By Jeff Rowe
A rolling recap of the 2017 CNPA Press Summit, held May 18-20 in Santa Monica:
Journalism in the Trump Era — Nicholas Goldberg, Los Angeles Times editorial page editor; Brian Calle, opinion editor, Southern California New Group — Goldberg’s and Calle’s pages typically are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but the two agreed on the need for more explanatory journalism and for people to be open to other viewpoints.
And both editors acknowledged that readers often are confused about opinion pieces, especially online and despite labeling such pieces in the headline. Perhaps that is because fact and opinion are stirred together on many online news sites, they said.
Calle said he believed that much campaign coverage of Trump was advocacy journalism; Goldberg conceded “we covered him like a joke.” Now, he said, journalists need to cover Trump “fairly but toughly.”
Figuring Out Millennials — Alec Levenson, Senior Research Scientist, Center for Effective Organizations. USC Marshall School of Business; Austin Dave, chief multimedia journalist, senior news producer and digital chief, Santa Clarita Valley Signal; Christina Campodonica, arts and entertainment reporter, the Argonaut –
Growing up in the Great Recession and burdened by student debt, millennials do see the world differently, but as the panel pointed out, maybe not as much as we have believed.
Yes, we text a lot, but we like our down time and turn off our phones, said Dave.
Levenson said research shows 90 percent of all generations want important conversations to be face to face. And everyone wants to feel that they are part of a work community.
Levenson noted that the big difference in millennials’ perceived lack of loyalty to an employer is more a factor of economics than sociology. In times past, he said, the career trajectory equation worked like this: Overworked and underpaid in early career, overpaid to compensate for that later in career. But as companies increasingly began to trim those older workers and their higher salaries, millennials realized the old career trajectory was gone and they had to be attuned to better opportunities elsewhere. The result is millennials have to think of themselves as a one-person company, Campodonica said, alert to changes in the marketplace and their workplace.
Still, all agreed millennials are absorbed, committed and passionate about causes and their work and will stay with an organization as long as they think they are making a difference.
Surviving and Thriving — Gabriel Kahn, director of the Future of Journalism Program and professor of Professional Practice of Journalism at the Annenberg Innovation Lab, USC and a former reporter and bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal — We’re all absorbing news at tremendous velocity, Kahn said.
Moreover, Kahn was pessimistic about local newspapers’ abilities to get digital ads when “Facebook and Google are taking 85 percent of digital advertising.” And these two giants “always will be able to out-spend and out-tech you.”
Moreover, Kahn said “selling squares and rectangles next to content is not viable.” Kahn questioned whether generating page views ought to be newspapers’ core business anyway.
Reader revenue is the future, Kahn said, noting that calling readers “subscribers” under-values them. Call them “members,” Kahn advised, saying that term connotes a mindset while “subscriber” references a pricing strategy.
Look for authentic connections to members, Kahn said, and give them something they cannot get elsewhere. “Chasing clicks and Facebook likes has taken the focus off serving and doesn’t necessarily translate into a meaningful business relationship with members.”
And other businesses have figured out how to connect with individual customers, Kahn said, citing Starbucks’ ability to determine which of its customers are price sensitive and which are less so.
Kahn pays $10 a month to a Los Angeles’ public radio station and says the extras he gets for membership are well worth it. And, he noted, membership allows us to segment our audiences.
Other tips from Kahn:
- Newspapers should think of themselves as more than providers of news. Create, for example, a speaker series.
- Look beyond the news business to figure out how to connect. He cited Netflix and Spotify as examples of services that resonate with millennials.
- Millennials crave supporting something that looks out for them
Great Ideas Roundtable –
- Local calendars. The Coronado Eagle & Journal sold out a year ahead when it launched these.
