Saturday, February 28, 2009

Newpaper Industry Should Try Networking

I was once told by a reporter from a major city daily newspaper, "I don't need to build relationships with people in the business community. I work for [paper name withheld], which means that people need to kiss my butt.... NOT the other way around". (that is not the exact quote, but you get the idea).

This guy had a chip on his shoulder the size of Mars, and did not think he or his co-workers should stoop so low as to attend community business events unless they were chasing a story. Making friends was a waste of time, as he was "a reporter", and above the standard rules that impact the rest of the business world. is that working out for the industry? In the end, all businesses face the same issue of the need for profit. When cash is flowing in fast, they can rationalize all day long that they are under some other set of "rules", but when the money gets tight we all learn that business is business, regardless of industry.

With few exceptions, I do not know of major daily newspapers where the corporate culture actively encourages building and cultivating relationships in their business community. Yet, daily newspapers have a great advantage that they ignore.... they employ an army of professional people in a variety of roles. Thus, if they worked on establishing a philosophy that encouraged their reporters, editors, publisher, sales staff, and the executive office team to network and establish mutually beneficial relationships in the community -- I believe they would find more success.

(I do have to give kudos to some of the folks at my local daily newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, as Kirk Ladendorf, Lori Hawkins, Dan Zehr and Omar Gallaga (and others) do participate in the communities that they cover. But I do not see more of the team being aggressive in their looking to establish real connections in the business community (to be fair, they might be... and are just not at the events I attend. But I attend a lot of very good events full of local professionals and rarely see them!).

These reporters I mentioned above are not just meeting people for story ideas, but they have successfully established themselves as part of the ecosystem of this business community. The American-Statesman is also at the cutting edge with their online social media involvement. Their effort is being lead by Rob Quigley who is doing amazing things, including hosting their own "Tweet Ups" for local Twitter users).

I am sure every city has examples of reporters who actively network, and all show up from time to time -- but I am always hearing from people all over the country who cannot figure out how to even meet anyone at their local paper. This means that papers are not actively being visible. They are making it hard for anyone to become part of their network. Those that are seriously networking are the exception, not the rule.

Law Firms used to be the same way.... they avoided everything to do with marketing, branding, advertising, and networking. However, the smart firms realized that they could win more business if they were more visible at a street level in their community. Now most successful firms are active at all of these things (or try to be at some level). I think the newspaper industry could benefit by putting a human face on their brand, too.

Here are my suggestions for any daily newspaper who wants to try and see if having a networking culture would help their business. Try this for 6 months and then let me know if it worked:

1. Identify all of the business, civic, political, and networking groups in your city. This should be easy, as the best ones most likely list their events in your newspaper's print or online calendar. While you do not want to or need to participate in EVERY organization in the city, identify a large variety of groups that are attended by the influencers in your town.

2. Assign two people from your staff to each organization. Each person should have two or three different organization assigned to them. Now make attendance and participation in these organizations a priority. If two people from your organization attend each event, it will not take much time before the community starts to notice your participation. "Drop In" networking (just showing up at events on occasion) will not allow you to establish any real relationships. Meeting someone does not make them part of your network - It makes them someone you have met. It takes time to cultivate real bonds with other people.

3. Educate your team about the purpose of networking. Remember that networking is not just about helping the paper or others, it is about finding ways to bring value to the other people who are part of you network. While you cannot write about every person or company you meet (nor should anyone expect you too), you can bring value in other ways. If your people are good, they should have amazing contacts. Being a connector (one who helps people meet others in the community who could be useful contacts to each other) will make your individuals shine. If your networking purpose is selfish, you will fail.

4. Have a consistent message. Make sure that everyone, no matter their job title, is describing your company in the same manner. While sales and editorial have different goals and purposes, they should both be able to convey a message about why your paper is a valuable business in your community.

5. Regularly discuss the events your team has been attending, the quality of the programs at the events, and whom they are meeting. Champion those who are taking the networking program seriously and have talks with those who seem not to care. If you want to change the industry you need to have your people engaged. Those who are stuck in the "old ways" or who believe journalists (and anyone else who works for the paper) are exempt from the changing aspects business social networking (online and offline) should not be allowed to spoil the success of others.

