lot to do with going many extra miles to EXECUTE on the ideas we all have!

We cant just talk about a culture of innovation,. We need to DO it. We are...to a degree. We need to go full guns. It's tough, especially with the economics and downsizing...but we still have to EXECUTE. We do pretty well, we can do even better!

Here's an example of something VERY small but symbolic of thinking the extra mile. Won't make a difference in our business...BUT---for no additional cost our TI Interactive designer Ken Lyght simply re-thought a holiday card. He sent me the original one and I suggested that it was kinda dull...especially for an Interactive venture. So, we bounced around a few thoughts, he went to work and in minutes came up with a plan B:

BEFORE: http://www.tribuneinteractive.com/clients/holiday_ecard/ecard2.htm

AFTER: http://www.tribuneinteractive.com/clients/holiday_ecard/ecard4.htm

The point here is not that a Holiday card will make a difference in the big picture. Of course it wont, BUT--it IS an example of simply making something better. Takes no significant time, manpower or cost...it's just an attitude. That attitude CAN make a difference if we attack everything we do that way.

Then, early Friday, Monty Cook and Bonita Burton both sent this very interesting front page from the Detroit Free Press. like editorial cartoons, I think there are a lot of things like this that we need to do. It's really about freeing ourselves from "the playbook" and, when the right opportunity exists, try things like this. WE HAVE TO BE OPEN TO AND BE THINKING OF WAYS WE CAN ENGAGE PEOPLE. Take a look at this link:

http://flickr.com/photos/63449070@N00/3084182462/in/photostream/

They prepped it as a special section originally, but decided to do it as a wrap of the main section. They lined up printing in Virginia and distributed 5,000 copies on the Hill and to every member of congress.

Wisely, they also had it in the hands of every network morning show in New York. Pretty smart!

I went back and looked at some newspapers from the 1930's. There are a lot of things newspapers USED to do that made a lot of sense. Someone told me papers were more competitive then because some cities had a dozen daily newspapers. well, those days are gone--but now we have thousands of websites and cable channels. SO---maybe we might do well with looking back. In one Chicago Tribune from December 1938:
*Very good and complete index of the front page.

*Political Cartoon on the front page.

*Net Circulation figure proudly presented on the front page

*Day in Pictures on last page.

...an interesting exercise to look at early newspapers, TV etc...


I don't think newspapers are going to go away. Sure read a lot of opinions that it's all about the Internet and it's just a matter of time before all papers are online and the presses shut down for good. Personally, I think newspapers will be around a long time. So will the Internet...and TV. The whole idea about the re-thinking exercises is just that--to re-think. Classifieds are way off, car advertising is way off, local retail is in their own hell, newsprint is expensive. Yes. So we need to figure out how to deliver this invaluable daily icon on today's terms. Holding nothing sacred.

I think TV is where newspapers were a few years ago. Maybe just a little denial in there. Meaning things aren't THAT bad, relatively speaking, in terms of revenue, audience and costs, so re-thinking should be accomplished NOW to stay ahead of the game.

The Internet is still a baby, more re-thinking is in order as it probably hasn't been figured out yet...at least the standard hasn't been established.

I still see people threatened by, angry with or fearful of the re-thinking exercise. I don't really think this is a good time for those emotions. There's too much on the line and too many smart people, who if focused into accepting what is going on and throwing ideas on the table, the ones that stick will make all the difference.

Some ideas will make no sense...others will make a lot of sense...it's the exercise of focusing on change that inevitably will yield results. We're all hoping the economy makes a sudden rebound and everything is just wonderful again. That would be nice, but I doubt that'll happen. We need to adapt. The culture...the product and the focus need to get in sync regardless of how painful.

we need to be that oasis of ideas, with the freedom for ANYone to get heard and to accept that most ideas are probably not realistic or practical...or just bad. That's fine. The good ones will rise to the surface.