- Business and visitor guides. Translate visitor guides into the languages of frequent visitors
- Best-of guides — restaurants, schools, parks, health, veterans
- Contract with cities and chambers of commerce to print guides for them
- Visitor maps with ads on the back side
- Pet photo contest tied to the local Humane Society
- Forum for realtors
- Shop Local campaigns — partner with the city and chamber
- Sell framed copies of articles and pictures
- For breast cancer awareness month, sponsor a 5-K run. Sell a wrap to pages of related stories and pictures.
- Scavenger hunt, bingo, historical locations contest
Digital Services — Erik Cushman, publisher, Monterey County Weekly; Daryl Hively, founder/CEO, Guarantee Digital; Tom Zahiralis, VP sales and marketing, Embarcadero Media –
Cushman said “opportunities and dollars are out there” even if Google and Facebook command most of the digital growth. He recommended building deep relationships with customers. Last year, he said, his company published its biggest “best-of” in 28 years.
Guarantee Digital helps publishes manage Facebook, target and find new customers and helps merchants to be found. Guarantee also helps clients with newsletters and blogs.
Zahiralis suggested identifying one sales rep who understands digital and using that person to help build relationships with clients and advertisers. “The most difficult part is moving the client forward,” he said.
Do the research and identify prospects, said moderator Simon Grieve, publisher of the Grunion Gazette in Long Beach.
Beware of digital fraud, the panel agreed, and know that 60 percent of digital traffic now is mobile.
Growing Your Audience — Annika Toernqvist, digital director, Sonoma Media Investments; Samantha Bush, social media director, Southern California News Group; Greg Robinson, Brentwood Press & Publishing Co. –
Video and pictures are paramount, Toernqvist said, relating her campaign to re-educate print photographers to bring back not three pictures of an event, but 20. People love looking at pictures of themselves, their family, their friends, houses and food, she said. And the pictures need not be dramatic or exciting, she noted, recalling that 69,000 people clicked on pictures of thunderstorm clouds between Napa Valley and Yountville. Viewers will watch cows in a field, she said, launching a video of cows standing in a field as storm clouds approached. No one in the audience moved.
Newsletters also are “really working” for Sonoma, she said.
Bush said social networking referrals comprise 25-40 percent of news traffic and that the digital audience has different interests and expectations than traditional print readers. For example, the digital audience typically prefers a bullet-point version of a news story rather than a traditional narrative, she said.
Know your audience, she advocated, recommending Chartbeat, Google Analytics and Parse.ly.
Seventy percent of Brentwood Press online users come via mobile, said Robinson, whose paper also uses Facebook and Instagram. Video is a huge part of making a site successful, he said, but whatever the medium of the news it remains paramount to be accurate rather than first.
Robinson said the ease of putting video on Facebook has, in effect, given publishers their own little television station.
All About Drones — Peter Weinberger, publisher and owner, Claremont Courier — Weinberger jazzed the audience when he flew his drone in the meeting room across the stage and over his head to a perfect landing in his right hand. Weinberger estimates he has made about 1,000 drone flights, and his demonstration video was cinematic.
His advice, though, was practical.
Check local ordinances regarding drone use and invest in a reliable machine with a good camera. Drones for news use can cost up to $6,000, he said, but an adequate aircraft can be purchased for $1,000 to $2,000.
Also, he said, be prepared to buy replacement drones. He already has lost three.
However, the investments are worth it, Weinberger said. Aerial video has increased his website traffic ten-fold. He cautioned though that maintaining that traffic means fresh video constantly has to be posted.
Doing Local on the Web — Norberto Santana Jr., publisher, Voice of OC; Christina Shih, director of Outreach and Special Projects, Voice of San Diego — Both sites focus on government and other elements of civic life.
Voice of OC also invites discussions by posting essays by various interest groups, which triggers submissions of other views. VOC’s core mission is “civic accountability,” Santana says, and promoting informed discussion. If that discussion is vigorous, even better. “We set up a fist fight, a bar fight,” every day,” Santana said. Shih is equally aggressive. “I raise money while our reporters raise hell,” she said.
