Friday, November 9, 2018

Remarks by Frank Daniels Jr. at the memorial service for Frank Batten

It is fitting that this service is taking place in a gymnasium, a place of competition.  Was there ever a more competitive man than Frank Batten!  I met Frank Batten in 1952 at a newspaper meeting and we have been friends ever since.   Outside of my family, I know no one I respected, admired and enjoyed more.  Though it’s hard for those of you who knew Frank well to imagine, we discovered at our first meeting that after midnight we thought we were both pretty good at singing.  Scotch helped.   We entered the newspaper business at the beginning of a golden age.  Frank Batten was the personification of the adage “to whom much is given, much is expected.”  Frank’s business acumen and success enabled him to give back in so many ways, not just financially - but the use of his judgment and wisdom in helping organizations and individuals set and achieve goals.

During his working years I think Frank Batten was probably the most-respected active newspaperman by other newspaper people.  He was a publisher who knew that news is paramount to success.  When he was only 27, he became Publisher of The Virginia Pilot and Ledger Star.  In a few short years Virginia was hit with the massive resistance movement to desegregation and the public schools were closed.  My colleagues were impressed by the personal leadership that Frank took with other enlightened folks in Norfolk to help break the “wrong-headed” idea of closing public schools. 

As one of the early entrants in the cablevision world, Landmark set a high bar for the ethical way to get franchises – never bending the rules to gain an advantage.

Frank was a leader who led by listening to what others had to say.  He synthesized and massaged the ideas with them until they developed a clear and concise vision of what needed to be done and how to communicate it.  And then his help was crucial in helping to create an environment that made people want to work together.

Cancer of the larynx took away his voice and his raucous laugh but not his sense of humor.  It also caused him to shelve the idea of a 24-hour TV news channel for cablevision.  While he was recuperating and learning to talk, CNN was launched.  He learned to talk so well that folks who first met him thought he had a bad case of laryngitis.    I’ll never forget the story of his being told that someone was praying for him and his great friend Mort Clark, who had been badly injured in an accident.  Frank called up Mort and said, “Mort, I found out what happened us – we were prayed for – the Lord saw how much fun we were having and struck us down” but nothing could keep either one of them down.  The Weather Channel opportunity came along - he seized it and all of you know the great success that followed.

In 1982 Frank became the Chairman of The Associated Press, now the world’s largest news organization.  When Frank stepped in, it was a tremendously important news organization owned by newspapers but was financially insecure.  He looked ahead, envisioned what needed to be done and over the next few years, he set the ship right, identified the key people to run the organization and The AP became the leader of its competitors.

Frank was comfortable with presidents and royalty.  I remember Frank telling me that Lyndon Johnson called him at home to thank him for the newspaper’s endorsement – Frank said he thought it was Brad Tazewell pulling his chain.  Later he traded quips with President Reagan at The White House and introduced former President Nixon at a luncheon – Frank said Nixon never talked during lunch but made notes and then spoke without once needing to refer to them.  At one point, The Associated Press Board met in England and Frank introduced Princess Anne at the Guild Hall to a glittering array of folks, including all the media swells in England.   Princess Anne proceeded to tear the hides off of the media barons like Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell for their treatment of the royal family.

Frank was a fabulous man who did extraordinarily fabulous things in a low-key way.  He sailed, skied, hunted, played tennis and golf. Frank had a lot of virtues – patience with himself was not one of them.  After a 20-year layoff, Frank returned to golf, probably because he got tired of losing to folks at tennis and had a bad shoulder.  He never could understand why he couldn’t get his handicap under 10.  I remember one time we were playing with our wives and Frank 4-putted after lining up each of the putts forever.  He got so angry that he whirled around and tripped and fell down.  Nothing like a media mogul sprawled on his ass in the grass.

Frank took great pride in the success of others, in particular when Frank, Jr. hit a homerun with his investment in Red Hat.  Frank wrote the Board of Directors telling us that his son had proposed that Landmark make an investment in Red Hat but the father thought it was a bad idea for Landmark so Frank, Jr. did it personally.

We all know the various adages about husbands and wives.  Frank married Jane when she was young enough that he thought she was trainable.  Well, he was right, there was an opportunity for training and boy, did she ever do a job on him – no question about it.

We shouldn’t mourn Frank Batten – his last months were painful - but we will.   We all will surely miss his great sense of humor and quick smile  - and his willingness and his innate desire to help others.  We are all better for having known Frank Batten.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

News Articles And Books About Frank Batten

The Virginian-Pilot story about Frank Batten
The Guardian
The New York Times
The Washington Post
The Wall Street Journal

Frank Batten: The Untold Story of the Founder of the Weather Channel, Connie Sage
The Weather Channel, Frank Batten and Jeffrey Cruikshank

Harvard Business School interview with Frank Batten in 2000

Friday, September 18, 2009

Frank Batten

Frank Batten was the chairman and CEO of Landmark Communications Inc., a privately held media company based in Norfolk, Va. Batten stepped down on Jan. 1, 1998.

Batten was educated at Culver Military Academy, the Merchant Marine Academy, the University of Virginia and Harvard Business School. He served in the merchant marine in World War II and later was an officer in the Navy Reserve.

Batten began his newspaper career as a newsroom copy boy and reporter during summer vacations. After college, he worked in the advertising and circulation departments of The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star and became publisher of the newspapers in 1954. He became chairman of Landmark in 1967.

Batten was a director of The Associated Press from 1975 to 1987, vice chairman from 1977 to 1981 and chairman from 1982 to 1987. He was a director of the Newspaper Association of America; the first rector of Old Dominion University; vice chairman of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia; and president of the board of The Norfolk Academy.

He was president and campaign chairman for the Norfolk area United Fund and served on the boards of the College of William and Mary, Hollins University, Culver Educational Foundation, Access College Foundation, The Darden School Foundation, Harvard Business School Publishing Company and the Mariners Museum.

Batten passed away in 2009. He is survived by his wife, Jane, and three children.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What is Landmark all about?

Executive stockholders meeting, April 1978

"We are striving to build a company distinguished for unusual character and skill in newspaper publishing, broadcasting and cable TV."

Both inside and outside Landmark, people often ask me: "What is Landmark about? What are we trying to accomplish?

It would be typical to respond in terms of earnings, growth, return on investment, new markets and new products.

Landmark is about all of these things, but these things are not all Landmark is about. We have, or should have, all of us, aspirations that can be expressed only in broader terms and higher purposes.

Every individual needs a dream. Every organization needs a purpose that transcends its several functions. And from time to time we need to talk about dreams and purposes so that by word and example we put up a polestar for our associates and employees.

My dream for Landmark is to be distinguished by two things: extraordinary dedication to public service and outstanding business performance. Some think these goals are contradictory, even antagonistic. I think not. I think that they are inseparable - bound up together - and that the sooner we can accept this concept, the quicker we can see that our transcendent purpose must be the pursuit of excellence.

Why is it that conspicuous public service coincides with impressive business results? This is how I reconcile the two:

To me, public service means providing our communities with first-rate products - products they need and want, at prices they will pay. It is courteous, dependable service. It is being aggressive and independent in publishing and broadcasting the news. It is exercising that independence with professional discipline and respect for the public, striving relentlessly to be fair. It is setting a standard in our communities for ethical business practices, too.

Our products are, themselves, public services. So the essence of public service, for us, is to perform the main functions of our businesses with unique skill and character.

I measure business results in the long term - over five to 10 years. In contrast, many companies - particularly the public companies - tend to have shorter horizons. They are most concerned about the year's profits or even this quarter's profits. The length of your economic horizon makes an enormous difference in the way you operate your business.

The most important factor in the success of all of Landmark's businesses is high market penetration. Nothing within the control of a local television station will do more for market penetration than having the best news programming in town.

Content, of course, is only part of the means to high penetration. Our best newspaper readers already have the reading habit. If they can count on delivery of the paper every day when they want it ... if our cable subscribers can count on a consistently perfect picture ... this will do wonders for market penetration.

The character and reputation of our products and service determine market penetration, too. If our news reports are never influenced by the private interests of the owners or any other interest groups ... if our editorials are vigorous and courageous but also show respect for contrary opinion and are never tailored to the whims of the publisher or editor ... if we own up to our mistakes, in business matters as well as news, and correct them promptly ... if we do not tolerate the arrogance that's evident in many newspaper and broadcasting organizations ... if we do not allow anybody to set up kingdoms and think the product, or any part of it, is his ... if we treat every customer with dignity ... if we have strong feelings for our communities, respect for the public and intense desire to serve them ... if we can do these things, we will have a business as successful as we could possibly hope for. Why? Because we will have the most precious asset of all - public trust that our products and service are reliable. That's the surest way I know to capture and defend your market.

It takes years to build a tradition of excellence and reliability. The price is high in terms of managerial skill and human effort. When times are tough, it takes skill and nerve to prune the waste that saps good business results, but never to cut into the muscle. But that process is less painful when we comprehend that waste does not serve excellence. Indeed, its existence reflects an absence of high standards. It reflects a blindness to the fact that our obligation to public service is in conflict with tolerance of unnecessary work or mediocre performance.

