Friday, June 18, 2010

What!? A salient comment!

In the little tête-à-tête over Alan Mutter on my previous blog post I enjoyed a little verbal sparring and was particularly pleased when an anonymous poster (I should outlaw anonymity on my own blog, but that's another issue for another day) submitted this delightfully salient comment:
"Talk is cheap and digital typing is even cheaper. The most constructive digital Chicken Little would be one who seeks out the best practices in the industry -- the ideas that are working. Yes, newspapers are on their way out in the long run. But journalism will live on. That should be the focus, rather than useless "woe is me" hand-wringing. Don't we understand that we're scaring away a whole generation of potential young journalists? And the digital detractors have blurred the difference between the structural problems of newspapers and the deep-deep recession. Amateurs"
While I may take issue with the statement that "newspapers are on their way out in the long run," (he certainly could be right, but I think newspapers have a long way to go before they're done), the writer puts his or her finger on my own frustrations over the digital/print debate among journalists, including:
  • All of us should be focusing on "seeking out the best practices in the industry -- ideas that are working." Too many, unfortunately, take the easy way out and resort to name-calling (oh, how it hurts to be called a "dinosaur") and self-righteous nose-thumbing.
  • " ... the digital detractors have blurred the difference between the structural problems of newspapers and the deep-deep recession." How is it that so few observers and members of the news business have missed this -- we're in the middle of the worst recession in three generations. While newspapers have systemic issues that need solving, a healthy economy would be a good start toward recovery.
Just in case it comes up again and I need a place to copy and paste a simple recipe for building a new sustainable business model for newspapers, here goes:

1. Differentiate yourself from all competitors by producing great local journalism and all the other stuff that makes up the fiber of a good local newspapers: calendars, letters to the editor, obituaries, anniversaries, sports scores, corporate engagement, dialog with readers and the community, choices for consumers between high-quality printing and a high-quality web site, adherence to ethical standards, and an unflinching focus on relevant and compelling reporting, writing and design.

2. Ask a fair price for this product, whether it's delivered in print or online.

3. Experiment, assess, adopt or discard, repeat.

4. Hire well, set clear expectations, pay attention to everything going on everywhere, have a plan that is subject to constant revision, and make regular, small changes that result in revolutionary change over time.

5. Meanwhile, ya gotta bring in more money than you spend.

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