Warren Buffett: What Newspapers Need to Do to Survive

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.

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.

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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