‘Newspaper’ is not a dirty word
Remarks by Ifra CEO Reiner Mittelbach on the occasion of the annual Ifra press conference at the opening of IfraExpo 2006:
“Every so often, Ifra re-examines itself – its strengths and where it could be stronger, where it faces competition, and where it has opportunities to grow.
This is a normal process for any successful organisation such as we are. A healthy process. And an absolutely necessary process, especially since Ifra carries so much responsibility within the news publishing industry.
Our members – now more than 3000 in nearly 80 countries, including just about all of the world’s major media houses and most of our industry’s significant technology vendors – rely heavily on us to keep them well informed, well trained and well oriented. So when we undertake these periodic self-evaluations, we must be willing to look at ourselves with clear and unbiased eyes, to be sure we are serving those members and this entire industry as best we can, both now and in the future.
In recent years, there has been one particularly interesting debate that has occurred again and again during these appraisals. It centres simply on the word ‘newspaper.’ And it drives directly to the core of who we are.
Many people look at today’s news and advertising marketplace, with its explosion of digital and mobile media, and tell you that the newspaper is a dinosaur rapidly heading for extinction.
There are many even within our own industry who cringe at having their companies associated primarily with printing and paper. They consider ‘newspaper’ to be a dirty word, denoting something old and static, with little relevance to the future. That might be where they still get the bulk of their income, but it is not how they want people to think about them.
As a consequence of this attitude, when Ifra periodically reviews its mission statement or refreshes its corporate identity, it is invariably suggested that we stop characterising ourselves as an association of and for newspapers. Instead, someone will suggest that we identify ourselves more generally with ‘media,’ or perhaps with news media, or at most with publishing in a generic sense.
But certainly, they will say, we should leave out any explicit reference to ‘paper,’ as in ‘newspaper,’ so that Ifra itself is not thought of as old, static and with little relevance to the future.
I can promise you that Ifra listens to and evaluates all these arguments every time they are raised. As I said earlier, it is vital that we be able to look at our industry and at ourselves with clear and unbiased eyes.
However, I have to tell you that anyone who focuses only on the word ‘paper’ in talking about a newspaper is hardly thinking clearly, either about the medium as it operates today or about how vital newspaper companies are for the future of everything we call new media, including both online and mobile.
In the same way, anyone who thinks either that Ifra would walk away from print and printing, or that this organisation is not enormously involved in the future of how people around the globe will get their news, information and advertising – well, anyone who thinks that is seriously underestimating the shrewd business skills and the commitment to excellence represented on the Ifra Board and around the board tables at Ifra-member companies worldwide.
I am here today to tell you absolutely that, as far as Ifra is concerned, ‘newspaper’ is not a dirty word.
Newspapers are in fact the proud legacy of now more than 400 years of civilisation’s development of its essential communications skills.
And newspapers are in fact the core provider of the news and information we will be communicating tomorrow and throughout the foreseeable future over both print and digital media.
And Ifra is in fact, and without apologies, the research-based global association of newspapers dedicated to the future of print and digital publishing.
Ifra is print. Ifra is digital. Ifra is the future. Ifra is research. Let me expand on that briefly:
Ifra is print.
Ifra started more than 45 years ago as a handful of newspaper publishers concerned about the quality of their printed product and about how to make it better.
Those same concerns for quality and improvement continue to underlie a significant portion of Ifra’s activities today.
In fact, this spring we concluded the exhaustive evaluations of print quality for the latest installment of the International Newspaper Color Quality Club, allowing us to name the 50 best printed newspapers in the world. The winners will be honoured in ceremonies at IfraExpo and their accomplishments are being put on display in a special exhibition area at the RAI.
Ifra’s congratulations go out to all the winners.
But even beyond that, we are very proud of all the hundreds of publishers and printing plants that took part in this year’s Color Quality Club evaluations. Their participation demonstrates the exceptionally high level of dedication that our industry has toward expertise in printing. And it validates the importance of Ifra’s involvement in nurturing that expertise. It is not a coincidence that many of the CQC contenders have made use of Ifra research, Ifra consulting and Ifra training in their various quality enhancement efforts.
Along similar lines to the International Newspaper Color Quality Club, Ifra has just announced the winners in its first Cross-Media Awards competition, which evaluated the extraordinary projects that newspapers around the world launched to cover the 2006 World Cup.
One should note that putting together a nifty website or an innovative mobile phone information service was not enough by itself to win Ifra’s XMA distinction. We developed this project to challenge our industry to work across multiple media formats and specifically to use new media in effective combination with the core printed product. Without a strong print component, you simply could not win the XMAs – which, frankly, matches the reality in the marketplace.
Ifra coined the term ‘dot.ink’ several years ago to describe this kind of blended media strategy, which integrates the strengths and capabilities of print and digital formats to produce the strongest possible product mix. Ifra considers a dot.ink strategy to be an absolute requirement for any modern publishing operation. And it will be one the primary emphases across all Ifra activities in coming years.
By the way, the Cross-Media Award winners, like the Color Quality Club winners, will be honoured and their projects on display at IfraExpo.
With newspaper production such an important topic for our members, we have started to concentrate our efforts more on taking information and expertise to them in their individual regions of the world. As a result, you will note on the Ifra events schedule the appearance of a number of new conferences focusing on regional issues and specific parts of the production chain. By reducing the size and travel requirements for these programmes, it should make them much more accessible and allow for much greater participation. Proximity to our members is a key issue for Ifra.
Ifra is digital.