If we really intend to build a tradition of excellence, we have to apply a philosophy of perpetually rising standards and a long-term outlook to every aspect of our business. I have already stressed how it applies to the standards for public service and business performance of our products. It also applies to the quality of the organization we build.

When we decide to hire someone or to make a promotion, too often we take the quick and easy road. We hire the best person available at the time, or we promote the person in line or someone else readily available. That's the nearsighted way to make personnel decisions. It usually results, at best, in maintaining present standards and perpetuating an organization that inevitably will become stagnant.

Every time we hire someone, every time we make a promotion decision, we should hold out for a better person than the incumbent. And we need people who can go beyond the jobs at hand, people who can grow and develop as our standards climb.

Overall, our organization has improved, particularly in the past four or five years, but improvement has been uneven. So we need to raise our standards in all parts of the company when we hire and promote. This will require better planning, more care and tougher decisions by all of us. But the time is now.

In expanding Landmark through acquisitions, I believe we have adhered to a consistent philosophy. All of the properties we have acquired will meet our tests. They will support a good product and a high level of service, and still make a satisfactory profit, measured in the long run.

Holding to these criteria has washed us out of a lot of acquisitions. Some media operate under competitive conditions that require a stripped-down product to be successful. We have avoided these.

A more difficult obstacle in the newspaper business has been the trend toward selling papers on the auction block, at extraordinary prices. Some of the buyers are operating like strip miners, extracting exorbitant profits at the expense of customers and their communities.

At times, it's been suggested that the only way we can compete with the strip miners is to play the game by their rules. The idea is that we can squeeze our return out of the properties, and then do what's right by the customers and communities. It would never work over the long run, because the strip miners are steadily depleting the franchises they acquired. That's not our game, and we are not going to play it.

We will stick to our plan and our standards, and I'm confident this will produce all the acquisitions we need. We are seeking newspapers, television stations and cable systems in markets with unusual potential for growth. We are seeking properties that have high penetration of their markets, or if they don't have it, we must convince ourselves that we can capture the market.

To sum up: We are striving to build a company distinguished for unusual character and skill in newspaper publishing, broadcasting and cable TV. We will judge ourselves by the level of our public service and by business results. If we measure performance over five to 10 years, excellence in public service will enhance business results. And you cannot have independent media unless they are independent financially. Each goal will support the other.

To build a tradition of excellence, our goals will be moving targets. The standards we set for our products and service, and for our people, will rise consistently.

We have a unique opportunity in Landmark. There is no other industry with as much underused capacity to serve people ? to stimulate their minds and elevate their spirits. As a private company, we have a better chance to use that capacity. How well we use it depends on our desire and our will.

Copyright 1978 Frank Batten

Developing people: Nothing is more important

Executive stockholders meeting, April 1982

"More than anything else, Landmark's future will be determined by the caliber of our management and the performance of our employees."
I want to talk with you about something that I believe will have a more lasting impact on Landmark than today's depressed economy ... something that is within our control...something that bears on the kind of company that Landmark is now and is going to become.

That is the management, development and motivation of Landmark's people. This is the subject too long taken for granted by Landmark as well as a lot of other companies. My conviction is that we must build a comprehensive and continuing program for developing our people. I believe that our employees want such an effort, that they deserve it, and that we would be foolish and shortsighted not to provide it.

Under the pressure of change and competition in the marketplace, we often take people for granted. In the heat of doing business, there are natural temptations for all of us to assume that our organization is self-renewing - that because we have succeeded before, we will succeed again. It has often seemed easier to recruit new managers from outside than to grow them from within. It takes time and effort to identify people with potential, to see to their training and career planning, and to do all the things that create a work climate that encourages excellent performance. It is always tempting to wait until next year. The problem is that years slip away while our employees wonder about our policies and plans and what part they have in the future of the company.

If Landmark is to reach its potential, we must nourish our people. We must pay attention to them. We must communicate our attitude toward them through action.

What is Landmark's potential? Two things are clear. Our papers will never be as well-known as The New York Times. And Landmark will never be as big as CBS or Time-Life. Indeed, prestige and being big are not our aspirations. What we can be and what we should want to be is the best-managed, most innovative, most spirited organization in the publishing, broadcasting and cable business.

That is a worthy goal but one that's attainable only if it is shared by Landmark's people. Their attitudes, abilities and spirit ultimately will decide whether Landmark is just one of the crowd - or is set apart and noted for the quality of its performance.

I think of Landmark as a winning organization. Overall, I think our values and personnel policies are sound. But over the years, understanding of them has become uneven and the practice of them inconsistent. Policies not practiced and values not acted out are of little consequence; indeed, they can encourage mockery and cynicism. We can't afford that result, that waste and drag on the fortunes of our team. It is time for Landmark to commit to a serious, thoughtful, planned effort to develop people.

Nothing we can do is more important. More than anything else, Landmark's future will be determined by the caliber of our management and the performance of our employees.

Landmark people want to grow, to learn, to be productive. They want to be part of a company that evokes their pride and uses their energies. They want to serve well a company that serves the public well. That desire is Landmark's most precious asset, and we must nurture it.

People development and organization-building will require willpower and tenacity. There are no quick fixes or easy solutions. We must be prepared to sustain this effort permanently and make it a tradition in Landmark.

Copyright 1982 Frank Batten

The power of the press: maintaining the public's trust

Landmark editors meeting, October 1984

"The character and credibility of our newspapers are most influenced by the day-to-day things you do in the newsroom."
I can't remember a time when there was more public criticism of the press than now. Diverse segments of the public are saying, "The media have too much power, and they can't be trusted." These doubts about our credibility are being discussed at almost every meeting of editors and publishers.

Some editors believe the credibility problem has been exaggerated. Others wring their hands in fear that the people will despair of us and strip away our First Amendment rights.

I think both views are wrong. The right of individuals and the press to speak freely is embedded in American culture and law. Americans will not give up those freedoms easily.

My concern is for a more immediate danger than loss of the First Amendment. It's concern for what will happen if the press does fritter away the public's trust. If our readers lose confidence that what we publish is essentially fair and true, then the First Amendment will be rendered meaningless.

Consider this testimony from two commentators on the press.

Ruth Clark, the press' well-known researcher, found in her latest national study for ASNE that "a majority does not believe that newspapers are usually fair." Hodding Carter, a former newspaper editor and press officer for the State Department, said, "There is a continuing sense, by those who are involved in the news, that the press daily flunks the test of accuracy and fairness and of understanding and of focus and of perspective and of any sense of continuity and of any notion that there are, in fact, issues which endure over time which are not easily resolved."

For the past decade, the polls have shown a radical decline of public confidence in the press. What caused this decline?

Fear of our power, for one thing.

The media do have enormous power in our society. The revolution in communications technology has made the media more pervasive and more powerful than ever.

There has been a tradition in our craft to deny that power - to claim that it's exaggerated or doesn't even exist. But the public knows what much of the press will not admit. The public knows that the printed word and broadcast image play central roles in almost everything that affects their lives today.

People are afraid of our power. They believe we use it more in our interest than in their interest.

We need to be honest with ourselves. We need to acknowledge our power to do wrong as well as right, and we should acknowledge responsibility for that power.

In my early years in this business I accepted the conventional view that editors and publishers cannot worry much about consequences. Everything we publish affects somebody. We would never get a paper out with news in it if we agonized over all those effects.

But gradually I came to realize that we cannot escape responsibility that easily. Institutions and people, particularly those who regard themselves as professionals, must accept responsibility for the consequences of what they do.

The question we must ask ourselves - the litmus test - is whether we are engaged in public service or self-service.

Before we intrude on somebody's privacy, we must ask, "What is our motive for publishing?" Sometimes there's a fine line between publishing news and pandering, between reporting essential information and exploiting a victim.

Before we publish information leaked from a grand jury we must ask, "What is our motive?" The answer must be clear, for to publish is to take justice into our own hands. That's a heavy burden. We should satisfy ourselves that our motive for publishing is to serve the public interest rather than our competitive interest.

Every editor at least subconsciously considers the consequences of stories every day. We will make the sensitive decisions better if we talk about consequences - talk about them openly and without guilt that we are betraying some macho notion of our independence.

The first step is to acknowledge responsibility. Then, like other institutions and people who exercise power, we are obliged to use ours with restraint and self-discipline.

Last year's president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors views the credibility problem in a way that I think is dangerous. He says newspapers are better than ever, and I agree. In spite of that, he says, the public is blaming newspapers for the sins and shortcomings of television news. So he thinks the task for newspapers is to make sure the public understands the distinctions between newspapers and TV.

Well, that won't wash. I agree with his indictment of TV news. The nature of the medium makes for shallow, incomplete and misleading reporting. Too little is told too quickly and, often, sensationally.

Like it or not, the presence and influence of television news is a fact we must live with. Instead of wasting our energy shifting the blame to television, newspapers should take advantage of TV's shortcomings by improving their own reliability.

Mike Wallace made ambush interviews fashionable. He creates instant drama as he blindsides his subjects. For those who prefer a more direct approach, there is Sam Donaldson, bullying anyone from the president on down.

They have many imitators, mostly TV reporters, but with a few print imitators, too.

