The Death of Newspapers?

By April 22, 2009 September 13th, 2012 At Work, Entrepreneur Insights

I am constantly trying to learn from other people's mistakes. I already make so many of them myself that I work to cut down on my own by observing the missteps of others. Jeff Jarvis, a great writer and blooger, recently posted the following article about the newspaper industry.

What resonates with me is the fact that newspapers had fifteen years to get things right, and they didn't. They were too engaged in protectionism that they couldn't adapt to the changes going on around them. As our company continues to grow, I am constantly reminded to (a) build a culture that challenges strategies, ideas, and the idea of 'that's the way we've always done it"; (b) never believe that we've figured it out – someone is lurking right around the corner with a better idea; (c) business units should vie for capital and resources – the strong should survive – and never protect an idea just because it's yours.

The article by Jeff follows:

Image representing Jeff Jarvis as depicted in ...Image by

via CrunchBase

The speech the NAA should hear

The Newspaper Association of America is meeting in San Diego this week and they’re preaching up at their own choir loft with angry, self-righteous
fire and brimstone about their plight. Today, Google CEO Eric Schmidt
will address them, but he’ll be polite because that’s the way he is and
because there’ll be a few hundred aging but armed publishers with
blunderbusses aimed at his heart. They need to hear a new message, a
blunt message from the outside. Here’s the speech I think they should

You blew it.

You’ve had 20 years since the start of the web, 15 years since the
creation of the commercial browser and craigslist, a decade since the
birth of blogs and Google to understand the changes in the media economy and the new behaviors of the next generation of – as you call them,
Mr. Murdoch – net natives. You’ve had all that time to reinvent your
products, services, and organizations for this new world, to take
advantage of new opportunities and efficiencies, to retrain not only
your staff but your readers and advertisers, to use the power of your
megaphones while you still had it to build what would come next. But
you didn’t.

You blew it.

And now you’re angry. Well, gentlemen – and that’s pretty much all I
see before me: angry, old, white men – you have no right to anger.
Instead, you are the proper objects of anger. The public should be
angry with you for the poor stewardship you have exercised over the
press and its service to society. Your journalists are angry at you for
losing their jobs. Your pressmen and drivers and classified-ad takers
are angry at you for the same reason (and at the journalists for paying
attention only to their own plight). Your advertisers were angry at you
for using your monopolistic power to overcharge them and for providing
inefficient platforms and bad service for so long. But they’re not
angry anymore because they left you for better advertising vehicles and
better prices in a competitive marketplace.

But you’re the ones who are acting angry.

Yesterday, you delivered a foot-stomping little hissy fit
over Google and aggregators. How dare they link to you and not pay you?
Oh, I so want Eric Schmidt to tell you today that you’re getting your
wish and that Google will no longer link to you. Beware what you wish
for. You’d lose a third of your traffic overnight. If other aggregators (I work with one)
and bloggers (I am one) and Facebook all decided to follow suit, you’d
lose half your traffic. On most of your sites, only 20 percent of the
audience in a day ever sees your homepage and its careful packaging; 4
of 5 readers instead come in through search and links. In the link
economy – instead of the outmoded content economy in which you operate
– Google and aggregators and bloggers are bringing value to you; they
should be charging you for the value they bring. You should rise up
today and give Mr. Schmidt a big thank you for not charging you. But
you won’t, because you’ve refused to understand this new business

You blew it.

Your Google snits don’t even address your far more profound problem:
the vast majority of your potential audience who never come to your
sites, the young people who will never read your newspapers. You all
remember the quote
from a college student in The New York Times a year ago, the one that
has kept you up at night. Let’s say it together: “If the news is that
important, it will find me.” What are you doing to take your news to
her? You still expect her to come to you – to your website or to the
newsstand – just because of the magnetic pull of your old brand. But
she won’t, and you know it. You lost an entire generation. You lost the
future of news.

You blew it.

You had a generation to reinvent the business but you did too
little. I by all means include myself in that indictment because I
spent my career in our industry: Guilty. I didn’t raise loud enough
alarms (it felt as if they were too loud already) or accomplish enough
change (not nearly enough). I blew it, too. But no last-minute
hail-Mary passes will make up for our failings. Having not taken
advantage of the last two decades to reinvent the news business, you’re
not going to manage a rescue in two months, before the creditors come
calling. That was your worst hail Mary: stoking up on debt and hoping
to milk these cows for years to come. Mad cash-cow disease, that’s what
too many of you had. Your other desperate moves: suddenly fantasizing
that you can fix everything by going behind a wall (to tell with Google
and its billions of readers!) and charging us because you think we
“should” pay. Since when is a business plan built on “should?” I
haven’t seen a sensible P&L justifying this dream from any of you.
If you have one, please stand up show us now….. I thought so. Other
desperation moves: fantasies of white knights from foundations buying
you and letting you stay just the way you are…. government subsidies
(do we even have to discuss the danger?)…. switching to not-for-profit,
as if that suddenly takes away the need to sustain the business still…
misguided, self-righteousness thinking that Google or cable companies
owe you money, as if you have a God-given right to the revenue and
customers you lost….. No, none of this will save newspapers and in your
subconscious, at least, you know it. You know the truth.

You blew it.

So what can you do? Two years, even a year ago, I would have said
that you had time to build the networks and frameworks and platforms
that would support the ecosystem of news that will come next. I would
have said you could retrain your staff to take on new responsibilities:
organizing and supporting that ecosystem, curating the best, training
people to be the best. I would have advised you to offer your staff
members the opportunity to join that ecosystem, setting them up in
business. I would have told you to take advantage of the efficiencies
the web allows (do what you do best, link to the rest, I used to say).
I would have argued that we need to invent new forms of marketing help
for an entire new population of
businesses-formerly-known-as-advertisers. I did say that.
But the financial crisis only accelerated your fall. It didn’t cause
the fall, it accelerated it. So now, for many of you, there isn’t time.
It’s simply too late. The best thing some of you can do is get out of
the way and make room for the next generation of net natives who
understand this new economy and society and care about news and will
reinvent it, building what comes after you from the ground up. There’s
huge opportunity there, for them.

You blew it.

: LATER: When Eric Schmidt did take the podium at NAA, as reported
by PaidContent’s Staci Kramer, he expressed some nicely ironic
befuddlement at the AP going after them when Google has “a
multimillion-dollar deal with the Associated Press not only to
distribute their content but also to host it on our servers.” Then he
did chasten the publishers:

But Schmidt came down harder on concerns about
intellectual property and fair use: “From our perspective, we look at
this pretty thoroughly and there is always a tension around fair use …
I would encourage everybody, think in terms of what your reader wants.
These are ultimately consumer businesses and if you piss off enough of
them, you will not have any more.”

RIght, pissing off customers is not a business model. Not anymore.

This entry was posted on Buzz Machine, Tuesday, April 7th, 2009 at 9:00 am

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