Newspapers: we will reap the harvest we cultivate


The past few months have been a educational whirlwind for me.

First, I was able to visit Salt Lake City and the Deseret News to experience first-hand what Clark Gilbert is spearheading on the digital side. What they are doing is both invigorating and mandatory within our industry.

I followed that trip a month later with the INMA World Congress in New York. When it comes to print and digital innovation, there is no better group of people one could associate with to be on the cutting edge of creativity and innovation.

Topping it off, while in New York I was able to take a few hours and venture up to Torrington, Connecticut to view for myself some of the outstanding digital initiatives being undertaken by a very aggressive Journal Register Company doing many things exactly right.

I have come away from those trips with a slightly altered view of the approach we need to take within my own company. On the one hand, I am 100% in agreement with the dire need to be moving towards the digital frontier as fast as we can and applaud those and others for leading the charge or migration in this transition, or better put, this transformation. Bottom line, we can’t move fast enough!

On the other hand, I am seeing the excitement of the digital frontier conceal the need to nurture the legacy operation as long as possible. Yes, it is my opinion the printed product has a limited life cycle, the trends and demographics are pretty convincing. What isn’t as convincing in my mind is the remaining life cycle some industry executives have given to it.

Some such as Gilbert and Journal Register Company CEO John Paton will say three to five years is the remaining life cycle; others may say that five to 10 years is the remaining life cycle for this terminally ill patient. Still others say that newspaper hospice won’t be needed for over 20 years.

I don’t profess to know the exact answer, and that answer will certainly be different by market size and location. However, I tend to come down on the side that says when the baby boomers lose their eyesight or worse, the end will be nigh.

That said, regardless of the life cycle in your market, you are sure to reap the harvest you invest in. If you play the game as if you have five years left, gutting the circulation departments and leaving them to fight on the modern battlefield with pitchforks, the odds are very good that you will have close to five years left in the game. On the other hand, if you play the game as if you have 20 years left, the odds are much higher that you will have closer to 20 years left rather that five.

Managing the transition from the old world to the new world isn’t for the faint of heart. It will take a monumental balancing act to maximise the old or legacy world while innovating, creating, learning and embarking towards the new world. But to the victor of this balancing act go the spoils. I for one, know we need to move as quickly as humanly possible with this transition, but I also understand that having as many years as possible with the old world will help to light the path towards the new world.

Yes, the new world has all the shiny bells and whistles that make it the most glamorous tool in the shed, but don’t throw out all the older tools just yet; they are the ones paying the bills for the new tools of tomorrow. While many in the industry have their pencils sharpened and ready to go, don’t write that obituary just yet — but do keep a close eye on those baby boomers.

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