A strategy professor I had in graduate business school gave us some advice that I haven’t forgotten. You should work for companies that specialize in your area of expertise; otherwise, you will be in a staff job and not have as many growth opportunities. For instance, a marketing person shouldn’t go to work for a financial firm. So I was able to get a job at Johnson & Johnson where all of top management were marketers. Then I went to AT&T where I was hoodwinked into believing that the corporation was going to become marketing driven. (Chairman Charles Brown once told security analysts that changing course for AT&T was like turning around an ocean liner.) What I got out of AT&T was the opportunity to work on new technologies and learn how they had such a disruptive effect on ingrained business practices.
Dow Jones in the early ’80s was a happening company. Three of the seven divisions were led by Bill Dunn, who would rile the traditional editorial staff by saying that electronic delivery of information would become more important than news print. That put me in a no-win situation. As director of marketing for Dow Jones News Retrieval, I was a marketing guy on the unpopular side of an organization that was run by journalists. What kept us going was that we were doing some pretty neat things for the news business, such as delivering information and stock quotes to personal computers when no other news organization was doing this and managing giant earth stations that allowed next-day delivery of The Wall Street Journal to 95 percent of Americans. Our business was making money for Dow Jones, it was improving customer service for The Wall Street Journal, and it helped the Dow Jones name become the leader in business information, news and analysis. It seemed obvious to us that we were the future of the news business.
In the ’90s, The Kelsey Group hosted a number of conferences on interactive newspapers before selling the business to Editor & Publisher. Part of my frustration was that as our conference grew (more than 800 people attended in 1995), it was clear that the message of the importance of electronic delivery was not being accepted when they got back to their home newspaper organizations. I could relate to that. After all, the people who ran these corporations were journalists, most of whom had degrees in journalism and believed down to their very souls in the importance of newspapers as the foundation of the first amendment and the Bill of Rights. They had made their careers in newsprint. There were exceptions, such as Jim Batten of Knight Ridder and Al Neuharth of Gannett, but they too had trouble turning their ships around.
My colleague, Senior Analyst Michael Boland, has written an outstanding document, titled “Newspapers 2.0, Part 4: Building Online Newspapers in a Web 2.0 World,” in which he argues: “Building their internal strengths and seeking strategic online partnerships will be evolutionary, and arguably necessary, moves for newspapers to survive in a new competitive environment. If they don’t do it, someone else will. Indeed, many already have.” In a very readable report, Michael says it doesn’t take a journalism degree to note that 12 consecutive quarters of double-digit growth for online newspaper revenues is more than just a trend; it is a secular event that will change the newspaper business forever. This event is equally true for Yellow Pages, but it will happen much slower. What Michael does so very well is outline an approach that newspapers, especially larger ones that don’t have the hyper-local opportunity, can adopt.
Technology is changing career decisions in ways that my professor of strategy may not have envisioned.