Radio World Interview with Adams



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Following is an interview with then-UPI CEO James Adams, published in the July 23, 1997, issue of Radio World (written by Matt Spangler):

UPI CEO Looks to New Horizons

WASHINGTON -- Englishman James Adams, new chief executive officer of United Press International, developed a distinctly American sense of capitalism in his days as Washington bureau chief for the Sunday Times of London.

"The bottom line is, we're in this business to make money," he told Radio World in a conversation proceeding a National Press Club reception last month celebrating the 90th anniversary of the news service.

His remarks were made in the context of explaining his vision for revamping the organization, which has seen hard times financially including bankruptcy filings in 1985 and 1991. His approach appears to be two-fold: penetration of new markets, and economizing.

Adams heralded the UPI entry into new arenas as the end of "the days of the arrogant mass media," which indiscriminately spoon-fed "one-size-fits-all" copy over the wire. In today's world of the Information Revolution, he declared that news must be tailored to specific markets.

"There is such a proliferation of data, that you have to distinguish yourself, either by being particularly good in certain areas having a core business, which is what we have or by identifying niche markets," he said.

The first step is a multi-million-dollar joint venture with Meridian Emerging Markets Ltd., announced at the Press Club event. With this partnership UPI will assemble "UPI MEMO," a database of financial information on more than 13,000 companies in emerging markets of 54 countries. Adams said the service should be introduced in 1998.

Techno-centric

"I think technology is central to revolution," Adams said. This shows in the other ventures that UPI is exploring, including digitizing and selling its vast archives of photos, many of which are Pulitzer Prize winners; making its compendium of sports statistics-every stat since 1945- available electronically; distributing of UPI news to a major newspaper network and audio distribution over the Internet.

Part and parcel of the organization's technological upheaval is its internal entry into the digital age. Adams said that the company's outdated e-mail system will soon be replaced, and that it was expecting to have a website up by the end of June.

Adams' background suggests that he is well-equipped for the tasks he has set out for himself. From 1989 to 1991, he was director of the Analysis Corp., the first company in Britain to provide financial data on-line. He balanced this with his duties as managing editor of The Sunday Times, where he helped oversee a $40 million budget and 400 personnel.

Perhaps as a result of this experience, he doesn't appear to be shy about wielding the cost- cutting ax. He pledge to continue the scaling-back of UPI Photos, which until recently was a loss-making operation.

The organization's new "focus" style of writing more 350-word, radio-friendly news reports, as opposed to the more tranditional longform style, is another example of downsizing. This new style comes as a response to the demand of most newspaper markets, which call for more user- friendly, "USA Today-style" journalism, according to Adams.

Don't say good-bye forever to the 2,500-word-long stories, however. Adams said that if a particular piece warrants greater length, then so be it.

"What it comes down to is, you have to cut your cloth according to what the market requires," he said.

And, perhaps most importantly of all to the cost-conscious Adams, UPI is on the road to a full-fledged financial recovery. He said that the company was "on-track" towards reducing its operating deficit by 70 percent within six months, and that next year it would see its first profit for the first time in his memory.

But what about radio?

Adams sees dollar signs in that medium as well. "Radio is a huge growth area," he said. UPI news is currently heard on approximately 1,000 stations, and Adams said it will aggressively pursue more, especially in this time of rapidly consolidating station groups.

Audio Progression

And though the company may be looking at expanding into new markets, he stressed it wold continue to serve its three principal areas, which he identified as audio, print and the Internet. But the company will constantly be looking at ways to retool those media for today's markets. For example, he pointed out that UPI is "state-of-the-art" in audio transmission, but that it would also look at transmitting video through the 'net, "making (Internet transmission) both a push and pull technology so that we make that again a very custom service."

The abridged style of writing is another means by which UPI will serve one of its traditional customers in a new fashion. "(W)e are putting a new emphasis on generating and distributing news products for radio broadcast," Adams said.

The upshot is that UPI must successfully blend its time-honored focuses with emerging technologies and markets. "I think we're in step with the times," Adams said.

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