It would be impossible to sum up in one word the joint Annual Meeting Sept. 10 to 12 that brought hundreds of Inland and Southern Newspaper Publishers Association members plus a score of industry experts for the wide-ranging sessions presented in Colorado Springs.
Yet in the word cloud that the joint Annual Meeting generated, one word would likely loom larger than any other: Metrics.
At session after session, speakers emphasized the digit in a digital era.
In his keynote subtitled "The shifting nature of our businesses," Jeremy Gilbert, the director of strategic initiatives for The Washington Post, noted that many things haven't changed for the industry since the dawn of digital.
"What has changed?" he said. "Metrics. Metrics let us know how much (our audiences) read, how much they care, and how much they consume the journalism you produce."
And The Post, increasingly held up as the newspaper doing the digital transition most successfully, is all in on metrics, Gilbert said. The in-house analytics platform, Spectrum, measures everything from social media shares, time spent on content, page views, and even what the paper calls "subscriber propensity," that is a measure to predict how likely a frequent viewer can be converted to a subscriber.
"It's not that we ask our journalists to chase clicks and likes," Gilbert said, "but we believe part of their job is to connect the journalism they produce with the people they who consume it."
The metrics theme came up repeatedly as well when identifying opportunities more and more newspapers are exploring such as video.
There were these numbers from YouTube's head of strategic partnership development, Uzo Ometo: Almost 5 billion videos are watched on YouTube every day; 8 in 10 of people aged 18 to 49 watch a YouTube video in an average month; and-for newspapers-adding live streaming to video offerings increase channel subscriptions by an average of 40%.
J.B. Ozuna, the vice president/digital for Schurz Communications, noted that video advertising is growing at a compounded annual rate of 22%, and the prediction is that by 2020, 80% of all IP traffic will originate in video.
Statistics are also a big reason Schurz is now betting heavily on podcasts. Some 40% of the U.S. population listened to a podcast in the last year, he said, pushing revenue up 80% in one year to $220 million.
Newspapers are also aiming metrics inward with more efficiency than ever before. An entire session was devoted just to benchmarking practices, reflecting, as one quote from newspaper broker Randy Cope that filled screens at the session said, "Benchmarking is something that we feel is very important to newspapers right now."
"Benchmarking...serves as a motivator, and, the second reason we use it, is if (a colleague) is doing better than me, I should want to talk to him," said Dolph Tillotson, president of Southern Newspapers Inc. "In spite of declining revenue, newspapers can be profitable for years to come, if they'll adjust expenses according."
And just as with metrics from The Washington Post's Spectrum to YouTube humble-brags, interior benchmarks must be widely shared, publishers said.
"We're very open and candid about what is happening in our company," said Tim Prince, president of the Shelby County (Ala.) Reporter and a vice president of Boone Newspapers Inc. "Financials are shared with (newspaper) leaders, and at some newspapers, financials shared with department heads."
The attitude amounts to a sea change in industry thinking, said Gregg K. Jones, president and CEO of Jones Media, a part of Adams Media Group, and publisher of the Greeneville (Tenn.) Sun.
Sharing information broadens employee understanding and creates a positive peer pressure, he said, adding, "I grew up in an environment where we didn't share anything, but it's completely morphed since then."
Tillotson put it even more bluntly: "There's more risk in not sharing the information than sharing."
No risk of that at a joint Annual Meeting where sharing metrics-best practices for metrics, audience and revenue growth opportunities from metrics, efficiency optimizations from metrics-appeared to be topic one.