September 7, 2016

Newspaper companies have pursued digital innovation and reinvention in feverish fashion this year, so it only makes sense for their trade association to reboot as well.

The New York Times reported Sunday that the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) has been rechristened the News Media Alliance. But the name change, CEO David Chavern told me in a phone interview Tuesday, is “in some ways the least of it.”

Rather it is umbrella for a package of modernization and upgrades as paper fades to a part of the business, but not the growing part.

Among the changes already here or coming soon:

  • The alliance will accept digital-only publications as members. The first two are the Independent Journal Review and Jim Brady’s Spirited Media, both of which had asked recently if they could join.
    Chavern said that he expects gradual growth on the digital side rather than a stampede. He said that his previous experience as the number two executive at the U.S. Chamber was that “it takes awhile for newer companies to decide about joining an established organization… But our agenda — dealing with ad blocking, fair use, and the First Amendment — ought to resonate with them.”

    While the requirement that member publishers produce a printed paper is gone, Chavern said, the alliance will only accept digital sites producing original journalism.

  • A redesigned website debuts today. Chavern conceded that the NAA site was slow to load, did not display well on smartphones and had limited capacity for displaying photos and video.
    The content will focus on innovation and exchanging ideas. Members will have access to a new tool with a variety of measures for benchmarking digital business progress, developed along with Mather Economics.

  • “We need to get back to the telling the story of the industry…” Chavern said, and that will “include talking about economics.” The alliance will reinstitute measures of industry-wide ad revenue and circulation/distribution, he added, though “a suite of metrics” that best reflects the current state of the business is still under development.
    The NAA discontinued its ad revenue and total revenue reports in 2013. Chavern’s predecessor, Caroline Little, said the association had been beating itself up with bad news with those statistics.

  • The alliance’s annual convention in New Orleans at the start of May 2017, will “be rebuilt from the ground up.” Details to follow, Chavern said, “but we hope to have a huge emphasis on innovation and ad tech…and get away from sitting six hours a day for big-room presentations.”

While not a part of the announcement, I asked Chavern about the current state of digital advertising and competition with Facebook and Google.

“It has been soft this year,” he said, “though it’s not clear how much of that is the economy…A number of our key categories — retail and groceries — are having a hard time themselves.”

As for Facebook and Google, while both suck up digital ad revenue growth, “they are different. My members don’t have trouble with Google as a discovery tool. Facebook delivers a ginormous audience, but we need to focus on the split of revenues. They should want to be sure that their suppliers (of news content) prosper.”

Chavern said that he will refer to the new organization as the “alliance” rather than the NMA. “To me, NMA stands for the miners association,” he said. The acronym also is used by a group of African-American doctors and a Taiwanese game company.

Confusion with miners, would be especially unfortunate. Chavern likes to say in speeches that publishers are “making something that people still really want — news and journalism. We’re not in the coal business.”

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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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