The last thing newspapers need

I’m still shaking my head over the American Press Institute’s announcement of a closed-door, invitation-only emergency meeting of only CEO-level newspaper executives to, in the words of E&P “ponder ways to revive the newspaper business.”

This is the last thing the newspaper industry needs.

First, these are the very same proprietors of the newspaper industry’s decline. What they need is not the same old executives but new people with new ideas. That’s what I brought into my summit on new business models for news and I wish I’d had time to bring in 20 more innovators who are executing new ideas.

I also wish I had invited more people from other industries to bring other perspectives. At Davos last year, I ran a session at which technology executives – among them, VC Joe Schoendorf, LinkedIn’s Reed Hoffman, and Cisco chief John Chambers – scolded newspaper exeutives for giving up and not reinventing their industry. At my summit, a technology executive observed that the news people – as far as they’d come – were unwilling to “take the leap.” The industry needs to hear these worldviews: tough love.

Second, closed-door is exactly wrong. What they should be doing is asking for help, ideas, perspectives, models, worldviews, and suggestions from outside their industry.

Instead, they will be “a facilitated discussion of concrete steps the industry can take to reverse its declines in revenue, profit and shareholder value.”

If they haven’t figured out those steps by new, I’d say getting them into a room together isn’t going to do it.

The facilitator, James Shein of Northwestern’s management school, told E&P: “It’s important for companies to see how far along the ‘crisis curve’ they’ve traveled, and there are concrete steps organizations can take to halt and even reverse that journey. We’ll use those tools to illuminate for newspaper industry leaders the urgency of their situation, and lay out the steps they will need to take to begin the renewal process.”

If they don’t know by now how urgent it is, then I’d say they’ve failed the vision and IQ test. Any foodl could see that newspapers’ straits are dire.

The summit is only two days away, but if I were the API, I’d fly in people from Google and a bunch of successful tech companies as well as innovators and entrepreneurs in news and let them do all the talking.

  • Mike G

    “I’m still shaking my head over the American Press Institute’s announcement of a closed-door, invitation-only emergency meeting of only CEO-level newspaper executives to, in the words of E&P “ponder ways to revive the newspaper business.”

    I think this is exactly what the newspaper business needs!

    Assuming that there’s not only closed doors, but poison gas involved.

  • http://blogs.chron.com/techblog Dwight Silverman

    Precisely, Jeff. The answers to solving the industry’s decline will come from without, not within.

    The closed-door summit is, in itself, a symptom of what’s wrong with the business.

  • http://blog.angelaconnor.com Angela Connor

    Just when I think I’ve reach a frustration plateau in regard to the newspaper industry, I read something like this. This insane culture of big-wigs behind closed doors, hashing it out is getting really old. It does NOTHING to further the cause. How can they fix this among themselves? Will there at least be one outsider there? Someone with a different opinion or who consumes the newspaper as a real consumer and not an editor? I couldn’t believe how often this happened when I worked at a newspaper. The people with the real knowledge about a subject were hardly ever invited to the table, and the decisions often indicated as much. I guess old habits die hard. Come on, people! I do not want to have a heart attack over this continued awful news.

  • tdc

    the only thing on the agenda is to discuss how big of a bailout package to demand from the gov’t.

  • DR

    Jeff, Jeff, Jeff:

    Of Course They Know Better. They Are in Charge!!! And the Newspaper Industry is Special!!!

    Btw, does this meeting run afoul of any anti-trust laws? How could they not talk pricing, etc in a session like this?

  • http://www.joannageary.com Joanna Geary

    I love the idea of getting a room of the brightest people across a whole range of internet businesses and finding out how they think newspapers should respond to the decline in the newspaper business. Perhaps it would be a good exercise to compare what they come out with to what the CEOs produce.
    One of my own dreams is to spend time at somewhere like Google to understand the culture and way of thinking.
    Every idea I have ever implemented in my job has come from sources outside of journalism whether that be the local blogging community, social media “gurus” at SXSW or the gaming industry.
    I have only been in the newspaper industry four years and I often shock myself with some of the assumptions I make without even questioning. I guess its inevitable that in order to do your job efficiently you have to work upon a set of implicit beliefs.
    But you’re right that this is no time to reinforce such assumptions. This is the time to learn from others outside the industry and dare to do differently.

  • http://earleyedition.com Dave Earley

    Are these “CEO-level newspaper executives” paying a premium to be told they are the exclusive group who can save News Media because of their powerful positions?
    As pointed out, “Invitation-only, closed-door” says it all. API have perfectly articulated, and played on, the fear that old media has of the fundamental power of the interactive web, the loss of control that comes with opening doors and welcoming the crowd. That’s just not the way it’s done.
    A lot of media outlets do get it and are changing, so disappointed API seem to be reinforcing the old ‘control’ agenda.
    API said they’ll release a report on the summit – I look forward to finding out how ‘renewal’ is going. Hopefully renewal happens and the ‘formula’ is shared, but I can’t help thinking that someone’s selling snakeoil.

