Management should reflect demographics (AKA management can’t be just a bunch of old white guys)

If newspapers don’t have young people in management positions, they need to get some.

Or at least consult them on decisions. This shockingly does not happen at many newspapers, where management is usually determined by time served, not talent or ideas. Let’s face reality here: The average newspaper reader is like 100 billion years old. Some say older.

That’s not the core demographic that most advertisers are looking for. Newspapers need to have a growth mindset to expand their audience, not just move with their existing audience to new platforms.

The only way to expand into new demographics (mostly younger) is to have people in those demographics in management and actively consult younger staffers about what they want. No more guessing.

Honestly, how else are newspapers going to expand their audience if they don’t have people they are trying to court making decisions?

Now this isn’t to say that all management should be young (that’s foolish), but it is to say that some should be (and management shouldn’t be afraid to actively consult younger staffers on what they actually like). Many newspapers are overwhelming staffed by old, white males. And what do you know, the typical newspaper reader is an old, white male.

Are people in charge creating content that largely appeals to them and people like them? Are people in charge favoring platforms that people like them like? I think the answer to both is yes.

I’ll leave you with a little story about why we need staffers in a target demo helping to make decisions. Back in 2005, while I was a senior in college, I did some blogging and writing for a new Tribune publication, Merge Digital (known as just Merge in print).

The content, design and concept of this publication was a gross caricature of people my age. It was supposed to be “edgy” and “hip,” but it was mostly trashy and stupid. It was heavily about sex, drinking, video games, entertainment and other crap.

There was virtually no real news about the target demographic (college students and 20 somethings). And I only agreed to work for this publication because I was a poor college student who needed money.

Frankly, it was insulting.

There were plenty of real news stories that affected college students and 20 somethings in the Lehigh Valley that no one covered. Merge’s sister publication, The Morning Call, almost never covered that demographic, unless it was some fraternity screwing up. You know, news that just serves to support stereotypes.

The target demographic did not take to this new publication and Web site. Less than three years later, it is now just a footnote in history. It folded awhile ago.

Why? Because the people who came up with this new publication/Web site had no idea what the audience they were trying to reach actually wanted.

  • http://andydickinson.net Andy

    Do you need someone from your demographic in a management position to effectively manage a publication?

    I appreciate that ‘young’ people (whatever that means) can bring a useful perspective just as any other constituency can and talent should always be recognized and consulted. But the idea that there aren’t talented ‘old white guys’ seems a bit of a sweeping statement and the idea that putting young people in the line of fire somehow brings that is just as sweeping.

  • http://www.patthorntonfiles.com pat

    @Andy,

    First, I didn’t say that there aren’t talented old white guys. The world is filled with them. I’m arguing that at least SOME of management should not fit in that demographic.

    Rob Curley was a Vice President at The Washington Post at age 35, and a manager many years prior to that at other papers. Most newspaper management are overwhelming in the 40-70 crowd. The Post, especially WPNI, is a great example of having younger people make decisions. They have a lot of people making decisions with digital products who are actually big consumers of digital products.

    When I say young, I don’t really mean my age group. Although, I do think it makes sense to actively consult people in my age group on decisions that involve digital products. That doesn’t happen at many newspapers.

    I’ve been to a lot of smaller publications, and often the people in charge are older. Ironically, many of the larger publications include younger people in the decision making process.

    The point is not that older people can’t be great managers, they can (many of the top CEOs are above 40, but these people know how to surround themselves with great talent). The point is that if they were really great managers they would include younger people in their discussions.

    I think it’s no mistake, however, that most of the Web titans are younger. Brin and Page are 34 and 35, respectively, and they founded Google in their mid-20s. Zuckerberg is 23. Bezos founded Amazon.com at 30. The list could go on and on.

    But many newspapers wouldn’t know what to do if they had a young Brin or Zuckerberg working for them. They most likely wouldn’t allow either to be included in important Web decisions. That’s a catastrophic mistake.

    Let’s say you have 10 top editors. At least one should be a digital native. How many newspapers can honestly say that?

  • http://andydickinson.net Andy

    I get your point and I’m not saying that there shouldnt be a place for talented people outside the O.W.G demographic. I also take your point that ‘web titans’ are young. But ‘web’ is not a defining feature. Their products where unique.

    Maybe the difference here is an environment to innovate rather than an enironment that manages. The Bezos and Brin/Pages of this world didn’t create their web brands as managers. They had an idea and it grew. You cant plant a young person in a newsroom/boadroom and see innovation grow in the same way.

    Would any manager in a newspaper know what to do with a young young Brin or Zuckerberg working for them? I hope a good one (young or old) would know not to promote them to a management role.

    The issue of diversity in the newsroom is a very important one but I think its not the core of the problem you talk about in your post. The issue as you raise it is more about the way it is managed not the who.

    Also you seem to be confusing young and digtal native. That’s a problem when there is no such thing as a digital native.

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  • http://www.patthorntonfiles.com pat

    @Andy,

    I don’t want to turn this into the Andy and Pat show, but maybe you are right about an environment to innovate than about management. I think that’s the kind of good management newspapers need more of.

    Digital native, enthusiastic adopter, whatever. I don’t care about the term, but there needs to be someone who is a big digital person helping to make decisions at a newspaper.

  • http://www.wenalway.com/forum Wenalway

    Pat:

    So why didn’t you cover those “important stories?” Are you one of those people who need to be guided by management, and then you can blame management for your own faults?

    There’s a word for people who toss out blanket statements like the one you’ve concocted here. And that word is idiot.

  • http://www.wenalway.com/forum Wenalway

    Oh, and I left you out, Andy. You’re not too bright, either.

  • http://www.patthorntonfiles.com pat

    @Wenalway

    You crack me up.

  • http://andydickinson.net Andy

    @Wenalway

    Ahhh. And there was me feeling left out

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