Then it's execution. Urgency is the key word. Good idea? AFDI. Part of the problem isn't just classifieds and competition...it's the culture to adapt to changing times and act aggressively. We'll make mistakes, but we'll also win. Gets back to speaking up and listening--Facing tough problems with dialogue...and action. I understand the mechanics, downsize pressures and logistics, but if there's anything we could improve on, it's immediacy and urgency in all of our media. If something isn't dead on---make the aggressive changes urgently. There are still items discussed months ago that we sit on...have meeting about...forget about. MISSING OPPORTUNITIES. Again--- We aren't alone in trying to evolve things...and there are companies that we directly or indirectly compete with that are doing some really good things. There are also competitors sitting on their butts and hoping things get better with downsizing and a hopeful economic revival. Well, those are facts of life. We need to MOVE on things we can control.

I've been looking at our Breaking News Center sites. I love that idea but offered a few thoughts --this concept is good---but we have to make it GREAT:

*Instead of "Continue Reading" on the breaking stories, maybe the story itself is a "Speed Read" and instead of "Continue Reading" (sounds a little dull to me", we use a more active term. Maybe "THE COMPLETE REPORT"

*We need to have media contributors and partners promo this site more . You can't half publicize it. Needs full court press mobilizing every resource we can


*We have links to the local CBS, ABC and NBC TV---Why not Fox? The "Fox" name is pretty powerful in News.

*Should we separate towns from topics under "categories"? Seems off that The Bears and Bolingbrook are both under the same listing.

*Weather is highly visible in the upper right. Maybe Traffic and Trains (Metra/CTA) should also have strong prominence as it's probably a good thing to be the "go to" place for breaking AND ongoing traffic updates.

"TAG CLOUD": I think that might be a little too inside and techy for Joe Average.

A CLOCK: I think a minute and second hand digital clock on the home page would add immediacy to it.

COLOR CODING: Like Homeland Security maybe each story could be color coded:
Red--Breaking. Now. Must Read
Orange. Updated major story
Blue. Latest on a story

I'm pretty convinced that some people have a better feel for what is important story wise...and others are off base. When OJ was sentenced I received comments ranging from "Who Cares" to 'Story of the Day' to 'Not important here' to 'Huge". This is one of the few businesses where educated guessing is the norm.

MAPPING: There's a lot of "Southside Man injured" headlines. I think it screams out for a map to show WHERE.

CHICAGO CRIME SEARCH, MUG SHOTS: Love those, but to me they look like ads instead of compelling places to go for cool info. Take a look today---It's right there with a Kohl's ad, and gets blurred.

...these ideas may be good or bad, but got others thinking and into the ACTION MODE. There was a domino effect of ideas on improving the thing...with high confidence that the ideas will actually be executed. THAT is progress.

A big issue throughout the company? Tweaks. Print Online and TV--we like to tweak. Usually a labor intensive effort that results in...nothing. Now, there are things that do simply need a tweak, or things that you just cant mess with, but say, you're getting hammered in ratings, revenue or some other metric..a tweak is usually an exercise in futility.

THE RECESSION: Discussion on we should position our papers and TV as the vehicles that helps people through the recession. Well, I'm surprised that this is even being debated...BUT--- Talking about it and AFDI'ing are two different things. The "series" approach I mentioned to them below might work on TV and Online too. Instead of reporting to doom and gloom, AGGRESSIVELY OWN it, via ongoing series'. New one weekly...AND being the guys that make sense of it to the non MBA. Please see below.

1. It's probably going to be a crisis for a looooong time, so NOW is the time to establish ownership.

2. We might consider the "multi part series" approach. Every Sunday, a different recession topic that touches people is introduced. THEN---Part 2 on Monday, Part 3 Tuesday...all week until another topic is introduced.
I'd keep the topics reasonably intelligent vs. low brow. Might even drive readership, and/or interest throughout the week.

3. One service we can offer is "Recession 101". Maybe a glossary kind of thing. I was watching CNBC (yeah--I'm the one), and you needed an MBA to understand what their 'experts' were talking about.

In any case...NOW is a good time to run with this if you are going to go this way.