  • Happy

    It’s stupid crap like this that makes me shake my head and think about going into PR.

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  • http://wyman.us Bob Wyman

    You wrote: “I’d fly in people from Google and a bunch of successful tech companies as well as innovators and entrepreneurs in news and let them do all the talking.”

    Letting them do ALL the talking would be a mistake. I agree that those of us who aren’t in the newspaper business have a great deal to offer, but what we need here is a dialog, not just a set of lectures.

    Also, please note that in the past, the API has taken steps to include non-newspaper folk. For instance, I was one of a small number of non-newspaper people who were included on API’s “Newspaper Next Task Force.” Admittedly, we didn’t get much time to talk or otherwise contribute… Newspaper Next was really more focused on getting Clayton Christiansen’s ideas on innovation in front of the newspaper folk, but, at least they did think to include some non-newspaper folk in the crowd.

    Ideally, the result of this meeting will be that the “CEO-level” folk will come to a group consensus that “Yes, it really is time to listen to others…” and that will finally motivate them to start doing the hard things that must be done. The most disappointing result would be yet another announcement that the sky has not yet begun to fall.

    bob wyman

  • o-shift

    >I also wish I had invited more people from other industries to bring other perspectives.<

    Good point.

    A newspaper I worked at for nearly two decades is closing. The news is out today. If you are interested in this put “Journal Register Co.” in the Google news search.

    I left this JRC-owned daily more than a dozen years ago, but it still had special place in my heart.

    The JRC was an odd company. Its stock once sold for more than $20. It was delisted from the NYSE earlier this year. It’s major strategy, its only strategy, for staying afloat was to cut expenses. It was insular and rarely shared strategic vision. And I think that’s the problem with a lot of newspapers.

    Unlike technology companies, newspapers have not developed an ability to reinvent themselves. I realize that sounds trite, but there’s nothing like a Bill Gates 1995 Internet Tidal Wave memo in this industry. There are pundits galore, but the advice from pundits doesn’t count; CEOs still run the business.

    The best message, Jeff, you can send to the newspaper industry at this point is to ignore it. It no longer matters. It’s now too late.

    I really don’t care that the newspaper CEOs are meeting behind closed doors, open doors, or otherwise. They are totally irrelevant. This meeting is too late.

  • http://www.newglobalorder.org/2008/11/newsopticon-knight-news-challenge.html Patrick Yen

    “What they need is not the same old executives but new people with new ideas. That’s what I brought into my summit on new business models for news and I wish I’d had time to bring in 20 more innovators who are executing new ideas.”

    Next time you should bring me in as one of these innovators.

  • http://www.alacrablog.com Steve

    Is Tony Ridder is scheduled to be the keynote?

  • http://wyman.us Bob Wyman

    Another sign of the times… HuffingtonPost reports: “Vivian Schiller, the longtime head of NYTimes.com’s digital efforts, has left the company, and has joined National Public Radio as its new CEO.” See: http://tinyurl.com/5wvqsp

    NPR has distinguished itself of late by taking seriously the changing environment caused by new technology. They are putting a great deal of effort into trying to understand how to remain vibrant in the future. (they may not always be successful, but at least they are trying…) If the newspaper business continues to refuse to face reality, they can expect to see more people jump ship and look for opportunities in more forward looking organizations.

    bob wyman

  • http://www.concreteorange.com Frank

    I came here looking for a refutation of the today’s Slate piece, but -comically so – found only confirmation. I , for one, am convinced, that I will be opening my morning newspaper long after the Web 2.0 bubble has burst. Sooner than some of you might think, people will tire of blogs and comment sections such as this one which are, as I just demonstrated, filled mostly with uninformed and tedious bluster.

  • Mark Rutledge

    “Uninformed and tedious bluster.”
    I like that.

  • http://www.Leebow.com Ken Leebow

    Why not have a government bailout? Wall Street, Detroit, The Fourth Estate, and Uncle Sam . . . makes for a great foursome. Meet up at Augusta National.

  • http://blackblueandredallover.wordpress.com/ Paul Evans

    “Sooner than some of you might think, people will tire of blogs and comment sections such as this one which are, as I just demonstrated, filled mostly with uninformed and tedious bluster.”

    Let me see if I understand this: Because Frank is an idiot then none of the commenters here know what they are talking about. Interesting logic. He must be a newspaper executive.

  • http://www.myspace.com/chris_mcv Chris McVetta

    Kent Brockman: “Hello, citizen! Did you happen to see my latest report on Smartline, last night?”

    Comic Book Guy: “No! Like most people under the age of 70, I get my news from the Internet. Good riddance, dinosaur!”

