Editor & Publisher December 1983 Story on UPI Strategy

Here's a Dec. 17, 1983, story from Editor & Publisher, headlined: McCrohon Maps Out Editorial Strategy for UPI: Recently Named Editor-in-Chief Plans to Put More Emphasis on Enterprise Reporting


Maxwell McCrohon, executive vice president and editor-in-chief of United Press International, plans to use his 34 years of experience as a newspaper reporter and editor to revamp the agency's news report so it can better help clients achieve their own marketing objectives.

Before joining UPI last summer, McCrohon was vice president for news of the Chicago-based Tribune Co. From 1972 to 1981 he was managing editor and then editor of the Chicago Tribune, where he played a leading role in redesigning and repositioning the newspaper.

He began his newspaper career in his native Australia in 1949 as a reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald and later became a correspondent for the newspaper in Washington and New York.

"UPI will direct its services to the same demographic groups newspapers are aiming for -- younger, better educated readers," McCrohon said in an interview in his office at the news service's new Washington headquarters. "I think there is a need for more authoritative information."

Research showing that upscale readers want more international and national coverage "give a grand opportunity" for the news service with its worldwide resources, he said.

Saying that news reporting tends to be "very episodic," McCrohon stated: "People want background.They want context. A news service has got to do that."

He also stresses "accuracy over speed" in reporting because "newspapers don't put out extras anymore. The days of the seven- second beat are gone."

McCrohon said he plans to "place a high premium on good writing and good writers" and will look within UPI "to develop some of the best." That will include giving reporters and photographers more opportunities to do enterprise stories, he added.

McCrohon wants "to begin to pull together teams of reporters o a national and international scale" to give "high-powered coverage to certain stories like the Middle East."

McCrohon said these teams won't be "parachutists," but will form long-term operational units. Drawing on the Middle East example, he noted that UPI has several staffers with experience covering the region now working in other foreign bureaus such as London and Rome. The team concept, he said, will enable UPI to do a better job of coordinating coverage and "make use of their expertise."

In meeting this objective to become "an authoritative source for newspapers," McCrohon said UPI must solve the "paradox" of providing more indepth stories while at the same time meeting the demand for "brevity" in the news report.

There's a "very legitimate audience" for news briefs, he said, pointing to the rapid circulation growth of USA Today. "These people should not be taken lightly."

McCrohon said the apparent paradox has to be "attacked" in the same way "better newspapers" do it.

"They're not afraid to deal briefly with a lot of information, but in areas of real importance they are prepared to devote space to the detailed, well researched piece," he explained. "You've got to make the decision about what to run at length and what to run in brief."

His years as a newspaper editor have influenced the way McCrohon looks at the "timing" of UPI's stories. "It's helped me here to understand the planning sequence at newspapers, as they plan for a Sunday or Monday paper," he said. "We've got to plan ahead of the editor and get material to him when he can best use it. It's almost equally important not to be too far ahead of the story."

UPI will be increasing its use of color pictures and graphics to take advantage of newspapers' improving capabilities from the shift to offset printing." McCrohon said.

other plans call for more upscale oriented coverage in science, business, social trends and culture -- areas where McCrohon believes UPI can do much to differentiate itself from its rivals, including the Associated Press.

"To be different, you don't cover what's generally known. You break major science stories rather than follow them. The same with business," he said. "We have to learn to do that."

In covering these areas, reporters "don't have to write down" to people," McCrohon believes. Instead, he thinks "you have to write up a little."

With the 1984 political races about to begin, McCrohon is promising more emphasis on issues rather than the "horse race" aspects of the campaigns.

"A lot of reporters seem to be frustrated campaign managers," he said. "We have to get back to reporting the issues in issue terms and what the man is going to do if he gets into office. We've got to make the politicians respond too that kind of reporting. I don't think we push them hard enough."

McCrohon took the job at UPI because the "prospect of directing 2,000 journalists around the world" was too much of a challenge to resist.

