In August 2020, Local Media Association announced Steve Baron would join the team at chief strategy officer. We wanted to share more about his goals and experience working with local media. Here are the 5 questions we asked.
You started this week as LMA’s new chief strategy officer. Tell us about your goals and what you hope to accomplish in the next 6-12 months.
To me, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help an industry I love to figure out a path forward to make sure local media continues to grow and adapt to the reality of life today.
The truth is some things are going to have to change.
I don’t think there’s any “one thing” that will apply to all media companies and magically fix all of our problems. But the good news is we’ve reached a point where even as competitors, we can all work together to see what works and what doesn’t. So I hope to bring that spirit of sharing and cooperation to life in new ways.
Having worked on two Google News Initiative-funded projects, I’m deeply encouraged to see more media companies tap into new and alternative funding models, and excited to help more do the same.
And I plan to work with publishers of all sizes to brainstorm new models around traditional advertising, branded content, and membership programs.
In the next 6-12 months, I hope to see many meaningful projects come together to deepen connections between our audience, our products, our advertisers, and our business goals. That, in turn, will ultimately allow local media everywhere to tell more stories and transform business in our cities and towns and shine on a light on issues affecting life in 2020 and beyond.
Where can you be most helpful to the local media industry as we look to reinvent business models for news?
I have a somewhat unique perspective here, having worked on both sides of the equation — first as a journalist and then on the product and business side.
I can tell you this: Reporters just want to do their jobs and report the news, while the business office needs to make sure the bottom line looks good. I want to help bridge the gap between content and revenue by helping everyone work together in new ways.
I know how to speak the language of content, product, and sales, and in my opinion, we all need to work together to come up with what the business of news will look like going forward. Something that respects the news consumer’s experience and meets all the business needs of media companies — what, exactly, that looks like will be a big focus for me starting right now.
Thinking about the state of the local media industry, what concerns you the most?
I’m anxious — in fact, downright scared — that the number of voices producing local news in any given community will shrink dramatically from where we are today. We already see it happening in so many places, and it needs to stop. I’m proud of the work the LMA and others are doing to solve for this and know there’s more to be done here.
Having been a part of the pivot to digital, the pivot to social, and the pivot to video, I worry about the next pivot.
I believe we all need to stop pivoting and encourage everyone to map out what the next one, three, and maybe even five years will look like, and work toward those goals rather than being distracted by fads or trends that don’t provide long-lasting business results.
What excites you the most about the industry’s future?
People seem genuinely to have remembered in recent days the critical role local news and media play in their lives.
From neighborhood digital-only operations to large local broadcasting and newspaper groups, the sense I get is our customers have more of an appreciation for local media than they have had in a long time, and that’s fantastic news.
Suppose we can continue to build on the business of connecting customers with content and companies with customers. In that case, local media’s future will be bright, perhaps even more so than its past.
Tell us something about you that most people wouldn’t know.
I love the outdoors and am somewhat of an adventurer. We live in the hills outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, and have skiing, hiking, biking, and more right outside our front door, so being outside is an integral part of our family’s life. I’ve tried pretty much every outdoor sport you can imagine, from rock and ice climbing to backcountry skiing, canyoneering, etc. I’ve run two marathons and countless other races, climbed an 18,000-foot peak in the Peruvian Andes, pulled 9.2 Gs in an F-16, and even landed on and launched off an aircraft carrier’s deck in a military cargo plane.
It’s not the adrenaline I enjoy about these things. It’s the experience of doing something new and perhaps a little bit technical, meeting people, and picking up new life experiences along the way.