Tue May 14, 2013
Courier-Journal Publisher Wesley Jackson on the Newspaper's Digital Present, Future
Wesley Jackson has been publisher of The Courier-Journal for 13 months.
In that time, several veteran newsroom staffers left with buyouts and the newspaper has launched a digital strategy paired with a move to paid subscriptions for a website that for years had been free.
Jackson spoke Tuesday night at a Society of Professional Journalists event to a small audience about The Courier-Journal's present and future, touching on matters ranging from its future as a seven-day-a-week print publication to the approach on the editorial pages.
The immediate takeaways are:
- He sees The Courier-Journal remaining a seven-day-a-week printed newspaper, unlike a handful of other metropolitan newspapers around the country, such as The Times-Picayune in New Orleans and The Birmingham (Ala.) News. "I think for the foreseeable future, yes," he said. He added, "They took a huge risk in New Orleans." He said that newspaper readership is higher in Louisville than in many cities, but he also noted the costs of not only printing a daily newspaper, but delivering it to doorsteps seven days a week.
- On the other hand, The Courier-Journal is producing more online videos daily than any news organization in the Louisville area, including the television stations.
- But, on the other other hand, Jackson conceded that newspaper haven't exactly figured out the best way to marry the various storytelling platforms (journalism jargon for "news stuff") into coherent packages. He said to look for more multimedia content, such an animation.
- Recall those "Give it to Me Local" ads The C-J had? It's more than a catchphrase. "What's at risk is not national journalism," he said. It's the local stuff that's burdened by the national decline in newspaper circulation, staff, profits, etc.
- Jackson said he's noted how many people—within and outside of 525 W. Broadway—still bring up The Courier-Journal's past owners, the Bingham family.
- He addressed recent attention given to the newspaper's editorial page once a longtime conservative columnist abruptly left after the spiking of a column criticizing the paper. The C-J, of course, has a long history of politically liberal editorials, and that's not changing. But Jackson said it's important to have a diversity of opinions. And he noted: "The opinion page is not designed to agree with you." Which, through the history of newspapers, is true.
- On a related note, Jackson was asked about the decline in the number of editorial writers to just two. He said the newspaper has been putting money into its product lately, though he didn't precisely say that that means more editorial writers in the future. He did say, however, that the Internet gives the newspaper more opportunities to put forth opinions.
- Louisville has a vibrant media scene, Jackson noted. But he touted the work his paper did on a handful of topics, including prescription drug abuse and fiscal issues at the Metropolitan Sewer District.
- He commended his news staff for the way they've handled those buyouts from 2012, noting their "passion." The question, asked from the audience, was about the journalists' morale. Jackson noted that the "passion" thing and also that The C-J newsroom is never really a peppy place. (I worked there five-plus years and can attest to both points.)
- Jackson compared the advertising environment now to when he sold ads in Lexington for radio and for the Herald-Leader. Back in the day, newspapers had advertisers lining up—getting those ads efficiently was the priority. That "monopolistic environment" is long gone. Later, Jackson said that The Courier-Journal has ways of selling digital marketing services that aren't really part of traditional display ads; search-engine optimization, stuff like that. He seemed very excited about these things.
The discussion was led by retired Associated Press journalist Ed Staats. As I noted before, the audience was small—14 or so. It included only a couple of C-J staffers, including Executive Editor Bennie Ivory.