The Allentown Morning Call is taking a different approach: (from publisher Tim Kennedy)

We have been running a series we call "Surviving The Economy". Combination of local angles (i.e. local auto dealers) on the recession and ways individuals are dealing with it (i.e selling old gold jewelry). It's not a "Part I, Part II etc... series. It's a brand that umbrellas coverage related to the recession.

Gets back to "owning" topics in 2008:

Do it with great passion and intensity or why bother: .

Assuming that people will " get " a change. I think the landscape is too dense...we need to be far more clever, focused and aggressive.

Industry Thinking: TV suffers from this a lot Thinking like a TV person instead of a tv viewer. In print, it's creating newspapers for each other instead of the new mainstream .

Confusing Journalism with commerce: They are separate. Let each one do its job.

Selling what you do best . WE know what we do best....but it often stops there...or is limited to a small core of very aware readers/viewers but misses the mainstream because we do a terrible job telling people

Knowing the competition:

The HITS (aka most important topics): It's odd that different newspapers and websites that have the same target and in the same region have different lead stories and are convinced that their story is the big one and the other guy is wrong. ...and vice versa. There's a lot of guesswork going into this...not very sophisticated. Often instinctually right, but not always.

Focus Group Short Cuts: I think everything starts with our imaginations, then we use data to balance our emotions. A reality check. I see a lot of blind following of the focus group.

Then there's corporate-speak. A smart person sent me a "plan". My only suggestion here would be some more "real" words vs. corporate words would make more sense to the people he was talking to. If he was talking to the business community, that's another story--but he was talking to content people. I'd suggest changing them to something along the lines of what I have below in CAPS. Reason? It'll cut through better to the group he was working with :

Today's Consumer of Media is...
- Intelligent MEDIA SAVVY---THEY'VE HEARD & SEEN IT ALL .
- Empowered LOTS OF CHOICES...YOU BETTER BE DAMN GOOD TO MAKE A DENT
- Skeptical GOOD BULLSHIT RADAR
- Connected THEY HAVE LOTS OF STUFF...BEYOND TV
- Time-Pressed A.D.D.
- Demanding NOT IMPRESSED WITH ANYTHING "AVERAGE"



Spoke to the WGN AM Sales/Marketing group for a couple of hours on creating a culture for innovating . They are a revenue machine OPEN to innovation. "Bring it on " is their spirit. I hope every Tribune property has the swagger they have. They get it...



________________________________

From: Abrams, Lee [mailto:labrams@tribune.com]
Sent: Mon 12/8/2008 9:13 AM
To: Abrams, Lee
Subject: THINK PIECE: MISSING OPPORTUNITIES , AND CHALLENGING...EVERYTHING



THINK PIECE: MISSING OPPORTUNITIES , AND CHALLENGING...EVERYTHING


  "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; it's also what it takes to sit down and listen."

  --- Winston Churchill 
The reason this is a significant quote for us is that:
Too often we don't speak up.  I get people coming around with an idea or a "Why do we do ___this way"?   In asking why they don't bring it up to the folks they work with/for, the answer is "Oh,  I may get in trouble for that"  Afraid to speak up ?  Not good.  Then there's   a tendency to selectively listen.  Listen to some executives, but not to the rank n file.  Kind of a media caste system.  If everything was amazingly successful, OK....but it isn't. There are big challenges. We need to speak out--right or wrong...and listen.  If we're afraid because peers may not like what you have to say.  Too bad.  No-one is immune.  TV, Online, Print---it's all the same battle. We're in this together and our combined brainpower is a big factor.

We aren't alone in trying to evolve things...and there are companies that we directly or indirectly compete with that are doing some really good things.  There are also competitors sitting on their butts and hoping things get better with downsizing and a hopeful economic revival.  Well, those are facts of life.  We need to MOVE on things we can control. Something not as good as if can be? Don't accept it....change it. Turning things around--REALLY turning things around has a lot to do with going many extra miles to EXECUTE on the ideas we all have!


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