Warren Buffett: What Newspapers Need to Do to Survive

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If there’s one thing Warren Buffett knows, it’s how to earn the most money in the smartest way. Buffett, the “Oracle of Omaha,” understands that the newspaper industry isn’t dead. It would be wise for publishers to listen to what he’s got to say.

Inland Press reports that in Buffett’s annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, he successfully explains why he believes in the newspaper industry and how publishers everywhere can turn their profits and readership around.

The Best Results Come From Assembling the Best Team

You need an experienced, dedicated team that cares about the quality and integrity of the newspaper and about good journalism in general. Buffett says great editors are the driving force behind why the six small dailies and two big-city dailies his group owns experienced either unchanged revenues or a 3% loss, a far cry from the revenue losses experienced by newspapers across the board in 2012.

SEE ALSO: What Buffett Thinks of the Future of Newspapers

Passion does matter, and the proof is in the revenue trends that some newspapers show. When those dedicated editors gather a team that cares, the community cares right back and shows it in readership.

If You Don’t Value Your Content, Neither Will Anyone Else

Life certainly hasn’t become duller than two generations ago, and newspapers don’t have to be. They shouldn’t be. What’s missing in some areas is the connection — the living thread between newspaper and reader.

Every community has news and values. It’s the job of the newspaper to dig into the community, learn what’s important, and produce relevant copy that informs and engages its readers. As Buffet mentions, “Indeed, skimpy news coverage will almost certainly lead to skimpy readership.”

The paper can settle for ho-hum, boring copy and watch readership fall off, or it can create vibrant material that leaps off the page. It’s a choice.

The Internet is railed or hailed, depending on who is talking, for the demise of traditional newspapers. News is available for free, but which news? No one can produce the copy that your team can, and you have a choice about whether you’re paid for it.

RELATED: Why the World’s Richest Men Invest in Newspapers

Buffet’s BH Media newspapers will have paywalls, although he didn’t go into a lot of detail about them. Yours can too. Maybe readers can access a few articles at the newspaper’s website for free, but need a subscription for full access. Because your team knows the community, they also know what’s reasonable.

Slow Down on Circulation, and You’ll Become Less Relevant

Short-term gains come from cutting back circulation, but that’s counterintuitive, says Buffett. “The less-than-daily publication that is now being tried in some large towns or cities—while it may improve profits in the short term—seems certain to diminish the papers’ relevance over time.”

This is similar to the need for meaty copy. When the newspaper gives its readers less, readers learn to expect it. But that doesn’t mean they want less.

The newspaper business isn’t a lot different from life in general. We teach others what we’re worth. When a newspaper teaches its readers that it’s not as valuable or relevant as bigger papers or the Internet, that’s exactly what they’re going to believe.

The upside is that your team has a choice.

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15 Thoughts on “Warren Buffett: What Newspapers Need to Do to Survive

  1. Pingback: Warren Buffett Advice to Newspapers : What They Need to Do to SurviveTrending On India

  2. I agree with Mr. Buffett’s advice as it relates to content and readership. But there is a larger issue that needs to be addressed on the Ad Sales side of the business.

    In our experience as a sales consultants for newspapers, we have have found that the Ad Sales organization is a transactional sales group. They are selling ads rather than selling marketing campaigns that include ads.

    Newspaper Ad Sales organizations need to make the transition to consultative selling. Understanding a customer’s growth objectives and marketing plan will lead to the development and delivery of a comprehensive set of campaigns that includes every product the newspaper/media company has to offer.

    The commitment to content is imperative. But converting the Ad Sales group is equally as important if revenue is going to move from a decline to growth.

    • I agree. Publishers need to understand this and allow their sales leaders to be very flexible in ad sales approach programs.

  3. Oleksandr Solodilov on November 4, 2014 at 4:34 pm said:

    Warren Buffett: What Newspapers Need to Do to Survive?
    Remove the blind and deaf. Remove dead, but still alive. Remove satiated. Leave only the hungry and thirsty.

  4. Dave Thielen on November 9, 2014 at 10:27 am said:

    I’ve been saying the same thing since I started my own newspaper back in 1992. Advertising may pay for the newspaper, but it’s editorial that sells it.

  5. Joseph metrovich on November 9, 2014 at 4:56 pm said:

    co op advertising???????????? I am in the automotive aftermarket co op advertising???????

  6. I’ve worked @ 1 newspaper for over 22 years and have seen in those years bad Management ruin a great newspaper!! This management is still in place today and the paper still goes down hill. its a shame that even after being told of problems owners still use the same BAD management year after year. Ive seen advertise departments call a company to advertise, STOP Get off yer butts and go see these Businesses and sell because its not that hard. Ive seen it and done it myself. Just Saying.

  7. David Roberson on January 23, 2015 at 7:57 pm said:

    look, I believe in the paper. What I think we aren’t considering is that media buyers have moved on. They want digital at the bleeding edge, or dirt cheap. They don’t care about programs now, they’ve gone programmatic!

  8. As a media professional and publisher for 30 years U have always tried to follow Buffet’s advice. Have a conversation with your readers, don’t lecture them. It’s what they think is important, not your editors and reporters. Crime, taxes, human interest stories, health. It’s a winning formula and BTW don’t be afraid to be controversial.

  9. Bharti Jayshankar on January 25, 2015 at 2:08 am said:

    News will never be redundant, it is the way it is packaged that keeps on changing. But as in any industry there are certain constants, the bulwarks of the organisation and as Buffett rightly put it is the team handling the show,
    A great editorial team, which is clear in its direction. The changing media has led to writers and editors just skimming the surface and not giving quality content.

    instead of just making do with barely there talent, actually the new media needs better qualified people with in-depth knowledge of their subject and the ability to write and edit.

    If you do not respect your own content, the reader is also going to be dismissive.

    • lakshman on March 2, 2015 at 8:49 pm said:

      Try and explain need for experience to some new media owners/bosses. the accent is on young and youthful energy. not saying for a minute youth means disaster , but in a profession that is so demanding on writing, experience does count – in translating good ideas into readable final copies. but, most news organisations across the globe are perhaps ejecting the aged and the experienced.

  10. I worked for newspapers about 14 years. What I noticed was that publishers live like kings, advertising is favored, there are a lot of prima donnas and editorial just needs to be grateful they have that $6.50/hr job (that was my introductory wage in 1998) where they are required to cover day and night, mostly laying down their own lives. I was happy to do this at first and loved my community and telling their stories. Eventually though, one needs to be paid a livable wage and shown appreciation by the corporation. When there’s no chance of that happening, it wears on the editorial staff and their efforts. Working for newspapers was one of the most rewarding and disappointing experiences of my life. If editorial is what sells the paper, the editorial staff needs to be compensated in a like manner.

  11. Yousif Al-Dujaili on September 11, 2015 at 9:02 am said:

    Completely agree with Buffet’s call for focus on quality content, but think more emphasis should be put on embracing digital and social media – free, fast and relevant information is key

    I’ve explored these issues in my blog post..


  12. Pingback: The Death of The Newspaper- Is a Bit Off | Sunday Morning Music Etc.

  13. Pingback: The Death of The Newspaper- Is A Bit Off – Eagle Strategies Class Blog

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