What is their motive? I fear that there is only one purpose. They seek to create drama. They seek entertainment, not enlightenment. Their techniques are unfair; they serve no purpose but the journalist's own.

That kind of excitement is not what journalism is about. It is one thing to say that we must create interesting newspapers that our customers will want to read. It is quite another to create false drama. Newspapers should reject the shabby techniques of many TV journalists.

Newspapers are just now climbing out of a period of melancholy - a time when many papers seemed more interested in reporting failure than success.

Some say the press merely mirrored the nation's depression after Vietnam and Watergate. And there's truth in that. But I believe the press became so engrossed in reporting our society's defeats that we failed to see the victories. As a result, we painted a world that many of our readers could not recognize from their own experiences.

I am proud that Landmark's papers, at least, are not mired in that gloom.

As evidence, I think of Greensboro's series showing how care and kindness survive against all odds in a mental hospital ... of Roanoke's piece about a mother's enduring love of a psychotic child she was duped into adopting ... and of a Pilot-Ledger piece about couples having courage enough to risk their life savings to start their own businesses in Waterside.

Stories like these are an important part of the human experience. They adhere to Rebecca West's dictum that our duty is to "reflect the face of the age."" Instead of demoralizing people, they inspire them to do better.

Optimism has been the wellspring of American achievement. Even in the worst times, people and institutions make progress. We should be generous in coverage of achievement; our pages should reflect the grit, devotion and durability of the human spirit. We should nourish hope.

The 1960s brought several versions of "new journalism." Many young reporters embraced the doctrine of advocacy in place of objectivity. Newspapers squandered a bit more of the public's confidence before they tamed and finally rejected the cult of advocacy.

Then, in the wake of Watergate, some newspapers went on a binge of investigative reporting. Much of it was petty and had no apparent purpose except the thrill of the chase.

Again, we must ask, "What is the motive?"

Investigative reporting should have a clear and important purpose. It should be directed and edited with care and meticulous attention to accuracy and fairness. Many investigations produce dry holes or, worse, thin stories. We should have the courage to abandon these no matter how much effort was expended or how much ego is on the line.

Landmark papers offer examples of the firm and thoughtful judgment needed before going into print with investigative pieces. The Roanoke Times & World-News interviewed 40 people before doing a story questioning the tactics of a commonwealth's attorney. The Greensboro News & Record risked losing a scoop in order to make sure a story embarrassing to Gov. Hunt met the fairness test. The Pilot and Ledger printed powerful stories exposing an abortion mill based on direct knowledge of a reporter who offered herself as a potential patient. In each case, our purpose was clear, and our story was thorough and fair.

Most of our communities' failures are rooted in complex problems. A truly excellent newspaper will spend most of its investigative skills digging into and explaining these circumstances. We misdirect readers if we concentrate on narrow problems and inflate their significance.

Today, we often hear the press described as arrogant. I think this is a case where the conspicuous behavior of a few prominent networks and newspapers and some of their celebrated journalists unfairly taints us all. The public has come to detest the defensiveness and reluctance to admit errors of some of the media's elitists.

Landmark's newspapers are not arrogant or defensive.

All Landmark papers actively seek public criticism. Some hold frequent meetings with community groups. Others have regularly scheduled critiques for their editors and reporters by outside critics. Some monitor accuracy by mailing questionnaires to news sources. The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star have had a full-time ombudsman since 1974, and I believe this office has greatly improved our readers' trust in the newspapers.

Landmark papers try to correct mistakes promptly and fully and prominently enough to mend the damage. Ours were among the earliest papers to adopt forthright corrections policies.

There are times when it is tempting to pull punches on corrections, particularly when we have been guilty of bias or questionable ethics. We must discipline ourselves to overcome these temptations.

Making full corrections and owning up when we are unfair are the best means of assuring readers that we care and will not always have the last word. In any case, it's the honest thing to do.

Now I have saved the most difficult subject for last. It is the problem of accuracy and fairness and understanding and perspective that Hodding Carter raised.

You know more than I do about the scores of reasons that inaccurate or unfair stories get into print. Most of these lapses are unintentional and are aggravated by the conditions of our craft. Let me comment on three causes.

Occasionally reporters let their biases slip into stories. On rare occasions, reporters like the notorious Janet Cooke manufacture information or knowingly leave out material that's essential to fairness. As egregious as these offenses are, I think they are the smallest of our problems.

It's rare indeed when you let those kinds of stories get out of the newsroom. And you don't have much trouble deciding how to deal with a few reporters who write biased or false stories.

More difficult are mistakes that arise from omissions, inadequate checking and the urge to get it out first. I think these are the worst threats to our credibility, because they occur most often. The inaccurate facts that are commonplace in newspapers. The too-frequent stories that are incomplete or lacking in context and balance, and thus fail to convey a true picture of what happened.

When you consider that we must create a new newspaper every day, there can be no simple solutions. I can only urge a persistent emphasis on the fundamentals, supported by a conviction that accuracy is the most basic journalistic value.

Readers expect us to be fair as well as accurate. They want our facts to be in context and to add up to a true picture.

All of this, as you know, takes careful editing, attention to detail, and a lot of communication with reporters. It takes time, and we never seem to have enough time. But the reality these days is that readers don't expect to get the first information from the newspapers. Most people get the headlines first on radio or TV. We damage ourselves if we get it first at the expense of getting it right.

I've seen TV rush onto the air ahead of us with inaccurate information, while we waited to nail down the facts. We should never be afraid to get it right before we publish.

Perhaps our most difficult problem comes from the inability of reporters and their editors to understand complex or unfamiliar subjects.

We are reporting complicated subjects now that we barely noticed a decade or two ago. We have thrown at the newsrooms fields like medicine, technology, finance and economics. Even old beats like courts and education have grown complex.

Meanwhile, readers are better-educated and more sophisticated and discriminating. They expect us to understand these complex subjects. They expect us to report them with as much authority as the sports department reports baseball.

I'm afraid the gap between our knowledge of these fields and readers' expectations is wide. Readers are quick to recognize when we don't understand a subject as well as they do.

I have one suggestion. We need to keep reporters for longer tenures on beats that require specialized knowledge. I see enormous differences in quality of reporting that are related to time and experience on beats like business and education.

I'm aware that holding reporters on beats is not easy. But keeping good reporters on specialized beats longer should be a serious goal. It would reward our readers with reporting that is more perceptive and authoritative.

Now let me put my remarks into perspective. I believe newspapers, and particularly ours, are better than ever. They are more accurate, more complete and more interesting. Even so, our readers are holding us to a higher standard. They will turn us off quickly if we don't keep their trust.

Am I sounding the bugle to retreat from aggressive journalism? Am I calling for bland newspapers? No. That's the last thing I want. Any editor who's been here awhile knows there are no sacred cows in Landmark newsrooms. If anybody thinks there are any sacred cows, let's corral them and examine their horns.

No territory of legitimate public interest should be off-limits to fair and competent reporting. No story of importance to our communities should go unreported because we failed to dig deeply enough.

The character and credibility of our newspapers are most influenced by the day-to-day things you do in the newsroom. The things that really count are what goes into the paper every day and what is left out; the signals you send to your staff - what you praise and what you criticize; how you react when a reporter's or an editor's bad judgment gets into the paper; how much attention you pay to accuracy and fairness, story by story.

I think the great editors in America have iron in their blood. They put honesty and the character of their papers ahead of popularity in the newsroom. Demanding accuracy and sending stories back until they are fair and balanced will not bring you love. Spiking stories of doubtful merit naturally will distress editors and reporters who have invested hours in them. But I don't know any distinguished editors who shy away from unpopular decisions.

I started by saying the readers are critical of us, but they are thirsty for news. They live in a world that often seems out of control and full of peril and complexity. They want and need information they can trust and rely upon.

Our calling was never more important. We have the capacity to inform, to enlighten, to awaken, and to inspire. We have the opportunity to enrich the lives of thousands of people every day.

Your actions and decisions shape the values in the newsrooms. They have more influence on a paper's values than policy statements, or codes of ethics, or speeches by the chairman. You are not only shaping the content of the newspapers, you are also setting the standard for reporters and editors who will take the torch from us. It is your example that counts.

Copyright 1984 Frank Batten

Minority hiring: a top priority

Landmark editors' meeting, October 1986

In Landmark we have long worked to demolish racial barriers in our communities. And it was almost 20 years ago when I first addressed Landmark's executives about our obligation to increase employment of minorities throughout our workforce. I concluded my remarks then with the following paragraph:

"The only way to discharge this obligation is to make up our minds that it is going to be done and that the obstacles are going to be overcome. I think each division should set a goal for itself that will make a substantial improvement in our record when we look at it again next year. It will take courage. It will cost some money and there will be risks. But the alternatives are unacceptable."
I quote those remarks because they state Landmark's attitude as well today as they did in 1968. We have made some progress, but not enough. We have worked hard, but with insufficient consistency on a problem that abounds in frustration. We have been distracted by radical change in our industry - learning to use new technology, reshaping our products to meet new competition, merging newsroom staffs, learning how to manage better.

If it were excuses we sought today, they would come readily. It is not excuses we seek, but progress in changing the racial composition of our reporting and editing staffs.

