Reinventing before resizing newspapers

The News & Record in Greensboro — for a long time most people’s poster child for an enlightened newspaper — announced layoffs this week. Characteristically, the paper’s blogging editor, John Robinson, dealt with the issues and emotions around this openly on his blog. He said:

Next week, we’ll begin reinventing the paper. I respect the people who left here yesterday too much to suggest that things will be the same. We’ll focus on what we can do well and what our audience values, and drop the rest. That reinvention will center on:

* Public service journalism, including enterprise, investigative and community.
* Being audience-centric, not format-centric. A faster movement into online and mobile.
* Innovation and experimentation. We can create better cool, useful stuff.

I say that every newsroom that hasn’t started this reinvention is overdue and you’d best do it before the axe falls. The News & Record is ahead of other newspapers, but it could not escape business reality. Today, Robinson added:

But in truth, there’s no villain here. Gathering and publishing information costs money, but more and more people don’t want to pay for it. Many traditional newspaper advertisers are either consolidating or going out of business. Free classifieds contribute. Corporate greed is an easy target, but it’s not the case here. While some publicly traded newspapers have high margins, we don’t. The company has done a lot to forgo Thursday’s action. Most of them I’ve chronicled here.

We’re making the transition to the new digital age. I remain optimistic about journalism. Quality journalism will not be sacrificed. Nor will investigative reporting or community building. There are potholes in the road and ditches on the sides. We have and will hit both. We learn and adjust.

This is why I think that everyone — everyone — in the newsroom should be trained in audio, video, blogs, wikis, maps, blog search, interactivity, and more, not because they’ll all do all of this but because they need to stop thinking of themselves as paper people and they need to start thinking of the new possibilities. I’d even train ad sales staff and certainly publishers in this — with lighter lessons — to open their eyes up to new ways. I’d argue that newspapers need to reinvent and reimagine themselves as new, smaller, faster, more open organizations — now. There is not a moment to waste. The axe is dangling.

  • I’m still puzzled about where the money is going to come from to support these new multimedia newsrooms.

    When the traditional media had a choke hold on advertising outlets (there were only a limited number of broadcast channels and newspapers in a given market) they could attract lots of advertisers and charge good rates. If every Tom, Dick and Jeff can put ads on their site (and generate revenue) how much of the pie is left over for those operations spending lots on news gathering?

    It seems to me there is no reason to think that a person is more likely to click on an ad on this site rather than the same ad at the NY Times. So the only difference is the amount of traffic being generated. But, as we are seeing many of the most popular sites are low budget operations. The dailykos get millions of hits and has no independent news gathering ability.

    I think many sites are still getting a free ride from the work done by the traditional media. If these firms lose their revenue stream then all bets are off.

  • Layoffs are happening all over the newspaper business. The ones that can’t or won’t adjust to the changing multimedia environment are not going to make it.

  • Danny L. McDaniel

    I am puzzled at John’s comment that “people don’t want to pay for the news.” Unless there is a living person on someone’s payroll out and about researching, covering and writing news, it is not going to jump on the screen or paper by itself, and all this hype about “citizen journalism” is fadish and nonsense.

    Much of his article was vague, artsy talk. Before a story can go electronic it must be reported. The only thing I can tell is that blogs are killing the source that feeds them: newspapers. Without newspapers blogs have no content. It seems to be a one way street; newspapers develop, pay for and deliver the product and blogs use them for free as if they are doing some lofty public service.

    This relationship cannot last as it currently stands. It very much like the old adage: “Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” Without newspapers blogs are nowhere; without blogs newspapers still exist.

    Danny L. McDaniel
    Lafayette, Indiana

  • Russ

    The money are still there… that is if you are Walt at WSJ making $1M/yr while the rest are just barely making a living.

    Has anyone done a study on the average salary the new writers are making these days?

  • James

    See also this excellent presentation on why newspapers have an opportunity to do local

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  • The CA

    Enlightened? Please elaborate.

  • Newspapers and new internet startups are having the same kind of problem(s) in two different areas.

    Newspapers think salvation will be in doing the same old things in new ways. Think Web 1.0, the action the preceeded the bubble bursting. Do the same exact things you currently do, just do them online. Then you get others, like Mr. Tierney of PMH (Inquirer and Daily News), who wants to turn his news properties into MySpace – just an assemblage of reporter created mixed media, and daydreams of owning the Wall Street Journal…

    Then you have the plethora of internet startups, who are continuing bubble behavior with no financial bubble present – they hope for acquisition by one of the big five, which for most of them ain’t gonna happen.

    Both are suffering from a lack of entrepenuerism, and not in the traditional (entrepenuers are small business people) understanding of the word (I’ve spent the last week or so reading Peter Drucker’s “Innovation and Entrepreneurship”).

    Print is trying to reinvent their industry, and internet startups are trying to invent products that some other industry will buy, with insufficient thought as to the impact their webapps are having in the big picture.

    Both need to sit down and think out what they are doing and start thinking strategically, and focus on INNOVATING and not INVENTING (or re-inventing), in print’s case..

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  • Greg0658

    Shot garden tractor races over the weekend for a 1hr t-shirt enterprise.
    Speed Channel was there filming for CableTV with 7 people on payroll.
    The audience was the garden tractor circuit folks for the most part.
    Got back home channel flipping, Speed Channel has big axle truck mud racing on air. Same scene, small audience except for racing crowd.

    Point. The glowing screen is the medium that deals. The racers are hoping they will soon be Nascar of garden tractor racing, for now doing it as amateur’s (for excitement). The promotors same, probably doing ok financially. Who’s cashing in? The video crew and cable tv. Our monthly cable bill and tv commercial revenues make the day.

    ps – It was an exciting event. Garden tractors capable of 65mph. And I think for the moment better in person. Come Fall, maybe I catch the replay.

  • erfg
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