This morning's New York Times (subscription required) has two major stories about the newspaper industry on the front page of the business section. Columnist David Carr reported a conversation he had with an editor of a major newspaper about a year ago. "With business concluded, we had The Conversation, the one about the large boulder that seems to be tumbling through the newspaper business. ‘How old are you?’ he asked. Forty nine, I told him. ‘Me, too. Do you think we outrun this thing?’ I said I thought so, but I wonder whether it will be the same for my (young) friend."
Good for Mr. Carr. He figures that newspapers will continue to exist long enough for him to "get paid to do something that is really fun and satisfying." He does say that he feels sorry for his superstar young colleague who is at the Philadelphia Inquirer, which McClatchy has just bought from Knight-Ridder but is about to sell. From my perspective, Mr. Carr is part of the problem. If smart journalists like him had recognized that the word "press" in the First Amendment wasn't limited to ink on paper, if they hadn’t thought that only wordsmiths who had been to journalism school could write material that is interesting to an intelligent audience, if newspaper management had embraced new technologies and invested in them, they might not be running from the large boulder today.
In March 1993, we wrote a White Paper titled "The Interactive Newspaper: Lessons for Directory Publishers." This was before the Internet was widely available, of course. In those days, people like Chris Jennewein, general manager of the Mercury Center; Bob Ingle, executive editor of the San Jose Mercury News; and Jim McKnight, vice president of telecommunications for Cox Newspapers, recognized the importance of integrating print and electronic and the need to reinvent the newspaper. But early results were disappointing in that people were not quick to embrace new technologies, and so many of their excellent initiatives got the ax. As it turned out, long-term opportunity was sacrificed for short-term profit.
While newspapers were first to try things, they were also quick to abandon them. But directory publishers, late to the party, were more willing to stick with their electronic services.
We wrote then, and we believe now, "directory publishers, like newspapers before them, have the chance to develop integrated multi-media platforms to serve the increasingly complex needs of the individual consumer. To do less would open the door for others who would all too gladly accept the opportunity for growth. "
No one is going to outrun the boulder that is tumbling through all media. So stop complaining, Mr. Carr, and try to be part of the solution.