Newspaper Trade Group Aims for Uplift in Ad Dollars

Newspaper publishers have been hard-pressed to convince readers and advertisers that their products are still relevant. The latest industry effort officially launched yesterday. The Newspaper Project is a group of newspaper execs dedicated to ensuring a future for newspapers, and putting on a happy face for the industry.

“More people will read a newspaper today than watched Sunday’s big game,” declare ads from the organization, which call newspapers “a tremendous scoring opportunity.” More than 300 newspaper sites are carrying the ad, according to the organization.

newspaperprojectad.jpg“They’re using the same arguments they’ve used in the past,” said Ken Doctor, newspaper industry pundit and lead news analyst at media market research firm Outsell. He believes the newspaper industry shouldn’t be focusing on its ability to reach many consumers because the time they spend with newspaper media might not warrant much more of advertiser budgets than they already receive. Although time spent by individual users on newspaper Web sites has grown over the years, it remains below one hour each month according to Nielsen Online.

The group plans to broaden its digital marketing efforts in the next few weeks, noted Parade’s Siegel. “We are looking at a wide range of options as we move forward.”

The group is not intended to be a member organization. Those leading the project include top execs at several paper firms, including Randy Siegel, president and publisher of Parade Publications; Donna Barrett, president and CEO of Community Newspaper Holdings; Brian Tierney, CEO and publisher of Philadelphia Media Holdings; and former Cox Newspapers President Jay Smith.

According to Siegel, Parade — publisher of the magazine supplement of the same name that’s distributed in hundreds of Sunday editions — has provided “a five-figure donation” as seed funding for the project. The money came out of Parade’s marketing budget.

“Basically, we want to do something to promote a more balanced discussion about the newspaper industry and provide a more productive online forum for newspaper executives and consumers to share ideas and best practices,” Siegel told ClickZ News.

In addition to serving as a forum for sharing ideas, the group aims to counteract what it sees as overly negative coverage of the newspaper industry. “Unlike Web sites that feature negative, gloom-and-doom stories about newspapers, this Web site will be devoted to insightful articles, commentary and research that provide a more balanced perspective on what newspaper companies can do to survive and thrive in the years ahead,” notes the group’s site.

“They’re blaming the messenger, which is them,” suggested Doctor. “It’s just tremendously ironic.” Doctor believes a portion of advertiser dollars lost to the recession may never return to newspapers. “It’s pretty accurate reporting that newspapers are losing their central place in their communities,” he said.

The Newspaper Project isn’t the first industry group to launch an ad campaign to promote newspapers and their Web sites. The Newspaper Association of America has run online ads in an effort to show that newspaper media is relevant today and will be in the years ahead. Community Newspaper Holdings’s Barrett and Philadelphia Media Holdings’s Tierney are NAA members, though there is no affiliation between the two organizations.

The NAA declined to comment on The Newspaper Project when asked by ClickZ.

Siegel is not concerned about duplicating the NAA’s efforts to promote newspaper readership and advertising. “We believe that what we are doing will only enhance the efforts of the NAA and every other group that’s interested in promoting a more balanced discussion of the evolution of newspapers,” he noted.

“I don’t see it as a conflict,” affirmed Doctor. “There’s just a chorus of voices that you hear now�¢ï¿½�¦. People are finally declaring a press emergency.”

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