MarketWatch’s John Dvorak’s Sept. 22 column is a must-read. It’s harsh, but his assessment of the newspaper industry is dead on. These are snippets I particularly appreciate:
“As more newspapers make the mistake of eliminating reporting jobs, they fall into the pit of redundancy with nothing special to offer.”
“The only papers or news organizations that can expect to survive will be those with lots of original content available only at their individual sites. The operations that rely more on universally available news feeds will be at the mercy of a fickle public …”
“Once the Internet arrived, this model (of using more wire than original content) was dead, as the Net revealed that many newspapers weren’t actually contributing anything new or unique.”
“Now all papers are global, and they must complete globally whether they like it or not. This sort of competition can only result in shakeouts and consolidation. This process needs to go a lot faster before the bleeding worsens.
“More importantly, the publishing companies need to understand their dilemma. I don’t think they do. I’m not sure they can.”
Then there’s this recent comment from Seymour Hersh in the Jewish Journal:
“We are eventually — and I hate to tell this to the New York Times or the Washington Post — we are going to have online newspapers, and they are going to be spectacular. … We have a vibrant, new way of communicating in America. We haven’t come to terms with it.”
Well, many of us have come to terms with this massive and necessary transition from print to digital media — but we’re just not the folks who call the shots and control the money. Many journalists are working hard to innovate, but they’re working in newsrooms that are woefully hobbled by bad, broken or nonexistent technology and by bad business decisions.
Compounding this mess are journalists who simply can’t — or who are afraid — to think and act differently. They cling to their titles, which no longer even accurately reflect what the newsroom needs them to do. They cling to their very tired newsroom-management structures, which are no longer the wisest deployment of limited resources. They cling to what they know and lash out at innovation and change, which are, of course, often messy and uncertain. They refuse to believe their precious enclaves — and even their specific jobs — need to be restructured, reorganized and rebuilt.
But, hey, don’t take only my word for all of this. Drop me a line, and I’ll be happy to connect you to literally hundreds of journalists who have expressed these sentiments to me in the past year.
Michael Wolff, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, gets all of this and much, much more. Check out his wonderful October column, which is a potent look at how more news organizations — and newsrooms specifically — would benefit from adding software engineers to their staffs. Wolff’s brilliant Newser.com is an outstanding example of what is possible when editorial and math types collaborate. I contacted him recently — and he graciously agreed to meet with me so that I can provide a more upclose look at Newser and his work there for the benefit of SPJ members. Be on the lookout for that profile, which we’ll post on SPJ.org.