Monday, January 24, 2011

Constant change, not creative destruction

We all know the Chinese saying, “death by a thousand cuts,” which in the business world has come to refer to negative changes that happen, seemingly unnoticed, over time.

When businesses change for the worse over a long time, the degradation is often obvious only in retrospect – particularly by the people who are most closely involved in the process. The concern of many in the business of journalism today is that it is evolving in this way.

There are two other ways for change to happen. The first is “creative destruction,” in which a business pre-empts what might happen to it over time by making radical, rapid changes before they become invevitable. Ironically, this idea originated in the early works on communism by Karl Marx, in which it was referred to as “enforced destruction.” Beginning in the middle of the 20th century, economists began using the “creative destruction” term to talk about business change.

The second is to change slowly over time, holding onto older profit models while engaging in new ones.

Creative destruction – some call it “disruptive innovation” – is all the rage lately, the focus of books and seminars and cover stories in every business journal on the planet. It sounds bold and innovative – destroy your own business model before someone destroys it for you.

What if, for example, Polaroid had seen the digital photography revolution coming and had killed its Instamatic business model, leaping headlong into the digital world? Would it have avoided its own demise if it had disrupted its own existing technology through innovation?

Many are asking the same question today of businesses whose main products are journalism and advertising, like newspapers, magazines and television networks and affiliates. At some point, shouldn’t a newspaper shutter its press and embrace the new digital technology, at once hastening its demise in the old world of print while creating a new business based on ones and zeroes?

Probably not. There are various ways to change an organization, and one calls for evolutionary change through constant, not catastrophic change. (Look up author John. B Miner for more.)

At the Post Register, that’s our tack – constant change as we evolve from the traditional but still important and profitable print business model to a more complex model that involves what is popularly referred to these days as “multiple platforms” – various versions of using print and the Internet. This is probably as disconcerting to our readers as it is to us – there’s a lot of trial and error involved because there is no experience to go on.

What we propose to you is to take the ride with us and hang in there. It’ll be worth it.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Consequences of words

UPDATED 1/10/11

Words have consequences. Let's not pretend otherwise.

The finger-pointing and denials of responsibility in the Arizona shootings have begun and will continue ad nauseam, ad infinitum.

To deny that there exists a "toxic environment" that encourages unhinged people to act out their feelings of rage and powerlessness with violence is not rational. Most of the blame for this shooting lies with the shooter, but he did not act in a vacuum -- it is reasonable to assume that he was influenced by commentaries using terms like "Second Amendment remedies" and images of cross-hairs. To claim that statements suggesting violent responses to our government bear no responsibility for this act is simply wrong.

This illustrates why we've restricted some types of comment on the Post Register's online forum, PostTalk. We engage in journalism, not speech of the "fire in the theater" variety. It's too easy to say "the government" is somehow inherently evil -- it overlooks the fact that the government is nothing more than what we, the people, create, and it's staffed by our neighbors and friends.

Unfortunately, there is more than a handful of people who believe as the person who posted this today on PostTalk: "Government authorities are wanting people to 'tone down' the rhetoric which is their way of saying they want citizens to obey the government." That view, that government is the enemy, has been around forever, but it is being given greater voice than ever, and some of the more extreme adherents to that perspective want to take matters into their own hands.

There's plenty of irresponsibility to go around but on this one, frankly, the right needs to shoulder most of the blame. (I'm willing to change my view if someone can provide evidence that high-profile members of the left have used gun metaphors in their arguments, and point to left-wingers who have acted on it.) No, Sarah Palin didn't want to encourage a slaughter when she used cross-hairs to "target" Gabrielle Giffords' district. I wonder, however, about Sharon Angle's true intent when she referred to "Second Amendment remedies" during her campaign for Harry Reid's seat. Regardless of the intent, high-profile people bear a moral responsibility to understand that there are unstable people walking around with guns.

Arguing that someone's loose talk wasn't intended to incite violence isn't enough. It's easy for someone like Palin to say that no rational person could have interpreted her "cross-hairs" references as encouragement to shoot Giffords. But we're not dealing with rational people, are we? It takes an inarticulate and weak-minded person to resort to violent metaphors when expressing opposition to our elected leaders.