VOC and VSD also have this in common: A constant quest for diverse financial support. Both sites vigorously seek a variety of sources and donors at various levels.
How to cover a donor in the news? “We never give anyone a free pass,” said Santana. VSD posts its donor list and has “walked away,” Shih said, from a potential donor that VSD feared wanted to influence coverage.
VSD has about 10 reporters; VOC about half as many.
VOC’s donations are up 117 percent over last year, Santana said; VSD says it strives to “build relationships” and now counts 2,700 supporters who give from $35 to $5,000 per year. Both organizations reach out to their supporters with membership extras such as newsletters and forums.
VOC also has forged a relationship with old media. “We’re essentially the L.A. Times’ Orange County bureau,” Santana said.
Leon Panetta, chairman, The Panetta Institute for Public Policy, former secretary of Defense, former CIA director, member of Congress, chief of staff in Clinton Administration, director of the Office of Management and Budget — No president has been able to stop the search for the truth, Panetta said, reassuring publishers that more than ever, a “careful presentation of the news” is critical to democracy.
In a wide-ranging discussion of the current presidency, Panetta said:
- It was a terrible, terrible mistake for President Trump to disclose classified information to the Russians. It endangers our security.
- Robert Mueller is the best choice to lead the investigation into Trump’s dealings with Russia. Given “all that has happened,” some prosecutions can be expected.
- Domestically, the White House has too many centers of power — people with opinions but without responsibilities. It’s a terrible way to run the White House.
- We’re not going to be able to deal with the deficits we have today without putting everything on the table for discussion. That will take real leadership (and) we don’t have that now.
- If we (continue to) operate as a country in crisis, we will be a country in decline.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal is to restore the old Soviet Union. We should tell him he cannot move into former Soviet states. If he knows where the lines are, we can deal with him.
- Absent a sense of teamwork among the White House staff, it’s a sieve (of leaked info). It’s chaos.
- The press is going to face a lot more pressure to remain fair and stick to facts. The key is for the press to be as responsible as possible.
- If we want to protect democracy, we have to protect a free press.
Legalization of Cannabis — Brooke Edwards Staggs, Orange County Register, TheCannifornian.com; Jeff vonKaenel, president and CEO, Chico Community Publishing Co. — By all accounts, the medicinal and recreational marijuana industry is set to boom in California next year when licenses are issued.
“It’s an exciting time to be in the marijuana business,” said Aaron Herzburg, partner at CalCann Holdings Inc., a California medical marijuana real estate company with a portfolio of licensed medical marijuana businesses and properties in California.
It’s also a potentially profitable time.
“I’m not sure if marijuana reduces stress,” says vonKaenel. “But the ads have reduced mine.” He publishes the Sacramento News & Review and says 40 percent of the company’s revenue comes from marijuana advertising. Other papers refuse marijuana advertising, but vonKaenel says it was a First Amendment decision for him.
At the Orange County Register, reporter Brooke Edwards Staggs has become perhaps the nation’s most authoritative reporter on marijuana. She says she recognized marijuana was going to be a big issue years ago and seized the opportunity to cover it. And Los Angeles already is the largest medical marijuana market in the world.
10-Minute Success Stories –
- E-edition growth at the Petaluma Argus-Courier has been 20 percent year over year. Half of the E-edition readers have signed up to receive a text when a fresh edition is ready for viewing.
- The Santa Rosa Press Democrat offers a two-in-one application that gives viewers the E (replica) edition and live news. Time spent on the E edition is 15-20 minutes, twice that of the website.
Take-Down Requests — Duffy Carolan, partner, Jassy Vick Carolan; Bill Johnson, CEO, Embarcadero Media — In the electronic age, information lives forever, as people increasingly are finding out when potential employers vacuum up references to arrests or other damaging info. More and more people who realize they are indelibly marked are petitioning news organizations to delete references to, for example, a drunken-driving arrest during their college years.
