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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

The Journal Broadcast Group is going though changes in its management structure. That may mean changes here in Milwaukee. (PHOTO: shutterstock.com )

Journal should heed lessons of the past to influence future


The company that we've come to know as Journal Communications owns media properties on three of the most used traditional media platforms in the market. The history of the company's past may provide some perspective on where it is going now.

A recent interview by trade publication Inside Radio with Steve Wexler, the executive vice president of radio for the Journal Broadcast Group, shares some insight into the course the media outlet has set for the future.

Monopoly on Milwaukee

Because of the innovation, and strategic moves in the past, the company invested newspaper profits into establishing a television and radio presence in Milwaukee.

It has always been tough on competitors here to fight the behemoth that had the monopoly in the market. With the Milwaukee Journal and consequent (Journal Sentinel), radio stations on both the AM and FM dial, and WTMJ-TV, the group was – and still is – a powerhouse.

The FCC granted Journal a grandfather clause to keep its television and newspaper ownership in a single market, to the disdain of competitors which are not allowed the right to do the same. However, without the company's large footprint, we wouldn't have the rich media outlets and offerings that we do have here.

Journal Communications is now a medium-sized media corporation in the nation, but it is much smaller than Gannett, Hearst and some of the other, larger conglomerates.

As Journal Broadcast (the division of Journal Communications that handles television and radio) grew, the employee-owned business has purchased more stations throughout the country. The firm is currently investing more in the development of content, and making a name for itself in the digital space.

Change in Leadership

The habits of readers, viewers and listeners have changed.

Journal Broadcast Group recently realigned its management model to better run its broadcast operations in its latest attempt to be innovative and strategic on the changing landscape.

Wexler – who oversaw both the TV and radio operations in Milwaukee and other markets – has had a change in roles. Now, he oversees the entire radio operation for Journal Broadcast. Debbie Turner, the GM at WTVF-TV in Nashville, will now oversee television operations.

This change is different than the cluster management that was in place.

In an in-depth interview with Inside Radio, Wexler mapped out his career path and spoke to the future of the operation.

While I may not have agreed with every decision Wexler made in his former role, I do agree with him that you need to know where you were, before deciding on where you are going.

"The energy, the creativity, the passion is unmistakable when you are around this industry," Wexler said about how optimistic he is about the future of radio.

"I'm not at all naive about the challenges, but I think if we really think carefully and strategically about the advertiser and the listener and are willing to innovate and address their needs, we'll be successful."

Digital Growth

Part of the change in our technology-driven world is that information and entertainment is much more accessible in many different places.

When I worked in newspapers, management at the highest levels was slow to adopt new ways of doing things. While investing in new print facilities, many print outlets failed to take the time to research and invest in digital communication technology. Moving a print operation into the digital age was difficult at best. I called it, "steering the dinosaur."

Growing up in Milwaukee, which many of us – including Steve Wexler – has done, we saw a progressive and innovative group at a newspaper invest in television and radio very early. That is why I think it is interesting that Journal Broadcast was slow at early adoption of mobile and digital outlets.

The players and the situations change, that part is true. But on the surface, it seems that spirit of innovation has been lost.

On a national stage, however, Journal is one of the faster moving companies out there. Being smaller and nimble will allow Wexler to change the culture.

"You have to start with the user, not us," Wexler said. "We used to be so proud that we had pictures of our studio on the website. Or our morning show."

"It was all very inward focused, and I think it took us a little bit of time to realize that digital isn't about us: It's about the audience, the advertiser, and the marketplace."

"Where I've seen us grow and get some traction is where we've used digital as a solution to a problem as opposed to a shiny object that we get all excited about. And also where we use digital to extend or expand something that we're already pretty good at and there's already demand for it."

In Conclusion

As we observe the Journal Broadcast Group and the other media companies that have a presence in our market, it will be interesting to see which ones will find the right formula for success with a fragmented audience base.

As the newspaper readership – and the industry overall - is in a state of flux, Journal Communications will have to lean on the broadcast group a little harder.

Don't believe me? Ask the former news staffers that have been let go or took the early buyouts.

All of this means the new innovations on the broadcast side, like the Radio Alliance streaming music app, and WIsports.com, will have to find a stable advertising and user base.

Journal Broadcast is in a place to be the innovative and strategic market leader like it once was. Truth is, they have had those same opportunities in the last recent decades. Proof will be if they learn from the wins and losses in the past to help shape the decisions of the future.


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