Future of News: “Innovation and telling stories in your own voice”

Future of Media

Lee Abrams, chief Innovation officer, Tribune Company,
Ron Kaye, former managing Ed., Los Angeles Daily News
(center) and Erza Palmer, Westwood One.

By George McQuade

“Tribune reaches 31 percent of all people 40 years and older,” Senior V.P. and Chief Innovation Officer Lee Abrams, Tribune Company told about three dozen mostly journalists at the LA Press Club sponsored “The Future of News,” media workshop held recently (11-13-08) at the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood.

“Forget anyone under 40, that’s 69 percent market.” Abrams joined, former Managing Editor Ron Kaye, Los Angeles Daily News and Moderator Ezra Palmer, vice president of Product Development, Westwood One.

“After attending a fundraiser for Autism last night with lots of celebrities in Hollywood, I had this fantasy that this is what journalism is going to come to,” said Palmer. “That we would gather together to raise money for the news and wear bracelets that said ‘let’s do the news’ and maybe we would have walkathons and telethons, who knows. Is the news still a business or is it something that is going to turn into a public trust?” he asked the panel.

“I’m not so sure that the answer is that simple for radio, Television newspaper, but I will tell you the business model is broken,” said Ron Kaye, who now writes his own blog RonKayLA.com, and plans to start a “Green Sheet” and nonprofit over the next few weeks.

“The news business model and form are broken in the face of the most democratic revolution in human history, which is the Internet. It’s where anyone can speak, and we starting to see products develop. I have a friend who writes for OPED News, and he has never written a thing in his life, but has always been passionate, and I think his ideas are crazy as I have ever heard. He gets a tremendous number hits on OpEdNews.com.”

Additionally, Kaye said, “There is an audience for people’s voices, anybody’s voice that can draw a crowd, its democratic and its free.”

Kaye is planning to launch a “Green Sheet” of half metropolitan and half local stories from the San Fernando Valley, which has about two-million plus residents. “I think allowing anyone to talk, post stories or create a public conversation, where everyone participates would make a good nonprofit format, and I hope to pull it off,” he said. “I’m told there are two dozen large newspapers that are up for sale, and given the current climate they are not worth the land they own. It is like saying the only LA Times asset is Times Mirror Square.”

The newspapers are not selling at the cost structure they are at all panelist noted. “Since I was fired back in April, because I had reached the limit of who I could cut and still produce a paper, 15 of the best people at the paper (Los Angeles Daily News) have quit, and everyone one of them tell me they are happier, working harder, faster and learning more in a more creative environment.”

“When I first came to the paper (Los Angeles Times) I said, “The news/information is the ‘new rock and roll of news’, which means news is vibrant and alive like rock and roll of 1955 impact on culture. It is an exciting place to be, where it is the Internet, newspaper, TV or radio,” said Lee Abrams, who worked at XM Satellite Radio before joining LAT.

Abrams noted that each newspaper, including the Los Angeles Times are going through individual designs, describing phases that involved the whole newspaper staff, who now feel liberated.

“I got all the departments involved, people who had a lot of repressed feelings. Some said, ‘some of our stories are boring,’ so we liberated them in three phases: fear, acceptance then excitement,” he said. “They came to term with the war out there. We are not cheapening ourselves, just claiming our turf. The whole process involved myth busting,” explained Abrams.

Abrams described the evolution of newspapers and the mass media as a “magical time to be involved in the changes and once everyone gets past the challenges of friction a year from now, people are going to say the Los Angeles Times is a pretty hot newspaper. We need to take advantage of the times, and not get so mired in tradition, myths and old ways of dong things.”

The presidential campaign was a wakeup call for the media, too! “A lot of newspapers were under the radar during the whole Obama thing,” said Abrams. “While everyone was worried about the layouts and where they were going to be five years from now, all of a sudden thousands of people were lining up outside the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times for copies of it (Election Day edition). The papers started rethinking and replaying the elections of the past. The Chicago Tribune actually wrote an article on how to preserve a newspaper,” said Abrams.

Standby, Abrams said he feels local television news around the country is “kind of goofy, all have the certain feel and look of revenue machines. Tribune owns KTLA-TV, which has seen ratings drop along with other broadcast outlets. Abram plans to visit KTLA next. The panel contends that editors and reporters need to write more in their own voice and do a better job in telling stories that are useful and not boring.

“I wished the times could look like the Sunday edition 365 days a year, and we need more entertainment stories in a section of their own, like stocks,” said Abrams.

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