In a city buzzing with new ideas and pilot initiatives in local media, the first-ever Innovation Mission in Philadelphia, Oct. 16-18, was entirely focused on digital transformation and consumer revenue. LMA Innovation Missions offer a unique experiential learning opportunity and closed-door meetings with some of the boldest thinkers and leaders in the journalism industry.

With visits to The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, The Philadelphia Inquirer, WHYY, Beasley Media Group and more, attendees included a cross-section of print, digital and broadcast organizations, all working toward transforming processes and strategy in their organizations. In their own words, attendees shared some of their biggest takeaways from the Philadelphia Innovation Mission:

Bryce Jacobson

Bryce Jacobson
Publisher, Greeley Tribune

1. Process, not technology or people, is the largest challenge that we need to organize for success.

2. Newsroom costs x2 – We need to set our sights on earning revenue from subscriptions, or consumer revenue, to be that of the costs of the newsroom x2

3. Focus on the audience that is the most subscribable – your lowest hanging fruit; metrics and marketing to them are free, the regular, unsubscribing site visitors.

Ben Smith

Ben Smith
Product manager, digital subscriptions, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

1. It’s well past time to focus on the user first. Consumer revenue is more stable than advertising dollars. We must produce content that our audience is willing to pay for – and provide the best possible user experience.

2. Collaboration among peers is essential. We’re not in competition with each other – just the old way of doing things.

3. It’s not necessary, or wise, to reinvent the wheel. Innovation is the path forward. There’s nothing wrong with copying existing ideas, as long as we understand what we’re doing and can make them work for us.

Darya Ushakova

Darya Ushakova
Senior manager, digital marketing, Tribune Publishing

1. The notion from Michael [Zimbalist] and Stan [Wischnowski] at The Inquirer that digital subscriptions require a total top-to-bottom transformation and a complete culture shift. I think these are the issues a lot of legacy papers have been struggling with (maybe unnecessarily!) and it’s awesome to be able to see how much traction The Inquirer is getting from having gone through these changes.

2. Cassie [Haynes]’s passionate speech during the panel discussion at Venture Café got me thinking about diversity and inclusion yet again; this time I am wondering how far this notion stretches beyond our internal culture and onto our readers. Are we diverse in the product we’re offering? Are we sure we are including everyone who can benefit from our product? Are we checking ourselves to ensure we’re not leaving some community members out in our reporting/coverage so that nobody can say “This isn’t for me/about me/my community?” To that point, loved the discussion we all had on supporting the news organizations and staying afloat vs. being accessible to all communities who may need us.

Eric Barnes

Eric Barnes
President and CEO, The Daily Memphian

There’s a growing realization that junky ad network advertising is not the future of the digital news site. The revenue from this sort of advertising seems to be stagnating or falling. And, maybe even worse, the ad networks slow down the site speed and hurt the user experience, all of which in turn hurts digital subscriptions.

News sites are, by and large, discounting heavily to sign up subscribers. Maybe that meets some companies’ goals, but I still think the data will ultimately show that the “dollar a month” trials are devaluing the publications – and the journalism within them – even as the publishers experience unnecessarily high churn rates.

This stuff is hard. Really hard. But the amount of data and analytics now being gathered, and the growing amount of experimentation among publishers, is a great thing. We’re getting there.

Bill Morehouse
Multimedia sales, Forum Communications Company

I left Philadelphia feeling more confident in the future of legacy newspaper companies. It’s refreshing to meet like-minded industry professionals who are encountering the same issues with digital revenue.



Read more: Jason Murray, director of audience and visuals for, shares his top 5 learnings from the Philadelphia Innovation Mission.

Mariah Craddick, product manager for audience at McClatchy, found six emerging trends worth noting from the trip