I think it is important to ask to whom we owe our unfulfilled obligation. Is it to black individuals we would have as our colleagues, friends and fellow workers? In part, the answer is yes: A large debt does lie with them. As citizens, we wear moral blinders if we do not work to include those who have been excluded by customs of class and prejudice. As we grapple with the frustrations of recruitment and retention, we have to remember that, as history goes, our welcome mat for minorities is still new.

Racial memories are long memories. "Join us" is a new phrase. "Stay out" is an ancient injunction sent by newspapers to black citizens - stay out of our professional ranks and, yes, stay out of our news columns, too.

That is a sad history - one that can be explained but not one that can be justified. And so I think we who are shaping the future have some obligations that are, in essence, moral debts.

As a matter of practicality, our obligation lies as much to ourselves as to minorities. For as journalists we should reflect the life of our communities and the texture of our times.

We kid ourselves if we think to report a multiracial society through white eyes only. Or, for that matter, through the eyes of any elite - whether it be racial, cultural or ideological. To do our job well, we need reporting and editing staffs representing the broadest possible range of social and cultural backgrounds. The nation and our communities are growing more diverse, not less; newspapers must do the same.

Newspapers, like society, have been a long time learning the cost of elitism - based on sex as well as on race. It is sobering to me to remember how recently it was that women were excluded from the mainstream of news operations and confined to clerkship and the women's department. We have come a long way in opening opportunities for women in our newsrooms.

I am confident that we will make similar progress in our employment of minorities, chiefly because our top editors have not succumbed to frustration.

Someone has said that leadership is doing the right things and that management is doing things right. We must intensify and broaden our recruitment programs. We must look harder for potential than for experience. I am enthusiastic about our new intern programs. I have met our interns in Carroll County and Elizabethtown. They are bright, eager young people. All they need is the experience we can give them.

But hiring minorities is only the beginning. Together we must create in our newsrooms a commitment to succeed in this endeavor. We must help those we hire to succeed, as others have helped us to succeed.

Coaching is part of that task. Equally important is the climate in the newsroom. The help we can give minorities to feel a part of the newsroom and make a life in the community. The support we must give minority reporters when they face hostile news sources. That climate depends upon our commitment. How much we want minorities and how much support we offer them. When the word gets around that our newsrooms are good places, minorities will not only come, they will stay.

It is a deep source of satisfaction to me that Landmark newspapers were among the few in the South that supported from the outset the Supreme Court's desegregation decisions. Our editors had the courage to set an example for their communities. But that is history. We speak today of the future, and of the fact that if we do not add muscle to goodwill, we will lag - not lead - the communities we serve. This must not happen. Minority employment will remain a top priority here until we succeed.

Copyright 1986 Frank Batten

Newspapers in transition: from monopoly to competition

North Carolina Associated Press meeting, January 1988

"Most editors now realize that what distinguishes a good newspaper from its competitors is how clearly it reflects the life of its local community."
I'm going to take the liberty of reminiscing about our trade - about what's happened to the newspaper business during my career and where we find ourselves today.

When I started in 1952, newspapers were astonishingly different from the newspapers we know today.

Television was in its infancy. Radio took only a tiny piece of the market. Except in large cities, the local newspaper company had already become the only newspaper company in most towns. Many had as tight a hold on their markets as the power or phone company did, but - unlike these utilities - the newspaper's rates were not regulated.

Most publishers didn't have to worry much about competition, or whether they were giving readers what they needed or wanted, or whether their ad rates were too high.

Publishers had other things to worry about - for example, how to get enough newsprint so as to not turn away any ads. Newsprint was almost continuously in short supply. How to control the escalating cost of newsprint - usually by cutting page widths. How to get some control over the enormous waste caused by the featherbedding work rules of the craft unions. Since most papers couldn't contain these costs, publishers kept raising their ad rates.

Preoccupation with newsprint and union control of the back shop and the lack of competition affected all the newspaper's departments.

Most ad departments were manned largely by order-takers. They could lay out ads but generally were untrained in salesmanship and modern marketing. Ad directors often played the role of regulators - enforcing the paper's rules that prescribed how an advertiser could use our space.

Circulation departments were concerned mainly with maintaining a carrier force. They didn't have to worry much about sales. When people moved to town, they called the paper. We would run carrier contests several times a year to sweep in the customers who didn't call in their orders.

Type was set by Linotype machines, which by then could set 12 or 15 lines a minute. But the ITU decreed that printers were required to set just over three lines a minute to keep a job.

Papers had to get a union's permission before they could use a new machine. Most mechanical superintendents resisted new technology as vigorously as the unions did.

Newsrooms were populated, as they always have been, by people who were called by the psychic rewards of journalism, not by money. But in those days most papers paid reporters less than printers.

Because they didn't have to worry about circulation, many editors lost touch with their readers. Some moved toward magazine-style reporting and away from what they regarded as "trivia." Others filled the paper with routine reporting on the growing bureaucratic institutions in our communities. Often they found the space for this by cutting out the detailed local information we had published in the past.

I'll never forget how close I came to making one of the worst mistakes of my career.

For years the Norfolk papers had published community editions for nearby cities and suburbs. They were filled with small items of community interest and local ads. Many of our editors thought we should eliminate these editions - to streamline the paper into one product for all. The production department agreed. Making extra pages and plates, and changing the setup for each edition, slowed production.

Had we not stopped and studied before acting, we would have made a terrible mistake.

We found that local readers wanted what editors referred to as trivia. As a result of the study, we not only reversed the trend to generalize papers but repackaged and enlarged our community editions and started new ones for growing suburbs. I think it was a stroke of luck in those days that we asked the right question, "What do our customers want?"

Many editors of the 1950s disdained research. Editing was an art that could only be compromised by learning what readers wanted or what they thought about the paper. And why not? The paper was the only significant source of news in town.

Every department in the paper was a separate empire. Each tolerated the others - usually - but they kept their distance. There was an iron curtain between the newsroom and the business office. The curtain was erected, for good reason, in the days when advertisers tried and sometimes succeeded in influencing news coverage.

Personnel practices throughout the paper were antiquated compared with many other businesses'. There was little recruiting. Most people started as copy boys or apprentices. There was little training, and efforts to develop managers were almost unheard of.

I think that's an accurate picture of the newspaper business I knew in the 1950s.

I remember being impressed by the rhetoric of one of the senior statesmen of the newspaper business in a speech that was widely published in the '50s. He argued that monopoly papers were better papers than they were when they had competitors. They could concentrate on serious journalism now that they no longer had to pander to public tastes.

Today I realize what that publisher really meant. Today I'd translate what he said like this: Now that we are a monopoly, we can give readers what we think they should read, not necessarily what they want to read.

That well-known publisher's paper later was eaten for lunch by suburban papers, shoppers and mailers.

In those days, I was a young, impatient critic of the way we ran the newspaper business. I was most impatient with what I believe were our largest weaknesses - complacency and a deep-seated resistance to change.

We paid a price for those failings. Competition came, slowly at first and then in a rush: competition in the form of television, suburban papers, specialty magazines, thousands of new radio stations, shoppers, mailers and finally cable TV, with multiple channels of entertainment and round-the-clock news, weather and sports.

Many newspapers were slow to recognize the competition. They continued to look inward instead of outward at their customers and their competitors.

What was the price of complacency? There has been a steady decline in the daily readership of newspapers. Throughout the '50s and '60s, more than 80 percent of the population read one or more newspapers on any given day. By 1986, daily newspaper reading had fallen to 61 percent.

When television arrived, we had already priced ourselves almost out of the national advertising market. Later, we nearly did the same thing with local advertising. When chains became the dominant retailers, they began to look for more efficient ways to advertise. They turned to preprints. They could control the printing quality and could distribute them to target audiences. And, for the first time, they could make newspapers compete on price.

Meanwhile, we were pricing advertising out of the reach of small retailers in the burgeoning shopping centers.

Newspaper ad revenues continued to grow, but our share of the advertising market slipped from 30 percent in 1976 to 26 percent in 1986. Without the exceptional growth of classified, our loss of market share would have been more precipitous.

Some well-known big-city papers failed. I believe most of them died from self-inflicted wounds. Some lost touch with their customers. Some did not follow their readers and advertisers to the suburbs. Others could not muster the will to face down the unions on featherbedding and new technology. They were condemned by obsolete plants, bloated costs, non-competitive prices, and not least, by poor management.

Fortunately, most newspapers awoke from their sleep and began to change with the times.

We are producing better newspapers today. Many papers offer fine examples of modern technology, teamwork and professional management. We got better when we ceased to be monopolies, when we had to compete again.

We gathered the courage and skill to take charge of our production process. We broke down wasteful work rules and now are introducing the fifth generation of new technology. Most papers are giving their customers high-fidelity printing quality on offset.

Our ad departments are using sophisticated marketing techniques. We are using research to help customers advertise efficiently. We are distributing preprints where customers want them, at competitive prices. We are zoning to make our newspapers affordable for small advertisers.

Circulation departments have made customer service more reliable. And they have trained computers to keep track of the customers.

