I recently worked on a project that involved examining the history of the newpaper industry's interaction with the challenges of the digital revolution and innovation over the past 20 years. Painful memories, for those of us who were there from the start—we've seen a lot of self-inflicted wounds and crappy executives. And I realized that the chronology of the past couple of decades of newspaper-think boils down to a few key milestones (or is it millstones?) that go something like this:
1995: This Internet thing? Just a fad. The CB radio of the '90s.
1998: Oh wow–we may have missed the boat on the Internet.
2000: Ha! We were right! Just a fad! Phew! All is well!
2005: Are newspapers a great business, or what??
2008: Oh shit
2012: Help! We'll do whatever you tell us to do! Just make it stop!!
It's not going to stop, of course. The change going on right now in the news business is the greatest story we'll ever see up close—the complete transformation of an industry. But unless newspaper leaderships break out of this cycle of naivete and arrogance and fear, pronto, the next entry in my chronology may be R.I.P.
3 thoughts on “The Chronology of Newspaper-Think”
I’ve been highly critical of newspaper management in the past, but I try to be fair about it….hence the need to jump to their defense a bit. The death of newspapers may indeed come, but while I hope you live a very long life, my friend, I serioiusly doubt you will live long enough to make that R.I.P entry. People have been predicting newspapers’ death since the 1920s. Oddly enough, it’s usually by former newspaper people. The fact is, local newspapers still control the majority of advertising dollars in all but a few U.S. markets. That is likely to change in the next two to three years as online advertising control the largest share. But there’s something everyone seems to forget, and that’s the fact that newspaper companies control a very significant chunk of online advertising — one-fourth of it, to be exact. if you wanted to be factual about the chronology of newspapers you might have this as your next entry: In 2011, newspaper companies gained more share of local online advertising than they lost on the print side of the business, possibly ensuring that they would remain in the No. 1 spot for quite some time.
Somehow, trading majority share of local print advertising for just 25 percent of local online advertising doesn’t strike me as a great accomplishment—in fact, it underscore how badly newspaper execs botched the online opportunity, over and over again. As Pew documented last week (http://mashable.com/2012/02/13/news-publishers-online-advertising-pew/), news sites have generally failed to innovate in online advertising and aren’t competitive with the likes of Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Groupon, who’ve captured most of the dollars that have shifted from print to online. Newspapers are playing catchup, at best, not leading, and their unabated declines in revenue, circulation and, unfortunately, staff numbers, attest to that.
Mark — Great timeline. But 80 years ago, there was another chapter in media history that was a warning to the newspaper business — to not be so stubborn about inevitable change. Take a look at this clever video that’s been on a bunch of journalism blogs and Romenesko: http://vimeo.com/36773408