Today’s Thought: Complacency is not an option

Complacency is a bridge to nowhere.

I cannot tell you or your news organization exactly what to do. There is no magic bullet that will save floundering news organizations. But I can tell you that the status quo will end in failure.

Innovation is ultimately what will save journalism. Innovation requires experimentation. Experimentation requires a willingness to fail.

But unlike the failure that the status quo will bring on, experimentation is a momentary feat of failure. It’s losing a battle, not the war.  Doing nothing will cause us to lose the war.

Rather, each time we experiment and we fail, we must pick ourselves back up and try again. We must learn. And we must never gave up.

The path to salvation is littered with many pit falls. It’s a hard, winding road that will only reward the most dogged of journalists and innovators. But it is our only choice.

So, I ask you, what are you doing to innovate? How will you navigate that path to salvation?

  • Very well put, Pat. The status quo is killing this industry. It’s incredible how everybody sticks to exactly the same tired, failed playbook, taking almost no chances and doing little or no innovation. And fear of cutbacks is making it even worse. When is somebody going to step forward and try something truly different? What’s the risk? That you’ll lose readers and advertisers and jobs? Newspapers are doing a brilliant job of that already!

  • Greetings Pat, you’ve probably already seen this:
    Newspaper execs: This is not a fire drill.

    Among some of the suggestions offered to these Newspaper CEOs were:
    A) “Act like an entrepreneur; stop thinking first about why a new approach won’t work.”

    B) “Collaborate with outside entities that can bring expertise or resources.”

    I question how most news media outlets have gone about hiring their “new media consultants” over the years.

    Let’s take Jeff Jarvis for example..

    Love the guy, though I’ve never met him. He’s worked extensively as a “new media consultant” for numerous media outlets. However, I’ve never actually seen any interactive/multimedia journalism that he’s actually produced. I’m sure he has, I’ve just never seen it. I suspect he gets “new media consulting work” more because of being relatively well-known and well-connected, rather than on the merit of his interactive/multimedia journalism, which I’ve yet to see. He’s got lot’s of great ideas, and he “talks the talk” when it comes to writing about new media journalism, but I’ve yet to see him “walk the walk” in terms of actual producing innovative multimedia journalism (which he probably doesn’t have much time for with such a busy schedule, especially since multimedia is so time consuming).

    Moreover, you’ll often find that many judges who are selected to judge multimedia in journalism competitions don’t even have adequate experience in actually producing multimedia, though they may have a strong interest in it. Usually they’re just writers, or just photographers – from the old school.

    Point being,
    theory is different from practice.
    Thought is different than action.
    Power is different than authority.

    What these media outlets need is both, the talk and the walk.

    I’m currently looking for employment. If any of these Newspaper/Media CEOs are smart then they’ll start hiring more people like me for consulting work.

    There aren’t that many of us.

  • I think it’s not about the internet or about the next new thing. I think it’s the newspapers have stopped doing what made them great in the first place. First they got comfortable in a protected market. Then they couldn’t figure out how to mitigate the advantages that come from an extended corporate structure.

    in 1907 Joseph Pulitzer published the following,
    “[My newspaper] will always fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice or corruption, always fight demagogues of all parties, never lack sympathy for the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy of predatory poverty.”

    Can anyone name a “newspaper” that even talks this talk, much less do the walk. Or are they just thinking of the stock price?

  • Oops. No copy editor on staff 🙂 And no editing function after posting.
    last line should read “predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty.”

  • Great point Michael.

    I blame the telecommunications act of 1996,
    which led to far more consolidated, conglomerated,
    and centralized ownership of the media.
    Also, the elimination of the fairness doctrine,
    helped to polarize the far-right into what it is today.

    Here are some thoughts from RFK Jr. pertaining to those topics:
    http://www.newglobalorder.org/2008/09/rfk-jr-speaking-truth-to-power.html

    It’s long, you’ll want to watch the whole 30 minute video
    because he covers many topics.