The newsrooms have added color, graphics and better packaging to make the papers more attractive and easier to read. We have responded to changes in lifestyles and leisure activities with sections that are edited to appeal to special interests of readers as well as advertisers.

We are making progress in our reporting of business, a subject of fast-growing reader interest. Until lately, most papers either ignored business or reported it with appalling ignorance.

Many newspaper editors have come to accept what researcher Ruth Clark calls the "new social contract."

She said: "The terms of the old contract were clear. Editors decided what readers should know - readers read what editors thought they should know."

"Now readers are more sophisticated, better-educated, less accepting and literally saturated with information. Although they still want newspapers to tell them what is important, they also want a good deal more. They want help in understanding and dealing with an increasingly complex world, news about their neighborhood, not just city government and Washington."

We came to accept this new contract because we learned what readers would do when we bored them. They tune us out as fast as they switch TV channels. Now we have to be creative enough to engage readers every day if we expect them to read us the next day.

Most editors now realize that what distinguishes a good newspaper from its competitors is how clearly it reflects the life of its local community. Not only its politics, crime and bureaucratic events, but also its flavor, what people are talking about, concerned about, how they are spending their time and money.

World and national news has more immediate impact on our readers than ever. The best of our editors recognize that our unique advantage is in relating those distant events to the lives of our local readers.

Most editors now recognize the value of the small items that are vital information to readers. Many even value neighborhood news.

The walls between departments are tumbling down. There is still a clear understanding that business considerations cannot and must not influence news judgments. But we have learned that the news department can join the team without jeopardizing its independence. In fact, we've learned that the only way we can compete is for all departments to function as a team.

The most fundamental change has been change itself. We have learned not only to accept change, but also to seek it.

We have learned to look outward rather than inward - to focus on what our customers need before we consider our own problems. We have learned to say, "We can do it," instead of "We can't do it."

Today, the newspaper business is more exciting and more challenging than it was when I started. We have to be more resourceful and creative. There are plenty of mountains to climb in the years ahead. But it's fun to be in a business that's changing, experimenting and getting better - one that can never again afford to become self-satisfied.

Now let me conclude on a different tack.

Success, regrettably, tends to encourage smugness. Some in our business continue to duck and dodge that cluster of reader concerns called credibility. They say our papers are unfairly tainted by the ambush interviews and shallow theatrics of television. They say public officials are much looser with the truth than are newspapers. This is true, but altogether irrelevant.

We are part of a communications revolution that has made the media more pervasive and more powerful than ever. People fear that power; they would be foolish not to fear it. They resent arrogance, unfairness, and shallow and incompetent reporting. They wish to hold us to the high standards we claim for ourselves and demand in public figures.

The credibility issue does not revolve around bland as opposed to aggressive journalism; it goes instead to honesty, character and competence. Every column of news and opinion we print shows how much we value those traits in the newsrooms.

Readers sometimes see us more clearly than we see ourselves. We would be wise to acknowledge the power we exercise, and to take responsibility for it.

Technology, teamwork, training, better management - all these have brought us a long way; many of the toughest problems are behind us. But winning and holding public trust is something always to be reached for, something never to be held in a firm grasp. Let's keep reaching.

Copyright 1988 Frank Batten

Six trends for opportunities in the '90s

Executive stockholders meeting, April 1990

I plan to highlight some trends I believe will influence Landmark in this next decade. Most of the forces I'll talk about will present opportunities for Landmark.

That doesn't mean I'm ignoring our problems. We face a wide assortment. Illiteracy. Declining newspaper reading. Growing competition. The elusive goal of improving minority employment. We must confront these and other challenges. And they will continue to command our attention until we solve them.

Solving problems alone, however, will not be enough to move Landmark forward. Real success comes only to companies that recognize opportunities and make the most of them.

Let me talk about six trends that I think offer opportunities for Landmark in the 1990s.

First, I expect to see a strong economy through much of the '90s. That may sound strange when we appear to be heading into a recession. But I'm talking about a decade, not a year. The economy may not be as robust as the long boom of the '80s. It should be much better than in the '60s and '70s, when America was plagued by war, inflation, economic stagnation and Jimmy Carter's "malaise."

Consider these running currents. Communism and socialism are fast disintegrating in most of the developed world. Democracy and market economies are winning. As a result, we'll see a large shift from military to civilian investment. As totalitarian shackles are removed, new markets will open for American products and entrepreneurs. At the same time, American businesses are rapidly learning to compete again, while the unproductive takeover binge seems to be winding down.

In this climate, Landmark should be expansive rather than cautious.

Trend No. 2: Major shifts in population. The population is aging. The huge baby boom generation is growing middle-aged. As the birth rate has declined, there are fewer young people to replace the baby boomers. As people are living longer, those over 50 may become the dominant faction in our society.

There are many implications. Here are a few.

Middle-aged and older people have always been better newspaper readers than the young. They are better viewers of The Weather Channel, too. But they won't just walk in the door. We'll have to find some new ways to lure the baby boomers, most of whom were born and raised on TV sitcoms and movies. And we'll have to do more to cater to the special interests of the seniors, as well.
As the boomers mature, they are becoming better workers and more productive. However, with fewer young people entering the work force, the supply of entry-level people will be tight. Meanwhile, jobs are becoming more skilled.
All that adds up to opportunity for Landmark. We have a tradition of working harder to train and develop our people than do most companies. People development will be the critical requirement, and we will have to take it to a new level in the '90s. The caliber of Landmark's organization is already a strong asset. If we continue to raise our standards, we can build a powerful organization in the '90s.

No. 3: Demand for news, information, entertainment and advertising will continue to grow. Rising demand, technology and the invention of new media will bring on a faster pace of change. Traditional media companies are consolidating, but lots of new players are entering - companies like IBM, Sony, Mead and many smaller entrepreneurs. They are attracted by growth and change.

To stay ahead of the competition, we need to anticipate changes and take advantage of them.

For example, advertisers are becoming more sophisticated and cost-conscious. They will demand more targeted advertising and narrowly focused media. Computers and technology will permit us to customize our existing products to smaller market segments and eventually to individual households.

There's a natural inclination to resist these changes. It's easier, cheaper and sometimes more satisfying to focus our resources on one standard product. But the rewards in the '90s will go to the customizers - the media that tailor their products to needs of individual customers.

Direct marketing, catalog retailing and video shopping at home have become major advertising media in the '80s. They bypass traditional media. We need to figure out how to participate in this burgeoning business.

One prospect is to extend the use of our newspaper distribution systems. With postal rates zooming, we may have a chance to develop business as the low-cost distributor.

Another possibility is to start new, advertising-related businesses, like our CarHunt automobile location service. CarHunt is an imaginative new way to match buyers and sellers of cars in a market that has been notoriously inefficient. It is a natural extension of our classified advertising business. CarHunt is not proven yet, but we hope it will be the forerunner of other electronic marketplaces we can create.

Trend four: New technology will spawn entirely new media in the '90s. Videotext never got out of the starting gate. Consumers found raw text on a computer screen too cumbersome and boring. But personal computers eventually will find an important role in media.

They will be loaded with color pictures, video clips, maps, voice and sound. Animation, narration and music will be added to text and graphics.

The first application of multimedia PCs will be in business and education. Think of the sizzle multimedia PCs can add to sales presentations, training and merchandising. Sellers of high-ticket items could send computer disks as advertising to select customers.

Imagine how educators could use multimedia PCs in teaching history or geography.

Eventually multimedia will make the PC a household staple. When that happens, it might let us transform the Pilot and Ledger's new audiotext service, Infoline, into a very lively new medium. We might add pictures, graphics and perhaps video to what is now simply a voice service. Think of the appeal and value this would add.

The personal computer is not the only new way to deliver information. People have talked about a facsimile-delivered newspaper for years, but I doubt I'll ever see a traditional full-size newspaper by fax. Even so, the day of fax-delivered information has come in a rush.

There will be 9 million fax machines in use by 1992. They are easy to use and getting cheaper by the month. I think we'll soon see a wide array of publications delivered by fax. Some will be tailored for individual customers.

We won't be the only ones fishing in these new ponds. Landmark will have to be creative and venturesome to seize upon new media and develop markets for them. We have a history of being willing to experiment and take risks with new products and ventures. That's a big advantage. To be successful in a competitive world, we must always be willing to risk failure.

The fifth trend: Global media. We have created a worldwide communications system. I believe it is responsible in part for the incredible democracy movement. Soon we will be able to communicate almost anything anywhere - by text, data, voice, video.

English is becoming almost a universal language. Its use is growing because it is taught more than any other language. More than 80 percent of the information stored in computers around the world is in English.

As a result, large American and foreign media companies are moving to become multinational companies. They see opportunities to open new markets for their products. Landmark has entered a small foreign venture with a Canadian partner to operate a Canadian weather channel. We intend to participate in this global marketplace.

My sixth trend. Women taking charge. There was a rising tide of women moving into professional and managerial jobs throughout the '70s and '80s. In Landmark during the 1980s, women increased from 28 to 41 percent of our professional employees. And women grew from 15 to 38 percent of our managers and supervisors.

The greatest impact of this trend will be felt in the '90s, when more women will move into leadership roles in Landmark and other companies.

