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Association Bisnow
December 18, 2007

Newspaper Association
Goes Digital!

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Lead, follow, or get out of the way.  Somebody important said that once—or maybe it was just our high school football coach.  In any case, the Newspaper Association of America has taken the lesson to heart.  Although it represents 1,100 of the nation’s 1,400 daily papers (plus thousands of weekly pubs) and serves as the industry’s public face—CEO John Sturm was prepping for an appearance on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer when we dropped by yesterday—the NAA is hardly in a complacent mood.  As newspapers make a difficult transition to the digital age, the NAA is getting ahead of the curve by undergoing a top-to-bottom strategic rethinking of its own role.

John was a lawyer at NBC and a lobbyist at CBS before heading up the NAA.  His wife Polly comes from the association world also; they met during John’s days at NBC, when Polly was in public affairs with the National Association of Broadcasters.

While John predicts that printed papers will be around for a long time yet, he says newspapers must increasingly think of themselves as digital “information providers.”  The year-long project to re-position the NAA in order to serve a changed industry began last April, with heavy involvement by John, current board Chairwoman Sue Clark-Johnson (President of Gannet’s newspaper division), and next year’s Chairman, Gary Pruitt (CEO of The McClatchy Co.).   

John’s daughter is a senior at the Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington, MD and his son a freshman at the University of Notre Dame (the ninth family member to attend Notre Dame going back to the 1930s—that has to be some kind of record).  That dog in the picture is the Sturm family’s soft-coated wheaten terrier, named after John’s Indiana home town of Jasper.

The 35-member Board already has identified three areas of focus for the new NAA:  assisting member newspapers with revenue generation, increasing their audience, and dealing with emerging technologies.  In order to determine specific direction for its revamped programming and services, the NAA used a consultant to conduct in-depth, on-line surveys of selected members.  (John says they were happy to oblige even though the surveys took hours to complete and involved multiple sessions.)  John also established a number of task forces at the staff level, lead by nine senior managers within the NAA.     

Every aspect of the association has been opening to rethinking in the new strategic plan, John says, including a name change.  (There has been little discussion on that last issue, he tells us.)  A final presentation will be made to the Board in January. This year, the NAA is holding both its trade show and convention in D.C. in conjunction with the American Society of Newspaper Editors, as it does every four years.  (ASNE deals with the editorial side of the business, as opposed to the NAA’s business focus.)  

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