In my second week at the Press-Enterprise in late 2008, I remember telling a sales director that there was money on the floor in the company, and we just did not see it or were too afraid or insecure to pick it up.
“You don’t look at the things that you have, you only look at the stuff that you don’t have. Those guys are right about you — you’re money.”
“You’re so money and you don’t even know it!”
“You know what you are? You’re like a big bear with claws and with fangs ...”
Fast forward four years.
I still think that we have fangs and claws and that we are “so money.” Still, we do not know it. Or, more often, we believe we were money and that we need to try to return to that status by doing what worked then.
But that model is broken.
Over the past few years, a few people with the means and vision saw this broken model and tried to create the next model. The most dangerous assumption we have is that no one can report on regional and local news with the same level of quality that we do.
Why is everyone so down?
At most industry events I have attended in the past few years, conversations and presentations usually contained some reference to how good revenue was before and how those days are over.
I have been working in the newspaper industry only since November 2008, so I arrived toward the end of the avalanche. I believe there have been massive changes; the earth shook and half the mountain fell.
But anyone who joined the industry in the past few years has no concept of the “good ol’ days.” We never saw the mountain before the avalanche, but we still see a really big mountain and we want to help re-build what fell away.
To do this, we need to shift perspective and let the past become the foundation for the mountain we are building now.
Those who once stood at the top of Mount Everest do the industry no favours.
For example, in February the Associated Press published a story, “Gannett Posts Lower Income on a Gain in Revenue.” Based on the title of the article, one would think this was an analysis of the lower income. However, the focus of the article is on revenue growth across all areas except newspaper advertising which declined 2%.
That is not all: Revenue grew 9.3% overall; newspaper revenue grew by 4%; and the company beat analysts’ expectations by US$.01.
So, analysts knew about the lower income and had factored that into the forecast, and Gannett still beat it.
First, I do not work for Gannett and never have. Second, I am not advocating we report only good news or we spin bad industry news. But when we have good news, let’s not find a way to make it sound bad.
What keeps me up at night
In November 2012, I saw the text posted below as part of a larger article discussing digital content. Some people will read this and immediately know where it came from. Those who do not know, however, will realise why this keeps me up at night.
“Lots of services have successfully lowered the bar for sharing information, but there’s been less progress toward raising the quality of what’s produced. It’s great that you can be a one-person media outlet, but it’d be even better if there were more ways you could work with others. And in a world of increasingly overwhelming quantities of content, how do we direct our attention to what’s most valuable, not just what’s interesting and of-the-moment?
“It’s not too late to rethink how online publishing works and build a system optimised for quality, rather than popularity. Where anyone can have a voice but where one has to earn the right to your attention. A system where people work together to make a difference, rather than merely compete for validation and recognition. A world where thought and craftsmanship is rewarded more than knee-jerk reactions.”
So, if you want to know what keeps me up at night, re-read the quote with the knowledge that Evan Williams is the author. For those who might not know, Williams created Blogger, sold it to Google, and then co-founded Twitter with Biz Stone.
Mind The Gap is a blog that features posts by Andrew McFadden, director of innovation and business development at the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, California, USA, as well as thoughts from leaders of technology start-up companies that compete with or support newspapers. The blog focuses on the impact of technology on content producing companies and how technology can accelerate organisational change, grow advertising revenue, and improve audience retention.