McGuire on Media

Strange phenomenon observed at ASNE/NAA

There is a tendency among some editors and business folk to believe they “get it” when it comes to the future of newspapers and a corresponding need to point disparagingly at others and deride their ability to grasp the future of this business.

There is nothing scientific about the observation I made at the ASNE/NAA Capital conference. It is mine and mine alone. To the extent feasible I will tell you how I arrived at it and you can compare this to your own observations about this moment in newspaper industry history. And, there is a great argument that this is all human nature stuff, but I still found it interesting.

The observation is based on an overall tone I sensed and two specific experiences.  I  personally observed one conversation and one conversation about the same session titled:”Making Journalism Matter,.” was reported to me. The focus of the panel was on technology and journalism.  I heard one audience member approach a panelist with a hearty congratulations for his participation and and a derisive comment about how the other panelists “just didn’t get it.” When I repeated that story to a friend I was told about two executives from one company who were overheard commenting on how much better their person on the panel had done than everyone else. That would have been highly debatable, but the interesting fact is that people seem intent on claiming wisdom and insight and putting down others for an alleged lack of that wisdom.

I can well be accused of extrapolating a few isolated instances into an alleged trend, but I think psychologists would have a big ol’ time analyzing this phenomenon. I would imagine the organizational development mavens would tell me that these behaviors are signs that industry folks are not very secure at all in their move into the future.

It is interesting enough that there is enough hubris in this beaten-down industry to claim some Divine inspiration, but the gall of putting down others strikes me as fatal arrogance.

Then again, perhaps it is that arrogance which has landed the newspaper industry in this current pickle.

Maybe it’s because I am not fighting the daily battle, but I am seeing little sign that anybody is holding a set of prescriptions and solutions that will guide the industry to the promised land. I sat through the meeting in question, and while I am definitely slow on the uptake I saw no head-slapping moment which made me say “by jove, they’ve got it.”

This quest for some Holy Grail or one eureka moment that will save the industry is silly. We are in a time of tumult and it is crucial that we move forward thoughtfully, but we are not going to turn the corner a week from Thursday.

Everybody needs to relax, offer solace instead of criticism and work together, rather than against each other, to help the industry out of this morass. 

THE REAL LESSON

Nobody should be surprised that the founder of Monster.com has set his sights on the newspaper monopoly on obits.  By now we should all know that everything we do is subject to disintermediation. The real lesson we should learn from Jeff Taylor’s latest brainstorm is every newspaper should be doing an inventory of assets and weaknesses.  If something is a strength it better be fortified because somebody  is going to see it as a business opportunity. If something is making you say “I wish we had a doflumfridgett,” you better make doflumfridgetts priority number one. Every weakness is someone else’s opportunity

HARD NEWS, WHO KNEW?

Hats off to Nancy Barnes and the Star Tribune of Minneapolis. Barnes’ column about increasing hard news on the front page deserves big applause.  It seems to me it’s a move that recognizes what newspaper readers who stick with the product want from their newspaper. They want to be informed, they want to be surprised and they want to know they are not wasting their time.  Emphasizing hard news acknowledges the fact that readers who stick with newspapers are not looking for Cosmo on newsprint. They want to “know stuff.”  This is a trend I hope catches on soon.

With MinnPost looking  better everyday and the Star Tribune emphasizing hard news of importance, the clear winners are Minnesota readers.