Previously, publishers typically rebuffed requests to scrub a name from any story archive, but Johnson says he and other publishers are becoming more sympathetic to the plight of people haunted forever by a previous minor indiscretion or an overzealous district attorney who, for example, pastes an attempted murder charge on someone only to reduce the charge later to misdemeanor assault.
Johnson says he has come to agree with what some European countries now consider “a person’s right to be forgotten,” and he now weighs the integrity of the news archives against the continuing harm that a news reference can cause for someone.
As might be expected, removing a name or an article in a news archive isn’t as simple as electronically zapping a few words or a whole story. Carolan wondered if such modifications constitute re-publication and a restart of the statute of limitations. And, she said, the law isn’t clear on what constitutes re-publication.
Moreover, even if a news organization takes down a story from its archives, it may not disappear from Google references, and that search company is “very difficult to work with,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s advice to news organizations: Omit unnecessary names from stories. For example, Johnson said he cut out an athlete’s reference to earlier depression and suicidal thoughts, knowing that potential employers years from now might find that.
Strengthening the Public Records Act and Emails and the Public Records Act — Jeffrey Glasser, vice president and senior counsel, Los Angeles Times; Jean-Paul Jassy, partner, Jassy Vick Carolan LLP; Nikki Moore, legal counsel, CNPA; David Snyder, executive director, First Amendment Coalition — Delays, inflated costs, missing records: Filing a public records request can be a frustrating pursuit, panelists agreed. Moreover, a reporter’s recourse is limited, and once lawyers get involved, costs can escalate into six figures.
Some relief may come in proposed legislation that would impose penalties on agencies that delay release of records or impose unreasonable fees. Even if the bill passes, it is unclear what the enforcement mechanism might be.
Jassy’s suggestion to reporters requesting records: Be persistent.
CALmatters — David Lesher, co-founder and CEO, CALmatters — Some 90 news organizations get CALmatters stories, says Lesher, a former Los Angeles Times Sacramento reporter. His staff of 12 focuses on state politics, fiscal issues, environmental affairs, education, and health and welfare.
Lesher said CALmatters partners with news organizations such as KPCC Radio on projects such as President Trump’s relationship with California and the state’s public pension debt.
CALmatters budget rose to $2.2 million this year from $1.7 million last year. Funding comes from 90 different entities, all of whom agree they will have no say in CALmatters’ coverage.
Winning the Pulitzer — Rob Kuznia, former reporter, the Daily Breeze; Toni Sciacqua, managing editor, digital, Southern California News Group — Kuznia had left the Breeze for a job in academia when he got a call from his former city editor, Frank Suraci, screaming that Kuznia and the paper had won print journalism’s highest honor.
They had thoroughly covered a relatively low-income school district whose superintendent’s pay raises eventually bumped his annual salary to $663,000. The district was one of 13 that Kuznia covered for The Breeze.
Sciacqua said the coverage that led to the superintendent’s removal and the Pulitzer Prize “bubbled up” from routine coverage. That coverage, though, included posting corroborating documents such as W-2 forms online with the paper’s reporting of the district.
“These types of stories are everywhere,” Sciacqua said.
Tani Cantil-Sakauye, chief justice, California Supreme Court — Cantil-Sakauye said California courts have become centers for social services and people unable to afford lawyers representing themselves on issues involving education, alcoholism and other social problems.
Cantil-Sakauye said courts are underfunded and overwhelmed with the scope of their work and trying to stitch it all together with an inadequate computer system.
And she sees the writ of courts’ responsibilities extending beyond the gavel. For example, she said, studies have clearly shown that if children cannot read by the second or third grade, they have a high probability of eventually going to prison.
And it’s not just young children who need help, she said. “We need adult civics lessons,” she said, and a vigorous news media that can “teach critical thinking, ask questions about facts (and) help people determine fake news from real news.”
Summit correspondent Jeff Rowe is a Long Beach-based reporter, editor, educator and entrepreneur.