Getting past newspapers’ past

Dean Singleton’s memo decreeing his strategy for Medianews is unbelievable. I swear it could have been written – hell, I read it and wrote memos arguing against memos exactly like it – in 1996. It’s as if nothing has been learned since then. I was also depressed reading Howard Kurtz’ eulogy to print but not for the same reason it depressed Howie – that is, because papers are dying. What bothered me was that, not unlike Singleton’s forward-to-the-past exercise in self-delusion, it kept all the old assumptions about news and media intact.

If we haven’t learned anything else, isn’t it that the change that has overtaken newspapers (and TV) is radical and complete? Haven’t we at least learned to throw out the old assumptions?

Apparently not.

So let’s try….

* Newspapers are no longer magnets that will draw people in. Newspapers must go to where the people are. Repeat after me: “If the news is that important, it will find me.” Think distributed.

* Newspapers online are still selling scarcity to advertisers: just so many banners presented to just so many eyeballs. Google instead sells performance and that is what motivated it to create AdSense and to get more and more targeted and efficient and relevant ads all around the web. Think abundance.

* Newspapers are inefficient. I spoke with an editor the other day who broke down the 300-person newsroom of yore and conceded that only 50 of those people created journalism. I would add that when working with a much larger network in a new news ecosystem, the news organization can be even smaller and still see as much news reported. That’s what no one ever talks about when whining about how to support news: the other side of the P&L. Think efficiency.

* Newspapers are no longer monopolies. They have new competition. That’s why they can’t set the price for content or ads anymore. The market will. Get used to it. Think like capitalists.

* Newspapers are no longer factories. Not of paper, not of content. The new news organization will add value by organizing news, enabling it to be made elsewhere, helping it to be made better and bigger in a larger ecosystem. Think collaborative.

* Newspapers are stale. The minute – minute – they say anything, what they say can – if they’re lucky – become part of the conversation and then that knowledge is a commodity. The value to the old product disappears. It’s not the product that’s valuable. Think process.

* Newspapers aren’t conversations. And conversations are the new distribution. If you can’t be searched and linked – if you close up behind a wall – you won’t be found. Think open.

* Newspapers can no longer be about control. They have to be about enabling the community to share its own knowledge and succeed doing so. Think platform.

* Newspapers aren’t paper. That’s what’s killing them. Think digital.

Think. Just think.