March 27, 2015

littleCaroline LIttle will be leaving her job as president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America at the end of August, NAA announced this afternoon.

She will have been head of the industry trade association for just over four years when she departs.

Little is a lawyer and served as publisher/CEO of Washington Post/Newsweek Interactive and then as CEO of the Guardian’s North America operations before joining NAA in 2011. Her background as a digital executive figured in her being hired to succeed John Sturm who served 16 years and was a lawyer and experienced lobbyist.

I reached Little by phone, and asked what she expects to do next. “I don’t really have any future plans right now,” she replied, except moving to Sante Fe, “where I have a husband, a child and a dog — in that order.”

As industry’s revenues have fallen, NAA has sharply downsized.  Sturm was at one time paid north of $1 million and the association had more than 100 employees.  It’s current staff directory lists only 13 professionals (with five more being added), and Little confirmed one of her tasks was to outsource functions to save money.

During Little’s tenure the American Press Institute was merged with NAA’s own community foundation. Both had substantial endowments but outdated missions.  API, with a separate board, hired Tom Rosenstiel as its executive director, and he has changed API from a training organization to a research and think tank mission.

At the end of Sturm’s term and beginning of Little’s, NAA also collapsed three annual conferences to one, now called mediaXchange, whose most recent edition was held in Nashville earlier this month, and typically draws more than 1,000 attendees. (Disclosure:  I have worked on the last two conference programs as a paid consultant).

Little has been at times criticized  — for instance by David Boardman, Temple journalism school dean and former Poynter National Advisory Board chairman — for painting an overly rosy picture of the industry.

On balance, I think it’s a bad rap  — part of a trade association head’s job is to identify the positives and deflect excessive pessimism.

Little told a Harvard-based oral history project in 2013 that she and the NAA board stopped reporting quarterly revenue figures, as I had suspected, to avoid being beaten up so often by negative news.  Annual industry results are due in several weeks and will almost certainly show another loss in total revenues as big print advertising declines persist.

When I asked how the industry had evolved during her time, Little said, “as the revenue mix has changed, people are much more willing to experiment  — there is a lot more transformation than before.”

And will newspapers still be around in another four years?  “No doubt…The mix of circulation (shifting to digital) will continue to change.  But the core of what newspapers do is not going away.”

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Rick Edmonds is media business analyst for the Poynter Institute where he has done research and writing for the last fifteen years. His commentary on…
Rick Edmonds

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