What If Publishers Could Start From Scratch?

Most publishers don’t get the luxury of starting from scratch. Instead, their task is to modernize organizations built for the Industrial Age, not the Digital Age.

Digiday reached out to publishers with this question: If you could start from scratch, what would you do as a publisher?

Erik Requidan, director of emerging media, Washington Times
The big thing would be to invest in tech and content, then business. I would have fought harder to ensure the digital division received equal amount of resources vs. other. Also, investing in technology and development as much as offline. Helping content creators to understand the relationship between their quality of work and revenue is also important. I’d train edit to use social media earlier. Building out video earlier as part of the daily/ weekly content would also be on the list.

Jason Pontin, publisher and editor-in-chief, MIT Technology Review
The great question is: Would I want a print publication if I could start from scratch? And I suppose the answer, considered purely economically, is that I couldn’t afford to launch a print publication if I was starting from scratch. On the other hand, the print publication, now that the business has stabilized, brings in a tidy set of revenue streams in subscriptions, print advertising, and licensing fees, and it supports the online CPM, too. I’m glad we still have a printed publication, even though we’re digital first. If I could do anything differently, I now sort of wish I hadn’t reduced our print frequency to six time a year in 2005. At the time, I’d just been made the CEO of Technology Review, having previously been only its editor-in-chief, and I was trying to reduce the losses. But now I find a bi-monthly frequency a little hard to sell to advertisers.

Cindy Jeffers, CEO, Salon
Had the Web technologies and analytics of today existed when launching the first digital media platforms, we would focus on staying part of the conversation, core to Salon’s mission. We continue to build upon that mission today by using real-time analytics to stay with and respond to users’ needs across Salon.com, mobile platforms and social networks.

David Payne, chief digital officer, Gannett
Would start with a clearer consumer tradeoff for content. In the utopian world, users would either subscribe (directly or as part of a bundle from the ISPs) or trade their time for free content by watching or engaging with an ad. This simple change would create a materially different user experience with high value ads, less clutter and more sustainability.

Erin Pettigrew, executive director of business development, Gawker
Gawker Media’s founding in 2002 was a rethinking of traditional news reporting for the Web. We made media outsiders a new class of reporters by managing differently and sped up the publishing of thought to the page with blog software.

But after a decade of this, we’re overhauling assumptions in our early philosophy to start from scratch. We’re building a news platform explicitly for the Web rather than translating a legacy news model to it. (See jalopnik.com, which is already running on our platform, Kinja, today.) The thesis from here forward posits that everyone in our media ecosystem (reporter, reader, source, commenter) can be an author and everything (post, photo, comment, tip) can be content. And this democratically created content has the potential — if valuable to an audience — to instantly travel everywhere in our publishing ecosystem.

Our longstanding mission to free information remains the same, but authorship, ownership and delivery of that information are looking very different.

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