Since this is an academic blog I took the summer off in Minnesota and played with my grandchildren. Rebuilding readership will be a challenge. I will need your help, but I’m publishing from brand new digs so that should make it easier.
You may have read about the new Cronkite School building in downtown Phoenix. I will tell you that as fine as the description was, you probably will have difficulty grasping how cool this building is and what it will mean for journalism students. The vision of ASU President Michael Crow and Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon is obviously on display in this vital addition to downtown Phoenix. Still, the execution of that vision by Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan is the showstopper.
Sure, the technology is wonderful. Certainly the classrooms, laboratories and clinic program space are so up-to-date they would leave every dean in the country lusting. And, my office and scores of other faculty offices have windows and views of downtown that make work fun and interesting.
None of those are the secret to the genius of this building. After just two days of students having their run of the place, it is obvious that Walter Cronkite School students are going to revel in a sense of community that is going to make them better, more engaged students.
The defining feature of the building, outside of the most sensational television studio this side of the corporate world, is something called the First Amendment Forum. That forum is an open space on the second floor of the building. It has a giant TV screen, scores of comfortable chairs and it is open to the second and third floors where students can gather to watch the TV, do their work and converse with gnarly old professors like me who wander the halls. The sense of community, combined with dazzling technology, makes this the best journalism building you’re going to find.
SPLENDOR AMID CARNAGE
I return to this magnificent building and to this blog as the carnage in the newspaper business reaches unspeakable levels. The layoffs, the buyouts, the crashing stock prices and now even the merger of two newspapers is more than enough evidence that Andy Grove was right. That seminal moment has come.
I try desperately to resist nostalgia, but I remember when 1 staffer per 1,000 circulation was the perceived industry standard. I remember when I sold all my McClatchy stock between $65 and $74 a share. I even remember when we used to mock the Ocala Star-Banner because the rumor was they threw off more than 40 percent profit margin. There are so many decisions of the last 25 years that any dedicated, affectionate fan of newspapers has to second-guess.
ONE OF THE BETTER PIECES
As stories about the reinvention of the newspaper business go I thought Mark Fitzgerald and Jennifer Saba did one of the better pieces I’ve seen on what newspapers are doing to survive. I know there are more exciting ideas out there and I hope to be able to discuss those in coming weeks. Yet, I thought the story assessed the mood and the reaction fairly correctly: for all the talk truly radical moves are not showing themselves just yet.
Bill Densmore of Media Giraffe and other innovative ventures called me the other day to ask me what I meant when Fitzgerald quoted me as saying; “What we’re lacking right is really philosophical thinking. If this is a seminal crisis , then we have to do some seminal thinking. And, it really does have to be radical.”
I do have some specific ideas and I mentioned some of them in that piece. But what strikes me is that so many people seem to start with the same assumptions. That will lead us all to the same place. It’s only when we toss away the usual assumptions that we will get to some rich stuff. The first assumption we have to challenge is that mass advertising will get us out of this crisis. As I told Bill, the sooner we understand that John Battelle’s database of intentions is the game of the future the better off we’ll all be. As my old friend, Tom Mohr taught me, advertisers are tired of throwing their message out and “hoping” people will be interested in it. They want to KNOW buyers have an intention to buy that particular product. When newspapers understand and can serve that need, radical reinvention may begin.