    Also, here’s another quote from Joseph Pulitzer:

    “Our republic and it’s press will rise or fall together.
    The power to mold the future of the republic will begin
    in the hands of the journalist of future generations.”

  • Patrick –

    Thanks.
    But I think it goes way back. I’m old enough to remember the NY Times, “Paper of Record”, coverage of the Vietnam War. It was so abysmal that i had to relearn my high school French to struggle through LeMonde.

    My take is that mostly American newspapers since at least the 60’s are the emperors with no clothes. They had a monopoly in a protected market and got lazy. They have no global perspective. They are afraid to talk Truth to Power. The problem is not competition from the web. Nor is it the death of Print. It’s the loss of the purpose of a newspaper in the first place.

    These days, I can read the news from around the world. For the first time, I can compare and contrast. it’s not about getting it faster. It’s about getting a diverse view in a diverse world. Almost every one I know, knew the decision to go to war in Iraq was dumb. Where was the voice of democracy? Why couldn’t the Press figure it out? i know I’m not smarter. The only thing I can figure out is that someone got a call from someone and said cool it.

    Conventional wisdom is always the safest. But why kill trees for conventional wisdom. I can get that on Cable.

  • pat

    Here is the real question: Can newspapers that operated as monopolies for decades be competitive in this hyper competitive online world?

  • Chris

    @Pat

    Yes. Companies can. Newspapers, probably. Journalists, likely not.

    If you can see the discrete parts of a newspaper operation, you can break it down into divisions of advertising, prepress/production, circulation, marketing and editorial.

    The company’s job is to maintain secular growth. This quarter has to do better than the last; this year has to perform better than last. It has to be profitable. The company has capital that it can move into the most profitable venture. If a newspaper is no longer profitable for the company, it can be sold or closed down and the money be invested in something more profitable.

    A newspaper company wants to survive. It doesn’t have to do it by running a newspaper, though.

    A print version of a newspaper can probably exist. It likely will, but not in a business climate accustomed to high profit margins and captive markets. Here are the likely ways a newspaper will survive:
    1. The Chicago model, where a company like Tribune owns a local television network, a newspaper, a radio station and significant business interests in the market. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a sports team like the Cubs, but it could be something like REITs. (This raises its own ethical pitfalls where the side business is using media as intelligence gathering).
    2. The Poynter/Tampa Bay model of non-profit journalism. WARNING: The newspaper by itself cannot be a nonprofit. It must produce a charitable community service as recognized by the IRS, such as running a museum or being a university newspaper that covers the whole town.
    3. Newspapers will be under ethnic ownership. In most metropolitan areas, entrepreneurship is driven by foreign immigrants. Big cities tend to be high-cost and business unfriendly, and most Americans don’t want to deal with the hassle of the costs. That’s where immigrants come in. Just as they are accustomed to doing menial, low-pay tasks, immigrants often pick up the entrepreneurial slack in neighborhoods abandoned by older small businesses and bigger enterprises. Immigrant entrepreneurs will tolerate long hours and ridiculously low margins, and often have an ethnic society they can turn to for business support. Don’t be shocked if the Los Angeles Times is not owned by Sam Zell in a decade or two, but sold off as it is now to a local Korean-American businessman.

    The bad news for journalists, though, is the media environment cannot afford to keep them employed. It’s not just a leaner, meaner news force. It’s doing away with the newsroom altogether.

    In another post, I mentioned something called a “vapor paper.” I outlined a scenario in which newspapers can operate without an in-house news gathering organ. The problem is not competition from the internet but that finance perceives journalists’ value as dubious because there is no metric for revenue-per-byline. Newspapers will cannibalize journalists and move to not only an all-freelance model, but a model where journalists will be compensated based upon consumption rather than labor input.

  • I think everyone should go to college and get a degree and then spend six months as a bartender and six months as a cabdriver. Then they would really be educated.