This is an enormous opportunity. Just as women have already enlarged the pool of talent in our professional ranks, they will greatly enlarge our managerial talent. And with more women making key management decisions, we should be in closer touch with the needs and interests of women who make consumer decisions.

This is not just a matter of taking. We have to give something back, too. We must do a better job of learning how to adapt to the special problems and needs of women who work. In some places the adjustments need to be substantial, but the talent and commitment we will receive in return will be more than worth the effort.

Now let me summarize these six trends for the '90s:

First, a strong economy in most years.
Second, an aging population and a tight supply of new, young talent.
Third, heavy demands for news, information, entertainment and advertising, and a clear move toward targeted markets and media.
Fourth, new media spawned by technology.
Fifth, growth of global media companies.
Sixth, women taking charge.
None of these trends is revolutionary, and they are not the only forces we will encounter in the '90s. But I believe all of them offer opportunities for Landmark.

Landmark has generally maintained a healthy balance between the old and the new. Through the years we have stuck by our fundamental values - quality products, independent journalism, fairness to customers, development of our people, and ethical business practices. At the same time, we have been dissatisfied with the status quo. We have worked hard to raise standards. We have frequently ventured into new territory, sometimes at great risk, as with The Weather Channel.

The focus of our meeting today has been to look forward to this new decade. That is critical in this time of fast and sometimes incredible change. But let's also keep our eyes glued on our bedrock purposes - to produce first-rate media that excel in serving our customers.

Copyright 1990 Frank Batten

Continuous Improvement will revolutionize Landmark

Continuous Improvement seminar, July 1991

This meeting is the first step in a process that I am confident will revolutionize the way we manage Landmark. Why do we need to create a revolution in Landmark?

I don't intend to be overly dramatic, but the answer is survival. During much of the working lives of people in this room, our newspapers and TV stations were near-monopolies.

Someone recently reminded me of something I said in 1977. He had asked me why we were selling our TV station in Greensboro rather than the newspaper. I replied: "The TV station is already sold out. We can't add any more time for commercials. But the newspaper can add an unlimited number of pages as the advertising keeps growing."

That pretty well expressed the state of this business then. TV stations were largely sold out, and newspapers were adding more and more advertising pages. Our costs were continually rising, and we just passed along our costs to customers.

How those comfortable times have changed! The media business is undergoing a sea change. Revolutionary changes in retailing have made mass-market advertisers less plentiful, more cost-conscious and less influenced by local media. Newspapers are fighting to hold readers. And they are facing tough price competition from other media at a time when many of our customers are unwilling or unable to pay for our costs. Network TV stations are losing audience and advertising share to independent stations and cable channels. The Weather Channel and other programmers face a hostile political climate toward cable TV. This will surely lead to price restraints and more competition.

The media business finds itself in a situation similar to what American automakers and electronics companies faced some years ago when Japan invaded. Some American companies confronted the competition, restructured, improved quality and made themselves more efficient and more responsive to customers. Companies that did not respond have fallen into deep troubles - with discontinued businesses and mass layoffs.

We can succeed and maintain a strong business if we face the music and undertake major changes in the way we manage.

We will have to learn how to deliver better quality and service without price increases. We will have to cut some prices and are already cutting some advertising rates. That means lower costs and a continuous striving to become more productive. It requires continuous improvement in the way we do everything.

Other companies have learned how to do this. We will learn how to do it in Landmark.

So this meeting is a beginning first step in a long-term process to make Landmark more competitive and more valuable to our customers.

Copyright 1991 Frank Batten

Entrepreneurship in Virginia

The Darden Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia, December 1991

For several years, I've been thinking about what we could do to have a significant impact on business leadership and performance - here in Virginia and in the nation. I concluded that a great opportunity to make a difference is to develop here at Darden a world-class program in entrepreneurship.

I am confident that Darden is the place for this initiative. I have long admired Darden's faculty. I have developed a high regard for (Dean) Ted Snyder and his leadership. A good start has been made on an entrepreneurial program at Darden. Now is the time to take it to a higher leve1 - to make it a leader.

Why entrepreneurship and why now? I believe we are in the midst of an ecomonic revolution that may be transforming as the industrial revolution. This revolution is being fueled by entrepreneurs, new technology and the Internet. Long established industries are being transformed.

Consider the impact and its imitators will have on the retailing business and the impact of online trading on the banking and brokerage business. There are many others. New businesses created by entrepreneurs will become the likes of the Fords, Sears Roebucks, and IBMs of the past half- century.

I think this revolution a blessing for the American economy. The new economy is nourshing our longest sustained ecomonic growth. It is driving down prices and holding down inflation. It is challenging our largest businesses to restructure and become more productive and more entrepreneurial themselves.

America's entrepreneurial leadership is probably our largest competitive advantage in a global economy. America has always been friendly to entrepreneurs, but now, for the first time, it is supporting their ventures with an enormous flow of capital.

Many of our best and brightest minds are becoming entreprenuers. Entrepreneurial firms have replaced cousulting and Wall Street as the place to go for many MBA graduates. I recently read what was for me a surprising statistic. Of last year's MBA graduates from top schools, about 35% went to entrepreneurial firms or to venture capital firms. This persuades me that any business school that does not have exceptional competence in entrepreneurship will be relegated to the minor leagues.

Our purpose in providing these resources is to enable and challenge Darden to become one of the leaders in this entrepreneurial economy. Virginia is one of the largest homes for technology firms. This university can be to Virginia's entrepreneurial economy what Stanford and Cal Tech are to Silicone Valley. Darden should be the catalyst to make this happen.

Of course, Darden's reach and its aspirations stretch far Virginia. I believe Darden can now become a world class educator and knowledge resource for the entrepreneurial economy. Thomas Jefferson, himself an inventor and entrepreneur, would have insisted on nothing less.

Copyright 1991 Frank Batten

Landmark's Vision: To become the leader in all our markets

Landmark managers' meeting, May 1993

People in Landmark have asked: "Why are you shaking up the company? Aren't we making enough money?"

The simple answer is, "The bottom line is just fine, but the competitive trends are not worth a damn."

I've been around enough to know that the companies that are comfortable and satisfied are the ones that take the biggest falls. They never saw what hit them until it was too late. Look at those seemingly invincible giants, General Motors and IBM.

Of course, Landmark is not GM or IBM, but there are some surprising similarities.

During most of my career and the careers of many in this room, our newspapers and TV stations operated in protected markets. The newspapers were monopolies and nobody challenged our dominance of local advertising. The stations were protected from competition by government licensing. These were the perfect kinds of monopolies, because our prices were not even regulated.

I don't need to tell you that none of our businesses is a monopoly today. They face fierce competition. The newspapers and stations are steadily losing market share to competitors. Even The Weather Channel faces big changes as fiber optic and digital video transmission will spawn scores of new cable networks aiming for our viewers and advertisers.

This imposes on us an urgent need to change the way Landmark operates. If Landmark's media are not to become endangered species, we must learn to become superior competitors rather than monopolists.

How are we going to make that transformation? Obviously we have to do a lot of things better than we did when customers didn't have anywhere to turn but to us. Let's focus on the main things we need to achieve.

About a year ago we published something we called Landmark's Vision. It was a simple statement of where we wanted Landmark to be in the '90s. That statement expressed the combined judgment of Landmark's corporate and division managers, after days of debate.

The statement expressed some nice aspirations. You probably read it and may well have forgotten it. But let me tell you what it means to me.

The Vision set five targets for Landmark.

Here's the first. We didn't just say Landmark wants to understand and be responsive to customers and provide good service. We said Landmark will be THE leader in all of the markets.

That's not a platitude. It's a very specific target. It's an ambitious target, and the result is measurable.

We stuck our necks out on this, because it's the most important thing we can do to gain competitive advantage. The only reason for existence of our business is to create products and services customers want at prices they will pay.

If all of us recognize that a central part of our jobs is to gain real insight into what customers want and expect from us.
If we learn what really matters to our customers and what does not matter.
If we consider the customer in all our decisions.
If we convince our people that their livelihoods depend on satisfying customers.
If we create a climate in which our people enjoy delighting customers and take pride in satisfying customers.
If we do these things, we will go a long way toward becoming the leader in our markets. We intend to reach that target, and we will measure the progress of each division every year.
The second target in our Vision ... Landmark companies will be the most efficient producers of media products and services at competitive prices.

In Landmark, we have always thought of ourselves as efficient, as being careful with resources. Some think we are lean operators. But the truth is that we didn't have to worry much about productivity in all the years we operated in protected markets. We were more productive than the average newspapers and stations, and that was good enough. When we wanted to add staff or raise pay, we could pass along the costs to our customers. And we did - with price increases exceeding inflation year after year.

What's changed is that we no longer own our markets. Competitors with lower costs and lower prices are siphoning off our revenues. You know the competitors: cable TV, direct mail, ADVO and others. Much of our pricing flexibility has vanished, and many of our prices have become competitive problems.

That means productivity has become a survival issue for Landmark and for all traditional media. And our track record is not pretty. Revenue per employee in a number of divisions has declined.

In the 1960s and '70s, we did make impressive gains in the newspaper production departments with new technologies. We invested most of those savings in larger staff in other departments. In recent years, productivity has declined steadily.