6. Adopt an online social media strategy. Many newspapers are already doing this, and I see more and more reporters who have blogs, utilize Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc... These mediums are new, so there is no "best" strategy yet.... so be the ones who are trying out different methods. Do not just sit on the sidelines and wait for another paper to figure it out. If you are a follower you might just be the next daily to go out of business.

I have no idea if any editors, publishers, or sales managers from daily newspapers will read my advice. I do not work in their industry, thus many will dismiss my ideas without consideration. But I think I am right. Papers have large staffs, and if each person just showed up at two events a week they would suddenly be seen as heavily engaged in the community, as opposed to hiding in some ivory tower.

I do know that in this recession that most companies are very interested in the topic of "the power of business relationships and networking". I know this because they are buying my books and hiring me to speak to their teams. I cannot imagine that this message would be any less useful to a newspaper.

Have A Great Day.



Thom Singer said...

The below came by email from a journalist whom I know and respect. I think she is right with her points, but my post goes beyond JUST the journalists... there are others inside the newspaper organizations who should be more engaged in networking beyond just chasing down stories.

I think the reality lies in the middle of my post and her reply.


Hello! I read with great interest your recent blog post about the newspaper industry. I think you're right on a lot of fronts, but wanted to clarify a few points.

1. The guy you mention in your lede, I don't think, is representative of many journalists. A jerk is a jerk is a jerk. He just happened to be a journalist. I am appalled that anyone would say such a thing.

2. Any news organization that I have worked for does participate in community organizations. People from the "business" side always are strongly involved, and often help raise millions for local charities, and even establish foundations to help meet needs in their communities. They work closely with local businesses to do this. The "news" folks are discouraged from becoming personally involved with business organizations because -- and we have learned it the hard way -- people DO expect you to only write favorable things about them if you participate in their organization. They DO expect you to give them more news play over someone else because they know you. So, in order to be fair, news folks are discouraged from getting involved in organizations that might stop them from doing their job, which is writing and reporting fairly. That does not stop us from being nice to people who want to talk about the giant fish they just caught or the squash that looks like Lyndon Johnson, and insist it should be in the newspaper.

3. Journalists attend many, many community events. We're at the city council meeting, the sheriff's daily roll call, the school board meeting, the community group aiming to keep out gangs, the garden festival, the state fair, the BBQ festival, the historical society gala, the airport planning board. The list is endless. No journalist I know spends hardly any time in the newsroom. We're out covering events and chasing down stories. To suggest we sit in ivory towers is a bit of a stretch. Just because we're not at Rotary or Jaycees doesn't mean we don't care. It means the community depends on us to cover the zoning board meeting or the county commissioner's session and yes, to take time to talk about their award-winning squash.

4. Journalists are master networkers. Where do you think we get all those great stories that bring down crooked presidents and expose Wall Street and help chase down ledes that the cops won't touch? It's because we spend years networking with people in the community and the business world who come to trust us. Maybe we don't talk about who we're connected with, but there's a reason for it. It's because they ask us not to talk about it, and we have to honor the commitment we make to them. This, to me, is not being a selfish networker.

5. I agree that journalists were slow to catch on to social media. But you have to remember that the corporations who own much of journalism these days were the ones who concentrated on profits, instead of some forward-thinking ideas, such as social media. You have no idea of the pressures put on journalists from these corporations to produce a product a certain way.

I hope I don't sound defensive. OK, I probably do! :) But I think you know me well enough to know how highly I regard your ideas, but I think it's hard for anyone who has not been in the journalism trenches to really understand why and how we operate. We didn't come up with these ideas because we want to be standoffish, or are arrogant (despite the jerk you mention). We follow these practices because most of us are truly committed to the ideals that made us become journalists -- that of a fair and impartial press.

As always, I think you write great stuff and hope you'll keep up the good work. Discussion of these topics is good for all of us.

[name kept private]

Eugene Sepulveda said...

From the publisher, including the editor (my friend Fred Zipp) and many of the section editors (think Kathy Warbelow, Michael Barnes (formerly arts & entertainment editor)), they do establish substantial roots in our community. I think AAS does a great job at this.

Anyone interested in plight of newspaper business has to see John Thornton's blog, Insomniactive at