A newspaper champion reborn in Chicago

The lab results are in: 2019 Joint Annual Meeting focuses on success initiatives


Inland Annual Meetings have always been characterized by their stories of success. For this upcoming Annual Meeting—marking the historic merger of Inland and the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association—much of the focus will be on new success stories coming from recently concluded industry initiatives.

Several sessions revolve around the experimental initiatives in local news, digital subscriptions and the legislative attempt to bargain as an industry with digital giants.

On that last topic, Danielle Coffey, who is senior vice president, strategic initiatives, and counsel for the News Media Alliance, will update Annual Meeting attendees on the “Journalism Competition and Preservation Act” that was introduced in April by the Democratic House Antitrust chairman and the ranking Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee.

This legislation would give newspapers and other news publishers of online content a two-year antitrust “safe harbor” to collectively negotiate with Facebook and Google for better business arrangements.

But while newspapers are positioning to be able to negotiate aggressively over revenue shares with Facebook and Google, they are also partnering with the digital platforms in efforts to improve their business models and reach.

For instance, in the session “Retaining digital subscribers: Lessons from the Facebook Accelerator Program,” Rachel Gleason, the senior manager of audience/engagement for Hearst Newspapers, will reveal what the industry learned from this three-month pilot program.

Facebook invested $3 million to launch the Local News Subscriptions Accelerator with select newspapers and news organizations to gain more digital subscriptions both on and off its social media platform.

This session, which includes participants from the Accelerator initiative, will report on the specific strategies and tactics employed by newspapers—and how successful they turned out to be.

And there will be results from an initiative that involved Google.

Ken Harding, the senior managing director of FTI Consulting Inc. and PJ Browning, president of the newspaper division of The Post and Courier parent Evening Post Industries, will talk the six-month Digital Subscription Lab that set up in newspapers of various sizes.

A partnership of the Google News Initiative, FTI and the Local Media Association, the Lab amassed a mix of quantitative and qualitative market research, examining existing and potential reader segments to better understand the addressable market, readers’ willingness to pay and more.

At the time of its launch, FTI called the Lab a “unique, strategic partnership that will provide publishers with the opportunity to learn from each other and enable us to develop a new digital subscription model blueprint for the entire industry.” That blueprint will be unveiled at the Joint Annual Meeting.

With newspapers reaching ever farther afield for new revenue sources, there should be considerable interest in a panel discussion on getting journalism funded from non-traditional sources.

There is money to be had from these sources. Jennifer Preston, the vice president/journalism for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, will describe the foundation’s commitment to spend $300 million over five years to help strengthen journalism and research into news technology.

“Without revenue, you can’t pay reporters. Without reporters, you can’t develop consistently reliable news reports about what’s happening in your town. Without that reliable news report, you can’t figure out how to run local government. It isn’t rocket science,” Alberto Ibargüen, the Knight Foundation’s president said when the initiative was lauched.

“We’re not funding one-offs,” he added. “We’re helping to rebuild a local news ecosystem, reliable and sustainable, and we’re doing it in a way that anyone who cares can participate.”

Fraser Nelson, the vice president/business innovation for The Salt Lake Tribune, will describe the daily’s attempt to become recognized as a nonprofit. The Tribune submitted its bid to the IRS in late May, making a new case that the newspaper itself can be a nonprofit. Of the very few newspapers that have successfully achieved nonprofit status, they have relied on being owned by a nonprofit rather than claiming the status for the newspaper itself.

“This ability to give to seek and share information that’s difficult for residents to do on their own is a fundamental purpose of journalism and it is fundamental of a 501(c)(3),” Nelson told the Nieman Lab’s Christine Schmidt soon after the filing with the IRS. “We’re saying that’s what we’re doing already.”

Rounding out the panel on non-traditional funding will be John Hinds, the president and CEO of Canada’s largest newspaper association, News Media Canada. The Canadian federal government has created a $600 million program that includes money for a Local Journalism Initiative that News Media Canada is setting up. When active, he program will provide funding to employ as many as 100 journalists who will report for their host news organization, but also share their work with media outlets across Canada.

In addition to reports on these experiments, Joint Annual Meeting attendees can expect to see the practical information on blocking-and-tackling topics that are mainstays of Inland and SNPA gatherings.