Increasing productivity is not easy. We believe the best way to make lasting gains is through systematic use of the methods and tools of Continuous Improvement. There are many advantages of CI methods:

They carefully analyze the work we do - step by step.
They simplify complex processes. Complexity is the enemy of speed and productivity.
They root out the things we do every day that are of little value to customers.
They identify the things we don't do that customers expect of us.
They rely upon the knowledge, experience and ideas of the people closest to the work and closest to customers.
In Landmark, we have never attacked productivity systematically. Through CI, the opportunity for improvement is enormous. The survival of our businesses requires us to reduce the cost of making and delivering products and services our customers need. It's that simple. Continuously improving productivity and satisfying customers are bound together. We cannot satisfy customers without raising productivity.

In contrast to most other companies in the media business and elsewhere, we have been able to accomplish staff reductions through attrition rather than involuntary layoffs.

I have no doubt that Landmark can achieve the kind of gains in productivity that are required. Other businesses were threatened by competitors long before competition revolutionized the media business. We have seen hundreds of examples of quantum improvements in a variety of these companies.

Just as we will measure our progress in customer satisfaction, we will also measure productivity gains in each division.

A third part of our Vision says: We will be exceptional in developing new products and services using new technologies.

I think one thing that has set Landmark apart has been our record of success with product innovations. To name a couple, some of our newspapers were leaders in perfecting zoned editions far ahead of the industry. The Weather Channel was the first and is still the only network to deliver localized television commercials to national advertisers. In both cases, we found creative ways to meet customer needs. No customers told us they wanted a Beacon in Virginia Beach or ways to deliver local messages in national commercials. People in Landmark understood the customers and figured out unique ways to satisfy them. These innovations have been major factors in our success.

The need for new ideas and new ways to satisfy customers is much greater today. Our competitors are innovating, and technological change is escalating at an incredible pace.

To develop exceptional skills in innovation, we need to think and act like innovators. That means we must be willing to experiment, to take some risks and to fail at times. We've had our share of failures. We can't expect to make improvements that really matter if we are afraid to fail.

It also means that we must engage the whole organization in the search for ideas and ways to serve the customers. This is a fundamental precept of CI. In the past, most of our ideas for innovation came from managers. But think of the power we can generate if we engage the people who are closest to customers in finding new ways to serve customers.

The fourth leg of our Vision focuses on things we must do better: Develop our people and engage them in improvement.

We have provided a variety of training opportunities to managers in Landmark. But we have never had a systematic effort to provide skills training to our entire work force. We must fill that void in people skills to have the kind of organization that is able to compete in the future.

We will commit the resources needed for first-rate training. Training people is essential to gain competitive advantage. It is also important to provide our people with larger opportunities for their own growth. Emphasizing and using teamwork is a skill all of us must learn and perfect. We have tended to focus on individual performance more than teamwork.We will continue to value individual achievement, but we must also learn how to balance that by celebrating and rewarding teamwork.

Enlisting the whole organization in improvement and customer service, developing people and building teamwork will require extraordinary leadership. There is no more important task for Landmark managers than providing thoughtful, sensitive leadership in a time of unsettling change. You have to care about people to lead them. There will be a premium in Landmark on people who are able to lead their organizations through these challenges.

The last part of our Vision is to: Enter growing new media businesses. Landmark started as a newspaper and broadcasting company in Norfolk. We expanded these businesses. But every few years we also branched out into new fields. Successively we entered cable TV, community newspapers, cable programming, specialty publishing with Trader and other publications, and most recently, business information. We are continuing the search for opportunities to enter new fields.

New technologies will reshape the media business in the next 10 to 15 years. Some of the changes will be revolutionary and will have an enormous impact on how people get information and entertainment. To mention a few, people will have access to as many as 300 to 500 cable channels. Many will be interactive - offering consumers wide choices of specialized news and information, entertainment and advertising. Multimedia technologies will lead to overlapping roles for print and video in ways that are not yet clear. In order to remain a vital enterprise, we intend to be an active player in the new media that will emerge.

I started my talk by saying that our business is doing OK now, but that the trends and competitive threats are daunting. Strange as it may sound, I welcome the competition. No company ever became great until it had to confront and stay ahead of strong competitors.

I hope I have convinced you that we have a vision for making Landmark a world-class competitor - the leader in all of our markets. To accomplish that, we will have to focus on delighting customers, improving productivity, creating new and better products, and developing our people. I believe that's a winning game plan. It's an ambitious plan that will not be easy to accomplish. But I am confident that we have the will and resources in Landmark to become winning competitors.

Copyright 1993 Frank Batten

The promise of CI

Landmark managers' meeting, May 1994

Last year I spoke to you about Landmark's Vision ? the five critical targets we set for making Landmark a world-class competitor. People have asked what those five targets add up to. What will Landmark be when we accomplish them?

All of our core businesses - newspapers, television and cable programming - operate in an incredibly vibrant market. There is a rising tide of demand for information and entertainment. Everybody wants to get into the media and communications business. So competition has become intense and is accelerating.

In industries where demand is strong and competition severe, the best competitors will thrive. Others will decline or fall by the wayside.

There's nothing complicated about our strategy. It's to become the best competitor in every market we serve. When we reach the targets in our vision, we will be the top competitor. That means the leader in satisfying customers.

How will we get there?

By being the best in understanding and responding to customers. By being the most productive so we can deliver competitive prices and high value to customers. By developing innovative products and services for customers. And by developing the skills of our people and empowering them to achieve results for customers.

This is the essence of our vision. It centers on our customers and our people.

Landmark will be regarded as the leader in all of its markets in:

Understanding customers.
Being responsive to customers.
Providing reliable, trustworthy service.
Let's look at each of our targets.

This year we made more headway in understanding our advertising customers than in any other time I can remember. We've made many efforts to study the interests and habits of readers and viewers, but the Cambridge studies were our first in-depth attempt to dig into the needs and attitudes of advertisers. And advertisers deliver two-thirds of Landmark's revenues.

We learned a lot. Some of it was uncomfortable. But the studies gave us a long list of opportunities to improve our performance for advertisers. Every division has teams at work on these opportunities. They range from service improvements to efforts to deliver more value and better results for advertisers.

Throughout Landmark, scores of teams are also making improvements aimed at satisfying readers and viewers. They are at work in our news, circulation and production departments, The Weather Channel's meteorology and engineering departments. The exciting thing for me is to see departments that once were absorbed with internal agendas focusing on customers now.

Last year I said we would measure progress toward this target. We have already done our first two baseline measures of advertiser satisfaction, and we will conduct advertiser satisfaction surveys every quarter from now on.

Measuring reader and viewer satisfaction is more complex. One newspaper is experimenting with a reader satisfaction index. We will be undertaking some innovative research on readers and viewers later this year.

I think we have made a good start toward this target. But our customers are telling us that there are critical problems in their perception of our value and in some of our services. We have a long way to go before we can say every Landmark company is the leader in customer satisfaction.

Landmark companies will be the most efficient producers of media products and services at competitive prices.

Our second target means improving productivity to deliver competitive prices and better value to customers.

Some have interpreted this is as a cover to cut costs, cut costs, cut costs. The fact is, we did a good bit of cost-cutting through a bad recession. Staffs were reduced, and last year we offered incentives to people to retire early. We took these steps to break the self-defeating cycle of raising prices to pay for cost increases and to avoid involuntary layoffs. I hope the economic improvement of recent months will continue and we can avoid this kind of cost-cutting. To make that work, we must succeed with long-term efforts to improve productivity through process improvement.

All of our media use exceptionally complex processes. The nature of our business is complex. Each of our media produces a new and different product every day. There are no cookie-cutter businesses in Landmark. So we have a wealth of opportunities to improve productivity by streamlining and simplifying our complex processes. That is the promise of CI.

The reason I'm optimistic is that we have seen so many impressive productivity improvements in so many departments while we were just learning to use the tools of CI. As we become more proficient with CI, we will begin to tackle the really big opportunities for improvement. These are the large, complex, cross-functional work processes.

Landmark companies will have exceptional skills in:

Developing new products and services.
Making innovative improvements in existing products and services.
Making successful use of new technologies.
The relationship between productivity and competitive prices should be obvious. Perhaps less obvious is how to continuously add value to what we deliver to customers.

One thing is certain. To compete, we will have to engage in perpetual innovation.

For example, I believe we will need to offer more and more targeted, customized products and services to customers. Newspapers will need to deliver address-specific news and advertising packages. The Weather Channel and The Travel Channel will need to deliver interactive services to individual viewers.

Targeting and customization will add another level of complexity. That will make it more important to perfect our processes so we can keep pace with what customers want at prices they will pay.

We will have to experiment more and move faster to innovate. CI is based on facts and analysis. But too much analysis can paralyze innovation. Sometimes we need to try things based on strong intuition, and be willing to fail.

We decided to start The Weather Channel on instinct - after a few hours of discussion. Then we spent several months developing a business plan to justify the decision. Nothing happened like our business plan projected. If we had analyzed The Weather Channel exhaustively, we might have talked ourselves out of it.

