Neil Budde. Photo by Cheryl Boyd
Neil Budde. Photo by Cheryl Boyd

Our guest speaker today at #OpenCoffee Lou was the new Editor-in-Chief at the Courier-Journal, Neil Budde (who confirmed his last name is pronounced “Buddy,” if you were still on the fence).

This is the second time Budde has been an employee of the C-J; he worked on the editorial staff for eight years starting in 1978.

While Budde didn’t mention this, he left in 1986, the same year Gannett Company, Inc. of McLean, Va. bought the paper from the Bingham family.

He came to Open Coffee two weeks ago for the first time, because he wanted to make sure the C-J was “connecting with entrepreneurs and young professionals,” he said.

After Budde left the C-J,  he went on be a pioneering executive with digital media sites for USA Today, the Dow Jones, the Wall Street Journal online and Yahoo News.

After his tenure at Yahoo News, he began work for a personalized news content startup called Daily Me. Budde said the company pivoted a couple of times, but in the end may have been a little “too cautious with their spending.” The site ran out of funding and was bought by one of its angel investors who rolled it into another investment.

Daily Me still exists. But Budde said he thinks the concept didn’t take off because it might have been “ahead of its time.”

After Daily Me, he started a nonprofit news organization in Philadelphia called AxisPhilly.

Budde says in order for him to best serve the C-J, he needs to “preserve a lot of what’s been great.” Here he cites the newspaper’s 10 Pulitzers, “and move that over into the digital world”

Does this mean he does not advocate the C-J continue to print? No, he says, not yet. Too many people still want the physical paper.

The shadow of what happened in New Orleans looms large over the newspaper world – the Times-Picayune, that city’s flagship paper, reduced the number of days it went to print.

“I think that becomes a faster spiral into making the print paper obsolete,” Budde said. He says the Sunday paper for any franchise is hugely profitable. Other days – especially Mondays – are not. Some cities have opted to drop the unprofitable days. But, he says, reading a newspaper is a daily habit. If readers don’t have their daily newspaper daily, it’s easier for them to drop their subscription because they no longer are “used to” reading the paper on a daily basis.

Budde says he needs to help the C-J “ramp up new audiences and build audience.”

Open Coffee 47
Open Coffee 47 photo by Richard Meadows

He told us Gannett is hands-off when it comes to local editors and the news stance they take and what happens on the editorial page. “There are lots of Gannett papers that are much more conservative,” than the C-J is, says Budde. He says this paper’s “very liberal stance” is one of the legacies of the Binghams.

What does the future look like for the C-J?

Budde says the digital paper needs to offer some level of personalization of news. He says your news delivery system (web browser, tablet, phone) should know whether you’re a UK or U of L fan and show you that school’s news first. He says as delivery systems get smaller, the more personally people expect their systems to behave.

Budde says they need to “focus on what we can do well.” The smaller staff will lead to much greater focus on local news and local information.

The phrase “watchdog journalism” came up again and again.

No one asked him to define the term, which could end up being an important oversight. While at one point “watchdog journalism” and “troubleshooting” in the news had clear definitions, those terms are much more loosely applied these days.

Budde also says: “There is stuff in the works that will restore a more robust national content in 3-4 months.” But never explained what that means.

“It seems to me that you’re more and more a sports newspaper,” said photographer Nick Roberts of SpeedDemon Photography. “You talk about your ten Pulitzers, but that’s all history. You’re nowhere near a Pulitzer today.”

Surprisingly, the photographer criticized the C-J’s use of “big pictures.” He says using big pictures just tells me about all the reporting that you didn’t do.”

Roberts was the first, but not the last, to take a critical view of the newspaper. He concluded by saying, “I didn’t want to be the one to take off the emperor’s clothes.”

Budde’s response was that newspapers like the C-J handled the introduction of digital content poorly.

First of all, newspapers made the mistake of putting out a companion news website for free. They relied solely on an advertising model. Clicks became currency, and so they needed to create TONS of content to feed the website. And that (a) diluted the quality of the content because there had to be so much of it and (b) made people balk when the newspaper folks finally wised up to subscription models and paywalls.

Budde says he intends to help fix this by putting more of our resources back into watchdog journalism (that term again). He said, “Now that people have to subscribe (to the website), we need to give them good quality journalism.”

Charles Buddeke of Forge asked Budde “What is the big opportunity for the C-J?”

Budde answered: “To be seen as a newspaper company to be proficient across all platforms.”

He says the C-J may build different apps to deliver different products (and later he explained most of the technical support, including online templates for the web pages and apps comes from Gannett HQ).

