Kathy Thomson, the newly named chief operating officer of Tribune Publishing, will be a key note speaker at the 15th Annual Manhattan Beach Women in Business Conference on May 3 at the Manhattan Beach Marriott.
In her new position with the Los Angeles Times’ parent company, Thomson, 46, “will work with all of the [Tribune] company’s publishing units and lead several strategic initiatives including the expansion of digital products and services, the formation of a cross-functional team focused on innovation, the promotion of process efficiency, and the increased use of video,” according to an April 3 Los Angeles Times article.
The 17-year Manhattan Beach resident will also retain her previous position as president and COO of the Los Angles Times, where she is responsible for the local paper’s editorial, advertising and operations.
At the May 3 Manhattan Beach Chamber-sponsored conference, Thomson said she will talk about the importance of education, tenacity, hard work, relationships and timing.
“Timing helped,” she readily conceded in explaining her success.
Thomson majored in biology at the University of Utah with the goal of become a physician. But she wanted a break from studying science, so she enrolled in the Loyola Marymount masters in business administration program.
“I was still planning to attend medical school, but I thought doctors need to know business, so I’ll get an MBA. That’s when I fell in love with Los Angeles, particularly Manhattan Beach. My husband, who was born in Los Angeles, and I both love the beach lifestyle and the down-to-earth people we’ve met here.”
Until this year, the couple’s son Nicholas, 15, and daughter Lauren, 12, attended Manhattan Beach schools, where Thomson was active in the PTA. This fall the children transferred to ChadwickSchool in Palos Verdes.
At Loyola Marymount, Thomson also discovered she enjoyed business, at least as much as medicine.
“I like the diverse people you meet and the problem-solving aspects,” she said.
After Loyola Marymount, Thomson went to work in finance at Hughes in El Segundo, where she became one of the first employees of a Hughes start-up called Direct TV.
In 1994, prior to the launch of Direct TV’s first satellite launch, Thomson helped develop the untested concept’s business plan.
Thomson remained at Direct TV until 2008, when she was recruited to become the chief of staff for Los Angeles Times publisher Eddy Hartenstein. Three years later she was named President and COO of the Los Angeles Times Media Group.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Thomson said when asked what she thinks metropolitan newspapers will look like in five years. “But we’re seeing more of an appetite for reading on mobile devices — not just video, but also breaking news and investigative journalism. We need to make nice presentations on mobile devices like smart phones and tablets.”
CNN recently laid off all of its photographers in favor of crowd-sourcing for its video news, and many newspapers are requiring their reporters to take video for their stories. But Thompson said the Times is not only keeping its photographers but also investing heavily in video.
“We have a video department, and we use third-party video sources, and we will use reader-generated content when appropriate. Videos are an important part of story telling, just as photos and words are,” she said. “A lot of consumers are looking at videos on mobile devices, so we’re looking to incorporate that. We’re trying to be responsive to the multi media nature of consumers.”
Like the New York Times’ widely acclaimed digital research lab, Thomas said the Times has a department developing new digital products, but she declined to describe what they are working on.
“We don’t talk about it, but we are absolutely making sure we can deliver,” she said.
What the Times plans to deliver, she said, will be “focused on Southern California. We are representing the Southern California point of view, giving analysis from that perspective,” she said.
She cited the Times‘ coverage of February’s Oscars as an example. “We had huge traffic. It was the best Oscar coverage we’ve done. We had great local traffic and people looked at it from around the world.”
The problem facing all newspapers is how to translate the digital viewership into revenue.
Newspaper print advertising revenue dropped by over 50 percent between 2006 and 2012, from $11 billion to $5 billion, according to the Newspaper Association of America. New revenue from digital advertising reached a high of $.8 billion in 2011.
That same year, the nation’s newspapers lost $10 in print advertising for every $1 they gained in new digital revenue, according to the PewResearchCenter.
Top offset the decline in advertising revenue, Thomson indicated she expects readers to begin paying more of journalism’s costs. “It’s not a new model,” she said. “Readers have always paid for print subscriptions, though paying for digital subscriptions is new.”
A Times subscription, or what it calls its “membership program,” includes “retail discounts, deals and giveaways, as well as access to digital news,” according to a recent Times article.
Memberships to the Times’ digital edition are $3.99 a week, or $1.99 per week with the Sunday print edition. The digital edition bundled with the Sunday print edition is cheaper than the digital edition alone, presumably because advertising revenue in the Sunday Times subsidizes the digital edition.
The Times does not presently charge users of smart phones or tablet for its digital edition
Thomson declined to say how much the Times would need to charge digital subscribers for the digital edition to be self-supporting.
“We have lots of things we’re working on to serve customers’ needs, the way they view news…We feel confident we can deliver where they want it, how they want it, when they want it. If it’s print, we’ll deliver print. If its tablet, desktop, mobile, we’ll be there.
Thomson described the Times, which recently emerged from bankruptcy and is looking for a buyer, as “mission driven.”
“It’s not about ownership,” she explained. “What drives us is pride in serving the city. Our workforce is as much a melting pot as the city itself,” she said.
Women in Business conference
Other speakers at the Women in Business conference will include Rachel Mumford, founder of Barry’s Bootcamp; Lindsay Rhodes, anchor and host of NFL network; Debby Goldberg, co-owner of Fresh Brothers Pizza; Jeff Morris, president of Heilbrice; Kim Komick, owner of KKC Fine Homes; and Laura Bruno of SBL Consulting.
Tickets are $180, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Manhattan Beach Marriott, 1400 Parkview Ave., Manhattan Beach. For more information visit mbwib.com. ER