Friday, March 28, 2008

STOP the Presses!

Sally Kempton, whom I have not read and with whom I may disagree on many things, is credited with writing that “it’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts inside your head.”

Truer words rarely spoken.

The Dominant Narrative Theory works on those of us who are responsible for brands as much as it works on the people we’re trying to reach. The leadership of many organizations – even very successful ones – has no idea what business they’re actually in. Eric Alterman touches on this in a recent turn in that DHM* The New Yorker.

The reallyreally smart guys (mostly guys, not smart, face it) who run American newspapers have believed for a hundred years that they’re in the newspaper business: They sell “space” to advertisers and “newspapers” to consumers. That’s their business model. That’s their internal narrative.

When the Internets came along the thinking was that this was a great way to promote the print editions. It’s like TV news: tease it online and people will lay down their 50 cents to get the rest of the story. Hey, it’s also a great new source of ad revenue. It’s all good.

But … but … what if it doesn’t work?

Easy: we cut staff and double up on the technology. There are digital cameras now, so we give cameras to the scribes and make them double as shooters.

Circ drops.

Hell, they can shoot video too and we can post it on the YouTubes.

Ad revenue drops.

Cut staff. It’s the only prudent decision until we figure out how to compete in the New Frontier. We’ll all work harder!

Circ drops further. Web traffic is flat.

Cut staff. Work smarter, not harder.

This brings us [breathlessly] to the present. An entire industry disappearing – with none to replace it (yet) – because its leadership STILL doesn’t know what business it’s in.

The business of journalism (look for that word among Standard Industrial Classifications) is absolutely not about selling newspapers. That was the technology of the 1780s.

What it’s about is gathering and – this is important – EDITING news and then sharing it with a community: local regional or national. What that business sells is …

wait for it …


Gather, edit and report news that is relevant to your community and you will have an audience. You can sell or rent that audience at a pretty fair margin. That’s what James Franklin did and that’s what the next generation of journalists will do as well. Still using the latest available technology.

So, what business are you in?

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