[UPDATED] ‘I’ve been unwelcome many places,’ says Gannett veteran Laura Hollingsworth

UPDATE: Laura Hollingsworth says in an email that “this whole thing was so taken out of context by local competitors trying to make it something it wasn’t. …I never in any way talked about firing people for example.” She sent me a transcript of her talk and I’ve posted excerpts after the jump.


Laura Hollingsworth, who was named Tennessean publisher last May after leading the Des Moines Register for nearly seven years, recently told Tennessee business leaders and owners:

Gannett veteran Laura Hollingsworth

Gannett veteran Laura Hollingsworth

* She’s had to make “tough decisions” and fire employees who resist change after working in newspapers “a long, long time.”

* “We’ve got to aggressively hire new skill sets and new talents, and take risks with people when they’re younger. And they don’t need to spend 10 years in the business to get their first promotion.”

* “I happen to be in an industry that used to be called the newspaper industry. I’m not sure we know what it’s called today.”

* “I’ve been unwelcome many places. And I have an editor who handles his team a little less eloquently: he says (if) you don’t like change, you’re going to really hate extinction.”

* “[Gannett’s] customer service experience has not been a good one, we recognize it. We’re not quite Comcast, but we’re close.”

* Tennessean publisher shares challenges facing the news industry (franklinhomepage.com)

Excepts of the speech – from the transcript provided by Hollingsworth – are after the jump.

Great change = great opportunity

As you know I happen to be in the business formerly known as “newspapers”…. one of today’s most challenged industries, as a result of the impact of the Great Recession and the velocity of technology and changing consumer consumption. But, we are all “challenged businesses in challenging industries” – some of us more than others, and some of us have just hit it earlier than others.

Over the past several years I’ve been pondering, reading, and actively solving for this:

How is it, during a time of enormous, even chaotic, risk and change – can we stay inspired, know that we’re staying true to a vision, offer great leadership, prepare the strategies and meet the challenges of transformation?

And certainly there are challenges. But with great change often comes great opportunity.

A publisher at just 40

It was at this early time in my career that I knew exactly what I wanted to be, what I would work toward.

I wanted to be the president and publisher of a major newspaper by the time that I was 40. I wrote that goal down on a piece of paper, and carried it around in my calendar for years and years. That was my end-all career dream. …

In 2002 I landed in Iowa and at The Des Moines Register. First, I was vice president of Advertising – overseeing all of our sales operations throughout the state. Three years later, my focus turned more broad when I was promoted to general manager with oversight of the Des Moines Register and all our newspapers properties throughout Iowa, our digital businesses, and magazines division.

At each stop and with each job, the markets and the advertising and news environment were undergoing faster and faster change.

By then, I was involved in a lot of innovation for the company, thought leadership, committees, and really got heavy into developing and expanding our products portfolio beyond just the daily printed newspaper in our markets. Starting around 2005, I became strongly involved in strategy for the Gannett company in terms of our shift to a digital platform and later helped research and deliver the company’s strategic plan with our newly named CEO which is the basis for all our work today.

So remember that piece of paper and that goal I’d written down and placed in my calendar and carried for all those years? In 2007, just as I was turning 40, I became president and publisher of The Des Moines Register.

I’d done it!

New technology means new challenges for legacy media

The new technology has brought great convenience, undoubtedly. But for those of us in so many professions – and certainly for those of us in the “traditional” media profession, it has stolen away generations-old profit centers and left a gaping hole in the place of what used to be a business model.

And the challenges posed by the Internet to my business have not been limited to Advertising.

The unbelievably fast enhancements of the Internet and new applications – first on the desktop and then through smart phones and now tablets and moving now to even more virtual and ambient platforms – mean that consumers will never again wait for the 10 pm TV newscast or the morning newspaper for the latest headlines. Small, nimble competitors in the news and information space abound, fighting for audience, for eyeballs. Much of the news and information that used to be carried by the daily newspaper has been commoditized. The social media world has exploded bringing a new era and new means of instant connection, conversation, discussion, interaction. A digital journalist doesn’t even have to be a “real” journalist. Bloggers, politicos, community leaders, thought leaders – anyone, anywhere – can publish what they choose in the push of a button.

A time for risk-taking

The only choice that is left for my business is that WE must change and we must change dramatically and urgently to meet the new demands of consumers if we are to survive and thrive. We are going to have to figure out a new business model and how to scale and structure our businesses for a new era.

We must aggressively hire and retain new skill sets and new talents and take risks with them.

We must figure out what we can “stop doing” and figure out what we must “start doing” for our customers of today – while trying to retain that customer of yesterday who maybe isn’t hasn’t had to change at all and in fact – doesn’t want us to, either.

Prepare for the worst

As a leader, know what you bring, ignore your detractors, and bring what you bring fully and with confidence. Don’t be so afraid to “be wrong” that you do nothing. If you do fail, do it quickly and move on.

Be prepared for the worst case. As I said before, in my industry, what we thought couldn’t get worse, absolutely did. Invest in research and projections for your business, understand trends in yours and related segments…listen to what they are telling you and believe them and multiply the worst case by 2 – and have a plan for THAT.

Never sugarcoat, but offer constant doses of vision and inspiration. Let your team feel that we’re all in this together, and know that success IS in our hands; that we will all continue to gain confidence through our transformation when we achieve. Help your team get more “comfortable with the uncomfortable.”