Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 21 No. 2
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

The Sit-Down: Larry Kramer, USA Today

The top executive at The Nation’s Newspaper and longtime newsman on how USA Today nearly became an all-sports publication and the keys to staying competitive in an increasingly digital world.

W e still see a significant number of people reading us in print, and largely that happens in the morning. We see a huge number of people reading on phones.

The first time that most people hear something has happened is on their phone now. That’s a pretty significant change.

During the working day, 9 to 5, the desktop dominates the consumption of that news and how much time you’ll spend on it, because there is only so much time you’ll spend on your phone reading that story unless you’re on a train or trapped somewhere. So 9 to 5 you see heavy usage of content on desktop, and then you see a big shift in the evening hours to tablets.

I think it will be different six months from now. I’m looking at the development on phones and tablets particularly, and the new Samsung phone is huge and the iPad mini … there is about an inch difference between those two.

You start to wonder how the habits are going to start to play around those devices. Will they be a new category of device; will the two devices combine? We don’t know.

It defies age groups now. Now we are starting to see people of various ages changing their consumption habits even faster than we thought.

If we are going to be one of the survivors in the news game, we have to be there real time in news.

We have to project much more. We have to have much more personality to our writing. We have to have more attitude. Our reporters need to be uniquely qualified and report differently than everyone else. Tell that story better than other people do.

Half the readers of USA Today when it started wanted it for sports and didn’t really care about the rest of the paper. And the backup plan, not widely known for USA Today, had it not made it as a national paper, was to be a sports national newspaper and to drop the other sections. … It was close a couple times. And it is still is a dominant part of what we do.
So many voices emerged over digital platforms because everybody’s got a voice. You don’t need to build a printing plant anymore, you don’t need to do all the things … all the barriers to entry are gone. We are now flooded with information.

Now you put in a search for something in Google and you get 16,000 returns. That’s great. But the hunger now is starting to become, Who can I rely on? Who is better? Who is a brand that I trust? And the brand could be a person or a business, but you will focus in on the brands you trust for the subject you care about.

You have the added ability now to have your friends and your collected world be your editors and they are also sending you things. So where you’re going to learn that The New York Times has a piece isn’t because you are a reader of The New York Times necessarily anymore, but because someone forwarded you something on Facebook or Twitter, and you linked back and went to it. So your collective universe will bring you more things.

Discovery is still best done in places like print. Television too, but in print, you look at the ads in a newspaper, and Samsung buys eight pages to debut a new phone or a new watch, and they are beautiful color pages. And that is going to blow you away if you are looking at that paper.

If you are a marketer and you’ve got a story to tell, and it’s a new story, it’s hard to do it digitally.

It’s very hard to get a new idea or a new product in front of someone digitally because they are going to places they want to go to or they are being sent to, and they are being delivered content people think they already want. So if you buy a shirt from Brooks Brothers online, the next 10 weeks you will get ads for Brooks Brothers shirts on every site you are on.

The best bloggers, many of them, it’s only a matter of time before they get hired by a media brand who wants to bring them in.

The local sports, the sports of basketball and baseball and football, have done very well because in their markets the personalities have become bigger than life. Everybody knows A-Rod, everybody knows all these people because they become part of the culture of that market.

NASCAR, they don’t get that locally, because they go into a town or an area for a race. No one is really the local guy.

We are encouraging our writers to blog and tweet under their own names. We had to get over the fact that, gee, we might be building up their own brands and [they] might leave, because by the same token we are the type of place that has the size checkbook to go out and hire somebody who just did the same thing somewhere else.

Newspapers could become the news magazines of this generation. People were willing to wait a week for an analysis of a story in Time and Newsweek. That period of time is shortened and they expect that in a day or two. And a newspaper may fulfill that role.