Fire up the time machine – what would you do?

If you ran into yourself 10 years ago, what would you tell yourself about journalism?

If you could go back 10 years and talk to your news organization’s editorial board and publisher, what would you tell them?

Now take that advice and apply it to today.

It’s only too late if we give up.

  • I just overheard a conversation in my newsroom lamenting a decision to combine our print Entertainment section with TV listings. That’s right: TV listings, we still print ’em.
    Argument: combination cut space for music/local theater stories.
    What they don’t know or don’t seem to hear: Weekly ent. tab is a bad ad buy.
    I don’t know how much longer I can hit my head against this wall.
    What I wish I’d have done 10 years ago? Started blogging, been an early adopter.

  • I know this is a rhetorical question, based on the state of the media industry – but there’s another reason not to wait.

    10 years ago, I was leaving university, doing a bit of freelance, and about to start my first full time media job.

    The perfect time to be experimenting and risking things without worrying about mortgages, supporting my family or damaging the reputation I’d built up.

    Now I can still do all the same things – but it takes a lot more time and effort to overcome the additional commitments I’ve made…

    Why do you think so many online success stories are young entrepreneurs? It’s not so much their youth – it’s the fact the cost of experimenting online is mainly time and effort, and they’re the people best placed to spend 24 hours a day on a laptop, living on noodles, and trying things till something sticks.

  • I love time machines. I’m assuming I can take supporting documentation back with me to make the case.

    The more obvious things are, well, obvious (Go live sooner. Link out liberally. Refer to the web from the paper. Put email addresses next to bylines. Don’t waste years thinking about paid content and registration). What follows are the tweaks I wish I could go back and make.

    1. Save everything. Stop throwing away stories after two weeks. You’re burning history. And take a screen shot of the site every day. You’ll be glad you did.

    2. Find geeks who love news. Pay them well. Ask them to start thinking about how to make all that saved data accessible and findable.

    3. Establish a $50 fine for anyone in your organization that uses the phrase “capture eyeballs.” The web is not television. Though, you’ll be surprised to hear, it becomes a very efficient delivery device for video. Full-screen video. Does that make you think of possibilities? It should.

    4. Don’t listen to the Big Iron guys in IT when they argue the relative merits of Sybase and Oracle. Ignore them, and don’t spend a penny on these programs. Instead, insist on free My SQL as your database.

    5. Stop thinking about articles. Think data. Break articles into chunks of data.

    6. Read Dave Winer. Pay close attention. He’s a bit of a nut, but if it’s 1998, almost everything he’s saying is right.

    7. Digitize and curate your photo library. It’s a local treasure and worth tons of traffic. (This tip valid in 2008, as well)

    8. In fact, open up the entire library for free searching. (“Preach The Long Tail” years before it’s written.)

    9. Establish another $50 fine for the term “lock in.” The web is open and slippery. And that’s a good thing that will benefit you in the long run.

    10. Teach your reporters to blog. Use Romenesko as the gateway drug.

    11. Insist that each story created by the newsroom have attached meta-data, including topic keywords and location. Let the guys from #2 use it in amazing and surprising ways.

    12. Repeat after me: “Publishing online counts as publishing. You don’t have to save it for the paper.”

    13. You’ve incubated the web group separate from the newsroom to allow a culture and a business to emerge. Good. But now you need to start planning to merge into one news operation that publishes for multiple platforms. Don’t wait much longer for this.

    14. Google these names at least weekly in the next few years: Craig Newmark, Jimmy Wales, Nick Denton, Jason Calacanis, Mark Cuban, Kevin Rose. Whatever they’re up to, pay attention, don’t scoff, and borrow liberally.

    15. Talk to your users. Add bulletin boards. Attach comments to stories. Participate. That “connection” you’ve always wanted with your readers? The one you pay focus group leaders thousands of dollars to fake? It’s yours for the asking, and it’s free.

    Bonus bits of info. to share:

    – Don’t worry so much about Apple making it. They do okay.

    – Buy all the Google stock you can afford, even at $300-$400.

    – Sell all your Google by June ’08. Sell everything, in fact.

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  • DanOregon

    Ten years isn’t back far enough. Go back 15 or 20 and invest in Internet service providers, search engines and the nuts and bolts of the Internet. The news business was going to lose market share regardless with the Internet, but if a news consortium owned Google or Yahoo or other onramps to the Information superhighway they’d have more control over their destiny. Now they’re like those old hotels along Route 66, instead of I-40.

  • Dan, I think your answer falls into the “wishing for more wishes” Genie rule-cheat.


    Yes, it would be nice to own Google, or to create an alternative-universe version of a search engine that strangles Goog in its cradle, but I was trying to think of things that we *could* have done differently, given roughly the same resources.

    The point of how I answered the question was to note how much further down the road we could be today if we’d moved faster in 1998. And how we could have thrived even more in the actual reality of the past ten years had we listened to the innovators who were trying to get our attention.

  • pat


    I’ve argued for the same things. One of the issues, however, is that many people who read the print edition don’t read the Web. So, to them, the newspaper is the way to get listings.

    The bigger problem I have with printing listings is that they are often incorrect. On the Web they can be up-to-date and easily corrected. That’s not possible in print.

    I think newspapers will have to bite the bullet and just stop wasting ink on listings, stock charts and other anachronisms.

  • pat


    All good points. I love them all. I have a question for you: What kinds of people would hire in 1998?

    One of the biggest problems that news organizations have right now is that they are stuck with a lot of employees who don’t have the necessary skills and mindset. Almost no one was hiring the appropriate people even a few years ago, let alone in 2998.

  • Me: “Dude did you know you can make money writing?”