The Pilot’s Publisher Talks to PRSA about News, Newspapers and The Digital Dive

    A new website is just a week from being launched for That was the breaking news from Pat Richardson, the publisher of The Virginian-Pilot and president of Pilot Media, who came to speak at the monthly luncheon of PRSA Hampton Roads in April. She also shared some insights on the dramatic transformation her company and industry are facing and opened the floor to PRSA members to share our thoughts on the Pilot’s future.

    While new to the publisher’s office, Pat is no stranger to Hampton Roads. She began with Landmark in advertising at the Pilot back in 1989 before going on to work with the arm of the company that manages community publications. Landmark controls 53 community newspapers in 14 states. When Pat returned to the market in 2014 to assume her new duties, she found some dramatic changes. 

    “When I left the area about 11 years ago, Town Center was the Beacon Building,” explained Pat. “And it was a sleepy Battlefield Boulevard.”

    But it was the changes facing her company and its industry that was the focus of the discussion with PRSA. Also, what she says will not change.

    “For 150 years we’ve been chronicling the civic life and history of the community,’ she said. “Local, local, local is the core of our values and that is not going to change.”

    Pat says the challenge facing The Pilot, and its peers, is to determine who wants what and how best to deliver that content across multiple platforms. Her primary goal as the new publisher is to create a sense of urgency within the organization for a chance to compete in the new arenas.

    The Virginian-Pilot and Pilot Online reaches 51% of the adults in the market, explained Pat. For the print side the median age is 51, while the average digital consumer in Hampton roads is 36.

    As a further example of the complexity of her audience, she described the difference between her older demographic, primarily Boomers, who tend to consumer content in discreet sessions during the day. Millennials, she says, are another story.

    “They have grown up differently with digital and have a pattern of continuous consumption,” she said. “Ask a millennial to pull out their smart phone and you’ll find their entire lives are on that screen. The news finds them.”

    When the floor was open for feedback about the future of The Pilot, the PRSA audience peppered Pat with a variety of questions about the quality of journalism amid the transformation, the future of local tabloids, difficulties with the billing across Pilot products, and how the digital evolution will impact how public relations professions interact with the company. Well, she did ask for feedback.

    Here are a few other interesting things that came out of the session…

    Passion Topics
    This is what Pat calls topics of special interest to the market and what she feels it is important for the Pilot to focus on. “What do people want us to follow obsessively for them?”

    The Future of Daily News
    Pat was asked what the future may hold for printed newspapers like The Virginian-Pilot. “In my lifetime I think there will always be a printed newspapers,” she answered. “Will it always be 7 days? I’m not so sure about that.”  She did add that there are no discussions at The Pilot to change 7-day delivery and commented that many of the publications that have made such changes so fare “have failed to see the return they expected.”

    The Size of The Virginian-Pilot
    Timed to Pat’s arrival was a round of cutbacks that reduced the size of the newsroom staff. Pat says The Pilot has 700 employees including 106 journalists, “the best and brightest.” As comparison she says that is a larger staff than papers in Richmond, Charlotte and Baltimore. “If someone asked me if we can stand up a news operation with 106 of the best and brightest journalists I’d say yes, I think we can do something with it.”

    Changes in the News Process
    The days of the morning budget meeting may be numbered, or at least the planning process may change to better meet the needs of a continuous news environment. The new approach: “What do we have NOW and what are we putting it out on?  How are we going to tell the story?”

    The Bottom Line
    “Our goal is to connect with our community and create content that our readers want to connect with, want to consume and want to share.”

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