    Yes, the newspaper industry is still necessary – but the delusional, out-of-touch, corporate stooges that run it – are not.

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  • http://davemartin.blogspot.com Dave Martin

    Jeff, it’s the same old tune. The words of Penn Jillette come to mind – in all of art it’s the singer, not the song. What we continue to have here is a serious leadership problem. The old white guys in charge really do need an outsider but not one from tech as you suggest but rather an illusionist able to make their problems simply disappear. Zell’s outsiders now driving Tribune are worth watching. They have not a year of print experience and as many of the Trib old guard will offer “they are so incredibly stupid they don’t understand that their ideas will never work.” Stay tuned.

  • TheSkibbereenEagle

    Hear, hear Jeff.

    At times like these I find your blog very inspiring.

    @Frank.
    Blogging is merely a medium. To say people will get bored of blogging is like saying they will get bored of telephoning.

    It’s not the technology that attracts people, it’s what they are doing with it.

    Blogging will only die when people tire of meeting, connecting, informing, learning, laughing, raging, worrying and of course, scolding.

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  • Slate ?

    Might wanna take a look at this ?

    http://www.slate.com/id/2204372/pagenum/all/#p2

  • http://www.firstcollegenowwhat.com Joe

    Signal to Noise ratio is ridiculous in the online universe, meaning newspapers have an incredible opportunity to become the ‘beacon of light’ for users.

    That’s paraphrasing our publisher here at our east coast paper. Now we get about the task of leveraging this trust papers have spent years building.

  • Walter Abbott

    Now we get about the task of leveraging this trust papers have spent years building.

    Sorry, Joe. It’s gone, never to return. The mask slipped off this past election cycle and revealed what’s been suspected for decades. The media culture was and still is populated with anti-business types who think big government collectivism is the how economies should be run.

    It’s ironic that free enterprise is the agent that’s putting you guys out of business. Newspapers never did manufacture and sell a product. They were merely a distribution system that delivered assembled words via hard copy. Think quill pen vs movable type.

  • Stan Hogan

    Jarvis is the man behind the curtain. Pay no attention. Newspapers should have been Google, he’ll tell you. Maybe they should have been Wal-Mart. Makes as much sense. The Slate piece was dead on. He’s a professional whiner.

    His solutions are the same ones newspapers have been pursuing for more than a decade. Look where that’s gotten us. Be an Internet company, he’ll tell you. Give away all that once had value and everything will be Googleastic. He has no business model, he has a white flag.

    When newspaper executives meet they need to lock Jarvis and his ilk out. No more snake oil.

  • wheels

    slate is totally right. you are a self-absorbed asshole!

  • John, Sterling, Va.

    Just like everyone else, reporters have to put food on the table at the end of the day. How do you propose monetizing the work they do so they can make a decent living? Moonlighting at Wal-Mart?

    This kicking them while they’re down attitude while saying egotistically “if only they’d listen to me” is of zero help. What about the larger issue of the threat to democracy? Who’s going to cover — who’s going to pay for — the longform, in-depth coverage that exposes corruption? I keep asking these questions and I never get any satisfactory answers. If I get one more answer that includes the term “citizen journalists” I’m going to puke. Find me one “citizen journalist” who would be motivated to cover an issue fairly and factually, without their own axe to grind.

  • http://www.robbmontgomery.com Robb Montgomery

    Can one presume this is a U.S. or at least North American-only confab?
    The best ideas for making money in print and online with news are not being demonstrated on these shores – so this is a deeply ironic gathering.

  • http://www.maegancarberry.com Maegan Carberry

    Didn’t the API learn anything from McCain’s loss? Web 2.0 has arrived and dismantled the game. All the world’s innovators are pushing ahead in dynamic communities while newsies are repurposing content. My Editor & Publisher column from the Web 2.0 Summit on this subject:

    http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003889485

  • http://thebitt.com alex nesbitt

    This kind of meeting is how you plan a coordinated effort for a newspaper bailout.

  • http://www.coveritlive.com/index.php?option=com_altcaster&task=siteviewaltcast&altcast_code=9d7d485abd&height=550&width=470 Nick Peters

    Heads up: A CEO is live blogging the API CEO Summit at

    http://www.coveritlive.com/index.php?option=com_altcaster&task=siteviewaltcast&altcast_code=9d7d485abd&height=550&width=470

    And tagging posts on Twitter as #APIS

  • anon

    The only reason we get the Sunday paper is for the coupons. $.99 is well worth it for the $20+ plus we will use at the store. I do sort of feel bad that I have to put all that newsprint straight into the recycling bin.

    I wish they had a coupon only option. I might even be willing to pay an extra $.51 a week for the privilege of not straining the recyclers.

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  • Robert MacMillan
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