Washington Examiner CEO: Free Content Key to Newspaper Success

     The old-school legacy newspapers are having a hard time making it today as the Internet has brought fierce competition and advertising dollars are drying up.


     But Michael Phelps, CEO of the Washington-Baltimore Examiner Newspaper Group, has a different approach. Phelps’s newspapers, The Washington Examiner and The Baltimore Examiner and their sister newspaper, The San Francisco Examiner, are attempting to do all the right things the legacy newspapers are doing wrong. Their goal is to make a profit in a difficult print media climate struggling with job cuts.


     Phelps spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on April 8 – part of the club’s “Newsmaker Program.”


     Free content with an emphasis on local news is the key to a paper’s success, Phelps said. He said a newspaper in a portable package – a tabloid format – gives his advertisers maximum exposure. But the Examiners also take a different approach on the editorial pages than a lot of older metropolitan newspapers.


     “Our editorial posture is what we like to think of as common-sensical centrist, slightly right of center and that our newspapers are pro-business on the editorial pages,” Phelps said. “The business model is simply adapted from what we in legacy newspapers were doing that didn’t work. Once again, make the newspaper free so it could be targeted by demographic and operate on a level playing field with other free media.”


     Competing in a 24-hour news cycle provides challenges to Phelps’s papers, but he said it isn’t completely a new concept.


     “We try as hard as we can,” Phelps said. “The whole notion of all news, all the time is not a new one. It’s been tried by radio stations in Chicago, New York, L.A. and also over here [Washington]. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”


     The editorial staff integrates its print content with its Web content to ensure they don’t get beat on stories they’re working on, according to Phelps.


     “Sometimes you have to decide if you want to hold this story and really rub the nose of the competition tomorrow morning, or if that is too big of a risk, should we post it on our Web site?” Phelps said. “We have very smart editors.”