In citing what you might call our ‘cyber credentials,’ one could point out that Ifra started its Beyond the Printed Word world digital media conference in 1992, which was two years before the worldwide web was even invented. Now, 14 years later, Beyond the Printed Word is the longest running and most prestigious international digital publishing conference specifically for newspapers.
For some of these past years, Ifra operated Beyond with one or more co-sponsors. But effective this year, with the conference running 9 and 10 November at the Hilton Vienna in Austria, Ifra has reassumed its role as the exclusive organiser.
We have also made the decision to continue to focus the event exclusively on the critical business issues faced by online and mobile news publishers. That makes Beyond what I call a ‘pure play’ conference specifically for the people whose jobs it is to make digital publishing work for their newspapers.
Talking about digital media is one thing. Doing it is another. And Ifra has top credentials in that regard, as well. We call it Newsplex.
Ifra designed, built and outfitted the world’s first prototype convergent newsroom in the United States in 2002, and wound up setting the standards for how to organise and train newsrooms to work across all the available media in their marketplaces. That first Newsplex was so successful that Ifra built a European Newsplex training facility in Germany three years later.
Ifra’s Newsplex division now operates not only on two continents but in at least a half dozen languages and supporting newspapers and even broadcast companies in more than two dozen countries.
One of those newspapers is our host for this press conference, Amsterdam’s own de Volkskrant. And I will look forward in a moment to having its publisher tell you more about the changes under way here.
The world’s publishing industry has clearly endorsed Ifra’s Newsplex initiative and its leadership of newspapers’ expansion into online and mobile media. When one surveys all the significant developments in digital newshandling, you find a newspaper – and in most cases an Ifra-member newspaper – in one way or another involved in the activity.
If you demand more cyber credentials than that from such a dedicated newspaper association as Ifra, I will then refer you to our eNews initiative, through which Ifra has organised more than 20 of the world’s leading publishing houses and top technology developers in the area of mobile ereading in a unique three-year initiative to meet the new and changing needs of mobile media consumers, to create and sustain business, take control of markets and adapt to new technology.
The second major gathering of the exclusive group of eNews participants wrapped up at the end of August in Tokyo with major developments influencing the growth of the mobile ereader market that you will soon be hearing about. In the meantime, interest in this has grown to the point that Ifra is looking to form some new regional eNews working groups that will allow for expanded membership in the programme.
Ifra is the future.
The second in a three-year, EUR 1 million series of reports being issued through Ifra’s unique ‘Where NEWS?’ media future research initiative will focus on developing future-oriented business strategies in newspaper companies and will be issued later this quarter. The first report from the ‘Where NEWS?’ project came out in March, detailing potential new business models for newspaper publishing companies.
‘Where NEWS?’ is Ifra filling a void in the resources available to our members and to the publishing industry as a whole on which they can realistically plan for their companies’ future five, 10 and 15 years ahead.
Rather than simply documenting today’s trends in print and digital publishing, ‘Where NEWS?’ is applying the most advanced demographic and scenario techniques to determine how media usage and the behaviour of consumers and advertisers will change over the next decade and longer. The study is looking at projected societal developments, new media and communication technology, and changes in media channels and markets.
These are not questions that can be answered by small, isolated groups of self-appointed consultants who write about only what is happening today, especially where the global media environment is concerned. It requires authentic and credible research into trends and scenarios. And it requires an incredible depth of participation.
Ifra is perhaps the only organisation in the world with the necessary membership, resources and future-oriented mindset about newspapers to be able to undertake such a project.
And Ifra is certainly the only international newspaper organisation with the necessary expertise and commitment to original research. Remember that the ‘r’ in Ifra originally stood for ‘research.’ And still today, Ifra has no higher calling than to fund and direct research to generate new knowledge and expertise in the newspaper industry.
Which takes us finally, then, to…
Ifra is research.
In 2006 alone, Ifra’s dedication to its fundamental research mission on behalf of the newspaper industry has been aptly shown by a more than 57 percent increase in research funding – to 1.1 million € – with projects covering the entire range of the areas already mentioned – print, digital and the future of news publishing.
However, we also recognise that one of the drawbacks to traditional, detailed research efforts is the amount of time they require. This becomes a conflict with the fact that the media marketplace is changing so rapidly all the time with new technologies, new business approaches and new industry features that our members need to know about much more quickly than six or more months down the line.
It is for this reason that Ifra is announcing today a new research initiative called the Ifra Flashlight Series.
Our new Flashlight reports will be designed to deliver Ifra-quality, detailed research summaries on contemporary technical and business topics in as short a time as possible. To generate these Flashlight reports, we plan to expand our research group to add people who will focus mainly on the sorts of topics that are critical for helping newspapers master the task of integrating all platforms into consumer oriented media packages.
Our challenge in Ifra now is to fund this new endeavour. As is our tradition, we will not accept any sponsorships or related types of subsidies when it comes to research, in order to preserve and protect our independence on behalf of all our members, both media companies and vendors.
Instead, we will be increasing the business oriented parts of our activities in publications, events, consulting and training. Every Euro we make out of our business will then be reinvested in research objectives as determined by our Board and Committees.
This is the commitment that Ifra makes to newspapers.
That’s right, I said ‘newspapers’ – in all their print, online and mobile glory. ‘Newspapers’ is not a dirty word. It is who we are at Ifra.
Thank you for your presence and interest today. And welcome, once again, to IfraExpo 2006.”
Page first published: 28.09.2006