Greg Langdon addressed Budde’s assertion that the C-J is pursuing new (ie, younger) audiences. Langdon said the last long-form piece the C-J did was on the Matt Bevin campaign. Budde apparently sent people to Connecticut to go through tax records and come back with reports. “But no one 18-30 is interested in that,” said Langdon. “How do you keep Miley Cyrus off the front page?”

(At this point Daniel Johnsen of the Learning House made a joke about the C-J “twerking” their format.)

Budde says they are indeed more focused on audience and target audiences. “It used to be in the past we defined audience as ‘everyone from 25-70.’ What really are their information needs? Miley Cyrus may get a lot of page views but will not help build audience.”

Budde continued, “Those are junk page views. Advertisers catch on to those pretty quickly.”

Budde wants to find out “What’s going to make you hit the paywall and pay.” rather than hit the paywall and “trash your cookies and start over.”

Todd Scheleuning of asked Budde about the paper’s social media strategies.

“I don’t think we’re doing enough for the existing social media,” said Budde. He says their social media feeds feel like an RSS feed (meaning they’re just broadcasting stories). “That’s not really participating in social media,” said Budde. “If you’re only broadcasting your own stuff you’re not positioning yourself as expert in anything.”

He cited Tony Konz’s twitter feed as a model of someone who was positioning herself as an expert (in this case, in Education).

When asked to talk about his experience at the Wall Street Journal online, which has been widely recognized as a successful pioneer in the subscription digital news model, he said the WSJ started at a different starting place than most news media looking to move online.

He said they began with the premise: “We need to build something people will pay for,” whereas most papers start with  “we have a newspaper, let’s put it online.”

The WSJ started as a subscription model and included a lot of “value added” elements to the subscription from the get-go. So people immediately saw the value of subscribing. A subscription came with access to all the newspaper, a wire service and a big chunk of the archives for $50 a year.

Current C-J price: around $156 a year for digital only.

Budde says we buy so much online these days it’s hard for people to be clear-headed about what the subscription is worth to them. They measure it against other things they buy online. “Well, I pay $9.99 for Netflix…” and make their decisions from there.

“You’re not always judged against your peers,” says Budde.  “You’re judged against other online experiences.”

On the up side for the C-J, Budde says, “We’re still one of the highest penetration newspapers in the country.” He says 50-60 percent of Metro households subscribe, which is very high across the industry. In part, he says, “our approach to digital has been somewhat left behind” because the rate of penetration is so high that we still feel like this is a “newspaper town.”

When asked about Gannett’s purchase of Belo Corp., owners of WHAS, and whether or not the regulators will allow Gannett to keep both media outlets in the city, he said, “I have no idea if that will be approved.” He did say that Gannett did get approval to own both a TV station and a newspaper in Phoenix and they are now working together on some joint projects, “cross-media cooperation.”

Paul Sizemore says there has been a “breakdown of confidence in  the C-J” by the community. He cited the massive layoffs, the fact the paper keeps getting smaller. Sizemore called for “something significant” to be done at the paper. He challenged Budde: “Are you going to do something significantly different? Or more of the same but maybe better.”

Budde says Gannett has told him he needs to be “bolder.” He says he hopes to “put the people we have against fewer things and not spread ourselves too thin.”

He says there are some topics they will not pursue as much anymore. And if the C-J eliminates topics that you, personally, care about, “You’ll think we’ve taken a turn for the worse.”

News and announcements:

My Mobile Ville will meet tomorrow, Oct. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the Peak 10 Data Center.

Read all about the GE and EnterpriseCorp Entrepreneurs’ Open House on Thur. Oct 23 here.

• There is an “Autism Speaks” planning meeting/happy hour this Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. until 7 p.m. at the Makers Mark Lounge on Fourth Street Live. Locals are hoping to bring the autism awareness and advocacy program to Louisville.

• Forge has an event on Wed, Oct. 23 at 5:30 p.m. at the Distilled Spirits Epicenter called “Lessons Learned.” The description from the event page:

Starting a business is really, really hard, and ideally, entrepreneurs should learn from each other’s successes and mistakes. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen in the real world. To make this conversation happen, Forge assembled a panel of experienced entrepreneurs in our own backyard so we can learn from them and what they have taken away from their ventures. Join panelists Terry Goertz, John Williamson, and Eric Littleton as they discuss the lessons they learned. Awesome stories guaranteed.

• XLerate Health’s Demo Day is Oct. 30 at 4 p.m. at the Nucleus Building. More info here. 

Next week is the one-year anniversary of #OpenCoffeeLou, so our moderator will be one of the original founders of the Louisville’s Open Coffee, Insider Louisville’s own Tom Cottingham.

Next OpenCoffee is Mon., Oct. 28 at iHub on S. Floyd Street. Thank you to iHub for hosting and Heine Brothers for a great start to a week.


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