To be exceptional innovators, we need to listen to customers, pay attention to our instincts, and try things. Nothing will turn out like we expect, so our game plans need to be flexible.

Landmark has a pretty good track record with innovation. But we need to do more of it in every part of Landmark.
Landmark will be regarded by its people as exceptional in:

Providing opportunities to grow and develop skills.
Celebrating and rewarding teamwork.
Engaging people at all levels in Continuous Improvement.
Developing leaders.
Whether we really delight customers or just give lip service to them depends on the skill and commitment of Landmark people.

There's a reservoir of talent in Landmark that we have never fully utilized. We haven't given people enough opportunities to practice and develop their skills. We haven't enabled them to make enough difference for customers.

How will we tap that underused resource? First, by making a much larger investment in training. A Landmark task force studied the training practices of a number of companies known for excellence in developing their people. Its report will be published early this summer.

Here are just a few things it recommends.

Very few of our new employees go through orientation now.New employees should be required to go through a well-organized orientation before they start work.
Early on, they should be given an in-depth introduction to CI's basic tools and principles.
Each employee should be given a minimum of five days of organized skills training each year.
Landmark should develop first-rate training resources with a variety of courses and professionally developed materials.
A Landmark-developed supervisory training program should be required of all managers.
We should design a process to help employees take primary responsibility for their own career development. In time, each employee should have his or her own learning plan.
The report is thoughtfully presented and contains many other excellent ideas. It will help us make Landmark a continuous-learning organization.

But our people will need more than talent and skills. They need authority and opportunities to produce results for customers - whether internal or external customers. That means flattening the organization, eliminating layers of approval, and pushing more and more authority to the people who do the work.

We've already learned in early experience with CI that people who have never before been asked have a wealth of ideas for improvement. They want to contribute and produce results. With good training and coaching, they can also make decisions that benefit customers.

Landmark will be engaged in several new lines of businesses with excellent growth potential in media and communications.

The last target in our vision is to enter new media businesses. The media landscape is changing fast. We need to take advantage of our abilities and resources to enter emerging media that serve our customers in new ways. Some will be extensions of our newspapers, TV stations and cable networks. Others will be entirely separate businesses.

This year we launched a travel network in England and expect to start others in other parts of the world. They will not be the same as our American channel, because viewers' interests and languages differ. But they will rely upon our skills and resources in Atlanta. We believe we can develop an international identity in travel programming that will open other opportunities for information and transaction services.

Our new online database service, InfiNet, is being launched in Norfolk, Roanoke, Richmond, Greensboro and Nashville. InfiNet is small today, but it gives our newspapers and stations an opportunity to learn and experiment with online services.

Antique Trader and our joint venture, Trader Publishing, have created a number of new publications aimed at markets different from our traditional products.

Other new ventures are on the drawing board. I'm excited that so many new ideas and initiatives for new ventures are coming from our operating units now.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard Tom Peters say the winners in the media revolution will be the ones who at first look like losers - the ones who try a lot of things and look stupid at first. I can relate to that. I remember when the world thought we were goofy to program 24 hours of non-stop weather. There were times when we doubted our own sanity. Many of my publishing colleagues and some in Landmark, too, turned up their noses at the Auto Trader business.

We need to encourage people to stick their necks out and take risks. Risks with new products and services for customers, risks with process improvement, risks in empowering people to act. To make that possible, I'll suggest something revolutionary. I think we need to celebrate some failures as well as successes.

We still have a long journey before we can realize Landmark's Vision. But the commitment you have shown to engage and improve makes me certain we will get there. When we do, we'll have a company that will compete and win.

Copyright 1994 Frank Batten

Investing in the future: making our mark through excellence

Landmark managers' meeting, May 1995

Every day when I pick up the paper now, I read today's surprise about the media business. New products offered, new technologies announced, mergers, joint ventures, new competitors invading others' markets. There has never been a time in our business when change was as swift and as revolutionary as today.

It's natural to ask in a time like this, "What is the future for a medium-size, private media company like Landmark?"

It is easy to focus on the perils and threats brought on by galloping change. There's no doubt that the risks are greater and the stresses of change can be unsettling.

It is also true that the greatest opportunities are usually spawned in times of extraordinary changes.

I believe Landmark's future depends on how skillfully and aggressively we create and seize new opportunities. We have what it takes to develop and exploit opportunities successfully.

First, unlike our sister company, TeleCable, Landmark is not threatened by radical structural changes and consolidations in our industries. None of our businesses is at a real disadvantage because of size. None requires expertise or capital resources we cannot supply or acquire.

We do face competitive threats and technology changes that challenge us more than ever before. But that's more a way of life in every media company today.

We have assets, many of them unique, that can give us powerful competitive advantages in the media business.

Because Landmark is private, we are not shackled by the short-term mentality of Wall Street. We operate with a long-term investment strategy. That was never more important than today.To develop new business opportunities and build competitive strength now requires investments that take years, rather than months, to pay off. Investments of all kinds. Investments in team management, in developing people, in building new products and market share, in experimenting with new media. Throughout Landmark, we are making investments that many others would not consider because the payoff will not come quickly. Our long-term horizon is a major advantage.

Landmark has a long track record of successful innovation and entrepreneurship.

We were one of the early pioneers in cable TV. When our capital was very limited, we built a strong cable company through resourceful franchising rather than paying fancy prices for acquisitions.

When most observers thought we were nuts, we started The Weather Channel. Its key success factor was our own invention of the means to deliver local weather forecasts to every cable system.

Later, we recognized an opportunity to develop a national business by consolidating small classified publications. The value we added with management, marketing skills and new-product development produced a fast-growing company in Trader.

There have been scores of innovations in each of our divisions. In just the last year, divisions have undertaken new ventures like careerWEB, a Latin American Travel Channel, The Vacation Store, four new publications in Citrus County, 45 new titles at Trader Publishing, five new collectible titles. Others are in the works.

Not everything we have done has been a winner. But failures, in an odd way, are a mark of success in an innovator as long as they are not too big and too many.

At the root of successful innovation is a willingness to take intelligent risks. Landmark has done that well.

Almost as important today is a willingness to move fast. That often means moving before we have a clear picture of where we are headed. For some years, the newspaper industry has been mulling over what to do about electronic publishing. While others are ruminating, we have started InfiNet. It's too early to tell where InfiNet will lead us, but we are playing the game now. We will learn much more as a player in the marketplace than by attending seminars.

Skill in innovation is probably the single most important strength a media company needs today.

Continuous Improvement gives us a unique opportunity to become a high-performance organization.

We have always striven to get better every year. But in the past, initiative for improvement was driven largely from the top down. CI and team management are the means to engage the entire organization in improvement. Most of the knowledge of what customers want and where our work processes need reform lies with people who serve customers and do the work. Imagine the energy we'll have for improvement when we learn to tap into all that experience.

We are still in the early stages of Continuous Improvement. I know that time-consuming emphasis on training and process has been frustrating and sometimes stressful. But CI has already produced important gains. We will demonstrate a few of them today. If we are patient and tenacious, our results will grow and keep growing.

Through CI, Landmark is far ahead of other media companies in building the mechanism to become the leader in customer satisfaction and productivity. Translating that mechanism into major gains in customer satisfaction and productivity is our largest challenge.

We have a long-standing commitment in Landmark to develop our people. We have a history of taking risks with people - of giving them responsibility and freedom to act.

Now we must provide them with more help and support. Competition requires it. Our work is more sophisticated and demands a broader range of skills. And people need more opportunities to learn and grow for their own stimulation and fulfillment.

Three Landmark teams proposed ambitious initiatives for making this promise a reality. We are determined to make these initiatives in development part of everyday life in Landmark.

We have one of the strongest organizations in the media business today. With a more focused development effort, the skills of our people will be a very large advantage.

Landmark has a reputation in our industry and in our communities for high ethical standards. People trust us. You can't put a price on that, but it is an incredibly valuable asset.

A few weeks ago, someone we were discussing a risky business venture with told me, "In the end, the reason we decided to do this with you is that we trust you."

I don't know of anything else I would rather hear said about Landmark.

Just as important, we produce products we can be proud of. Products that are valuable and important in the lives of our customers. Most of our products are themselves public services.

That's not easy to say today about many media companies. The media marketplace is full of trash and sleaze. An explosion of media voices has created a mad race to capture audience. Even some old-line media are exploiting sex, violence and sensation to get attention. I blanch at some of the fare on the broadcast networks.

We are not perfect. But almost everything we produce is a useful, valuable service to our customers. It helps the spirit when you can go home at night knowing you have contributed to something worthwhile.

Now I hope you understand some of the reasons I'm confident about Landmark's future.

A long-term investment horizon.
A record of successful innovation.
The potential of Continuous Improvement.
First-rate people and a commitment to develop them.
A reputation of trust.
Products we can be proud of.
These are assets that really count. They give us an opportunity to become something special - a media company that is known for excellence. Excellence in business performance and excellence in service to customers and the public.

We are not there yet, and that's OK. Excellence serves best as a pursuit. Looking back on Landmark, I think we've run a long race well, have gained in skill and endurance, and are prepared to keep up a steady pace toward our goals.

Copyright 1995 Frank Batten