Having met a good share of politicians in my career, I am convinced that most of them are sincere people wanting to do the right thing. Too many of them get caught up in the sense of entitlement and power that seems to come with getting elected to something, but very few on the left, right or center are the cynical narcissists that cable TV and radio commentators would have you believe. Most people who voted for and against the health care legislation, for example, were acting out of conscience. They don't deserve to be vilified for doing what they believe in. They certainly don't deserve to be shot down in the street.

I don't know about anyone else, but I find this shooting downright scary. We can be grateful the shooter apparently didn't have access to a rental truck and lots of fertilizer.

UPDATE: A PostTalk poster (in fairness, the same one I quote in the body of my original post) reminds me that candidate Barack Obama once said this: “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun. Because from what I understand folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans.”

So there's my requested example of a violent metaphor coming from the left. While the right remains clearly more willing to resort to this kind of language, it's good to be reminded that it's all too common from both sides. For the record, here was the Republican National Committee's response to Obama's statement: “Why is Barack Obama so negative? In the last 24 hours, he’s completely abandoned his campaign’s call for ‘new politics,’ equating the election to a ‘brawl’ and promising to ‘bring a gun'."

It would be helpful if the RNC would issue similar statements when members of its party step out of line on this issue.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Changing face of local TV news

 Published in the Jan. 6, 2011 edition of the Post Register.

Over the span of a few short weeks, the face of TV news in eastern Idaho has changed beyond recognition, both literally and figuratively.

On the same week that a deal in which KIFI essentially took over everything but the most basic technical tasks at KIDK (including news coverage) in a shared-services arrangement, KPVI announced a massive downsizing in its news staff that will include the loss of weekend newscasts and the departure of longtime anchor Brenda Baumgartner. KPVI is owned by Intermountain West Communication Co., formerly known as Sunbelt Communications, based in Las Vegas.

These are just the latest and most obvious signs of both the effects of the national recession and the changing economics of the media.

"The Idaho arrangement is not unusual," wrote reporter Diana Marszalak on tvnewscheck.com of the KIFI-KIDK agreement. "The combination of network affiliates within markets and the resultant loss of independent local news operations are becoming increasingly common as weaker stations give up their independence in the face of dwindling revenue and rising costs."

KIFI was formerly owned by the Post Co., the Post Register's parent company owned by the Brady family and employees. It was sold to the News-Press & Gazette Co., based in Missouri, in 2005. KIDK is owned by Seattle-based Fisher Communication.

The Idaho Falls-Pocatello television market ranks 162nd in size in the country, right between Sherman-Ada, Okla., and Biloxi-Gulfport, Miss. It's long been a struggle for three network affiliates to survive in eastern Idaho. In her story Tuesday about the KPVI downsizing, Marszalak wrote that eastern Idaho is "long known for being one of the smallest markets able to sustain three robust news-producing affiliates."

That, of course, is no longer the case.

Downsizing isn't exactly unique to TV, of course. The Post Register employs 10 fewer people in its newsroom today than it did five years ago and dropped its Monday print edition two years ago. More changes are inevitable.

The recession, coupled with technological advances, has changed traditional media forever. The difficulties faced by newspapers seem to have been well documented, but the trauma in TV may be even more dramatic, and the changes are far from over. Everyone from Google to Microsoft wants to get in on the business of providing TV programming.

The loss of an independent KIDK and the layoffs at KPVI will mean less local TV news, and what's left will be coming from two sources instead of three. "Although KIFI will produce KIDK-branded newscasts for KIDK, there are going to be fewer of them and they will air at times that don't compete with KIFI newscasts, according to a KIDK employee who made the cut," reporter Marszalak wrote last week.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Newspaper talking points, from me to you

 Published in the Jan. 9, 2011 edition of the Post Register.

Three out of four Americans read a local newspaper every week.

Those of us in the local newspaper business won’t be happy until that percentage is 100, but 75 percent is pretty darn good. Forgive the shameless plug, but it’s also good news for our advertisers.

Every year for the past five, the National Newspaper Association has conducted a national survey to gauge readership and other activities important to our business. The survey for 2010, just out, shows results similar to those in previous years, including that each newspaper copy is read by an average of 3.34 persons. That means that the average Sunday edition of the Post Register has more than 80,000 readers.

