On 1 January at 11:46 a.m. Colombian time, Mr. Ramón Salaverría of Spain reminded Mr. Ross Dawson of Australia (I guess) with a tweet about a prediction Dawson gave in 2010 about newspapers’ extinction in the United States by 2017.
In only six tweets, they had a very interesting discussion. On one side, we had Salaverría, who defines himself on Twitter as “professor of online journalist at University of Navarra, director of @digitalunav, research and news about digital media.” On the other side of the arena we had Dawson, who presents himself on Twitter as “futurist, keynote speaker, author, and founding chairman of Advance Human Technologies Group of companies.”
The book writer’s prediction about newspapers’ extinction by 2017 was provocative and incorrect. That is a fact, but it caused major damage to the media industry’s reputation — not just by itself but because there were several media industry experts who agreed and expressed similar ideas at the same time. It became a label, a death sentence.
Where was the damage?
The dark label placed on the newspaper industry, unfortunately, became massive. And after you are under a negative halo, it is extremely hard to erase it. As a consequence, you are seen as an unattractive, alternative option with which to do business.
However, we have to be honest with ourselves and recognise the Internet broke the traditional newspaper business model. It took us too much time to understand it, accept it, and react creatively to it. In fact, there are plenty of companies still struggling to move into a multi-media business because there is too much print-only culture in their teams.
We deserved part of the reputation.
Also, plenty of the newborn native media digital business and advertising agencies were looking for advertisers (that is, money) that were natural and used to newspaper, TV, and radio business instead of concentrating on selling ads based on their positive attributes. They used the death sentence as a sales tool.
These companies were quite successful at that moment, but they are paying a high price today because they spoke too much, didn’t deliver on their promises, and didn’t educate their clients about the digital environment, how to evaluate its results, and how to mix with traditional advertising.
In the end, clients felt these new companies didn’t care for their needs to properly reach their audiences and lost their trust. That is why companies like Unilever or Exito in Colombia today have their creative teams in-house.
But whose fault is it?
It would be easy to say this was the Internet’s fault, Dawson’s fault, Google and Facebook’s fault. But in the end, it is not someone else’s fault. Whatever we are facing or not facing, is our very own fault and pride.
The Australian author was a keynote speaker at INMA’s World Congress in 2015, and, of course, the audience asked him about his predictions. In his provocative style, he answered that his affirmation was for those newspapers that didn’t change. Well, we have certainly seen some colleagues closing their businesses, but we have also seen plenty of traditional media companies transform into smart, multi-media companies.
Are we alone?
No! We are not alone. The Internet has affected every single person and business — even art — and those who don’t think like that are naïve and in big trouble. It is almost hard to believe today, when the Internet is old news, that there are people who don’t get it.
Hans Vestberg, former president and CEO of Ericsson, expressed at the INMA World Congress in 2016 that somehow this dark label has helped the media industry fight earlier and harder than other industries, so today there are some great and successful players. That is something to be proud of and inspired by.
What about the future?
I can see some people could feel some relief because Salaverría reminded Dawson and us that the prediction was incorrect. I can also tell you my multi-media brand is increasing print subscribers, but this is not the point.
The world is facing a fast and ceaseless process. The only thing that will sustain our industry growth is our ability to believe, have smart leadership, nurture creativity, open our minds, and be willing to take risks. That is the beauty of the adventure still alive in 2017.