Warren Buffett's media chief: Print newspapers have strong future if industry adapts
The head of one of the largest US newspaper groups "doesn't buy" the idea that print newspapers will be dead within years.
Journalists should prioritise their customers' desires rather than a particular platform, Terry Kroeger, president and chief executive of BH Media - a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway group - told a symposium on the future of local newspapers in Croke Park yesterday.
Berkshire Hathaway has continued to expand its investment in newspapers despite continuing negativity about print journalism's future in the digital age. "The mistake that the consultants and prognosticators make is that they argue whether it's digital first or newspaper first. It's neither. The truth is the model that's most likely to work is customer first," Mr Kroeger said.
"Some of our customers prefer print, some web browsers on a PC, some iPads, some smartphones. We need to embrace all of those channels so that our customers can consumer our products in whatever format they prefer. "We need to excel at all of those channels. We need to embrace these changes and be great at distributing our information in whatever formats emerge."
Mr Kroeger said that since 2008 the newspaper business has become far more difficult than 10, 20 or 30 years ago.
"Back in the day we fundamentally had monopoly businesses with few alternatives for advertisers looking to reach their audience...that changed forever and the news and advertising ends of our business have never been more competitive," he said.
"So why would Warren Buffett, arguably one of the smartest investors ever, make repeated investments in newspapers? The first reason is that most newspapers remain very profitable operations," Mr Kroeger added.
Mr Kroeger said the biggest reason for newspapers going bust has been too much debt, typically caused either by too-elaborate plant expansions or aggressive acquisitions where high prices and bad timing placed burdens on newspaper companies.
He said another reason that BH Media is investing in newspapers is that cover prices have become cheaper in the US in recent years.