Other findings in the 2010 survey include:

§  Readers spend about 37.5 a day minutes reading their local newspapers.
§  78 percent read most or all of their community newspapers.
§  41 percent keep their community newspapers six or more days.
§  62 percent of readers read local news very often in their community newspapers.
         
About half of those surveyed said their local newspaper is their main source for local news. Friends and family run a distant second as the main local information source at 18 percent, followed by local TV at 16 percent. The Internet and radio fare even worse: 8 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

 NNA is an association of mostly smaller newspapers, like the Post Register. It’s not terribly interested in what’s happening in Los Angeles, New York, Miami or Chicago and, frankly, neither are we. As I’ve written before, the vast majority of the 1,400 daily newspapers in the U.S. are community newspapers like the Post Register, and readership of those newspapers has never been higher.

 This all may sound like a lot of chest-thumping, but the tens of thousands of people who produce community newspapers across the country have grown quite weary of hearing how readership is falling, the business is dying and the local newspaper is losing relevance. It simply isn’t so.

Newspapers have been hit financially, like just about nearly every other business in the country, because of the recession. But the hit has come on the advertising side of the ledger, not in readership. Our bread and butter is retail advertising, and a lot of those businesses have been spending less on advertising lately. The good news is that many of those businesses just finished a strong Christmas season and things are looking brighter.

So, the next time you hear that “no one reads newspaper anymore,” here are your talking points:
§  Readership is at an all-time high.
§  The newspapers’ toughest competition for providing local information is “friends and family.”
§  Newspapers are going to continue to do even better.

Monday, January 3, 2011

KIDK and the future of local TV news

Unrelated recent stories may shed some new light on the decision by Fisher Broadcasting to essentially turn KIDK over to its Idaho Falls competitor, KIFI.

A January 3 article in the Pugent Sound Business Journal reports that Fisher turned down an offer of $211 million from a Canadian real estate firm to buy the company. That price was an 18 percent premium over what Fisher’s stock was trading for. Fisher took only four days to reject the offer, a response so quick that spurned buyer, Huntingdon Real Estate Investment Trust, called it “astonishing,” according to the Journal.

“Equally astonishing is the complete absence in that (Dec. 10) letter of any attempt to explain on what basis the Fisher board reached its conclusion that the proposal is not in the best interest of Fisher and its shareholders,” Huntingdon wrote on Jan. 3, the Journal reported.

The story also reported that Huntingdon officials said they were going public with their buyout plan “so that Fisher shareholders can make their own assessment of the sufficiency of our proposal.”

Whether these are the early salvos of a hostile takeover bid is premature to say, but it might indicate why Fisher was eager to make a deal with News-Press & Gazette Company, the owner of KIFI. The quicker Fisher can improve its bottom line, the less pressure it might get from its shareholders looking for better returns.

The Idaho Falls-Pocatello television market ranks 162nd in size in the country, right between Sherman-Ada, Oklahoma and Biloxi-Gulfport, Mississippi. Such markets comfortably support more than a handful of newspapers (there are three dailies, a four-day and nearly a dozen weekly newspapers in the same market), but it’s long been a struggle for three major network affiliates to make a go in eastern Idaho. 

The over-saturation of the media market here has also held advertising rates down for everyone -- newspapers, radio, TV, billboards, shoppers, etc. You’d think that would be good news for advertisers, but the media-rich environment has also meant that advertisers had to spend money with more advertising outlets than in other markets of similar size.

The worst U.S. recession in 80 years has coincided with technological advances that have changed traditional media forever, particularly newspapers and television. The difficulties faced by newspapers seem to have been well documented, but the trauma in TV may be even more dramatic, and the changes are far from over.

“The Idaho arrangement is not unusual,” wrote reporter Diana Marszalak on tvnewscheck.com. “The combination of network affiliates within markets and the resultant loss of independent local news operations are becoming increasingly common as weaker stations give up their independence in the face of dwindling revenue and rising costs.”

The loss of an independent KIDK will mean less local TV news, as the survivors from KIDK will be managed by KIFI. The long-term future of local TV news, meanwhile, remains unclear.