His duties at the news service include serving on the newly formed executive committee, which functions in lieu of a board of directors, where he gets involved in all manner of planning including marketing, technology and the development of other "opportunities" in the specialized information business.

UPI recently named Ronald E. Cohen, formerly Washington bureau chief, its managing editor, succeeding Don Reed who retired.

Cohen has been with UPI since 1961, and his role is seen as providing detailed knowledge of the inside workings of the news service to complement McCrohon's newspaper background.

William Small, UPI's president and chief operating officer, is involved in developing the news report, but he devotes much of his time maintaining good working relationships with clients and newspaper editors serving on the new service's advisory board. H.L. Stevenson, former editor-in-chief and now executive vice president for news based in New York, also has special responsibility for developing the advisory boards and special projects.

McCrohon said he has a "great deal of autonomy" in his role as editor-in-chief and remarks that Small "has a lot to do besides worrying about news" and "does not try to be the editor."

McCrohon's plans for UPI's news report dovetail with the introduction of the company's Custom Data news delivery system.

UPI will begin marketing the system "early in the new year," said John Mantle, senior vice president and director of newspaper services.

UPI is in the midst of refining the software for Custom Data and wants to get "menus in the hands" of clients before it begins the marketing effort. Mantle said all new clients of UPI will be put on the system and eventually existing clients will be converted to Custom Data.

Two newspapers have already been signed up for Custom Data, Mantle said, but he declined to reveal the names.

UPI will provide Custom Data clients with a microprocessor costing $600 plus installation.

Mantle described the system as "downline programmable from our computer center in Dallas." What that means is clients can use Custom Data to "design their own" news report from UPI to meet specific needs.

Someday, Custom Data will also enable clients to search UPI's morgue for stories and information, Mantle said, "but we're not at that point yet."

He believes that Custom Data will allow UPI "to capture more of its rightful share of the newspaper market" and said "as pricing evolves" for the system "we do not believe they (clients) will pay more for UPI than they do now."

In 1983, UPI increased its rate by 5.3 percent, but in 1984 Mantle said it is "pretty safe" to say that rate increases will be lower, perhaps as much as a point.

AP has already announced its assessments will increase by 5.5 percent next year. In 1983, AP's assessments increased by 6.3 percent before an assessment of 3 percent was added to help finance capital expenditures.

UPI has signed 56 newspaper contracts this year and $30 million in new business including broadcasting, with the "peak" of those contracts maturing in about 18 months, Mantle said. "We may add another seven newspapers this year."

In 1984, UPI has set a goal of signing 100 newspaper contracts, he said.

Mantle expects the net total of UPI's newspaper clients to increase over 1983 when the net "stayed even." UPI's fact sheet puts the number of U.S. newspaper clients at 815.

UPI also has a major sales effort going to sign group contracts with newspaper companies. Mantle pointed to the recent $9 million, five-year contact with 17 Newhouse newspapers. The company is also negotiating a group contract with Times Mirror's seven newspapers.

The news service's success in signing group contracts benefits individual newspapers as well, said Thomas Beatty, executive vice president and general sales manager. "We can say to the small newspaper publisher we will guarantee your rate for the life of the contract. This cannot happen unless UPI is able to sign up volume business."

Beatty added that UPI has generated "enough new business" to increase the belief of its owners, Douglas Ruhe and William Geissler, "that this news service can support itself without turning to anybody for a partnership."

In other developments, UPI has passed the 2,000 mark in working satellite dishes, said William K. Adler, director of information, including 1,000 2-foot Equatorial dishes. Adler said UPI intends to have 2,300 to 2,400 dishes in place by April.

The satellites have cut UPI's phone bill by about $150,000 a month, or one-third the total, with the Equatorials alone producing $128,000 in monthly savings, Adler said.

Luis Nogales, executive vice president for administration, noted that the satellite system "will end up being interactive -- at least getting to certain rate points, if not individuals." He said such a system will aid UPI in its development of "joint ventures to market information."