Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"Lipstick on a Pig" and Print

As the folks who read this blog from time to time, it's probably pretty clear that I love print and am deeply fascinated with how communication works. That goes part of the way to explain my personal focus on following what is going on with Newspapers. From my point of view, newspapers are at the apex of the print communication pyramid.

Of late newspaper business models are shattering before our eyes. There is a lot of hand wringing. Sound a bit like our industry?

As is normal with any business under severe stress, the first explanation is that it is someone or something's fault. In newspapers (and print in general) step one is "blame the customer," as in "people don't read in the internet age". The next step is usually to blame the staff, "as in my people are stupid, untrained, a waste of money." Then the big one, "it's the Internet." as in "we've got to be more like the Internet." Of course, someplace in there is the "brutal competition" as in "how we can compete with savage underpricing or free newspapers or news for free on the net."

Then as things keep going downhill, it eventually gets to a question that may be at the heart of the matter. What can you do do it about it? My answer is do the job you are supposed to do. Play to your core strength. Do it better, faster, cheaper than anyone else in your market. Find the people who want to buy what you do.

Since printers can earn knowledge by watching the full communication ecology, I want to share what I heard on Morning Joe this morning. They were all involved in the blah, blah, blah about Sara Palin. Very heated. And pretty easy to do. Makes sort of ok TV. Most important it answers the question of what are we going to talk about today.

Then Chris Matthews said
"You know what the cable channels are. They are 500 lb gorillas looking for 100 lb burro. They ride the burro until it dies and then they look for another one."
So what does this have to do with printers? Cable TV has been growing very rapidly for the last 15 or so years. It's a new communication capability. It changed the communication ecology. With the full time coverage of OJ Simpson it found a great "burro" that they ran with for months and months. The best thing about the trial was that it was cheap, easy to do programming. Worked well for a long time. But the ecology continues to evolve. Cable TV is now trying to invent new ways to attract viewers. But that's a different post.

Back to newspapers. Here's part of an experienced editor has to say about it:
Newspapers have served as the public square in the communities they have served. As newspapers decline and morph into niche publications, the public square goes away.

The new media create virtual squares, but rarely around large geographic communities. And by their nature, new media are linear. The beauty of the newspaper's public square was that all views could be brought to the public's attention at the same time creating a shared base of knowledge and an understanding of conflicting values.

In the linear, new media people can easily limit the information they receive to ideas that coincide with their own. See the thread below on liberal vs. conservative for the proof of that. read more

A newspaperman was a writer. An author. The true, first voice of history. A newspaperman chronicled the life of his times on old Remingtons with faded ribbons. A newspaperman wrote on copy paper, one story in one take. If he wanted a copy, he used carbon paper. If it didn't sing, it was spiked.

That seems to me the unique value created by newspapers. Then consider how many journalists, either in print or broadcast, actually see themselves as the "true, first voice of history" or focus "on creating a "public square." Now, the big buzz is "social networking" and "local" news and blah, blah, blah.

But my opinion is that if they had relentlessly focused on their unique value they be in the situation of the railroads and the airline industries. The railroads thought they were in the railroad business. But they were in the transportation business. Oops.

Now printers are being told they are in the communication business, or the marketing business, or the trusted provider business. My take for the last couple years is that printers are an invaluable part of the infrastructure that supplies hard copy output. That's what they have doiing since the 1500's. Today, given the explosion of words on the internet that need to be output in hard copy, that's a pretty good business to be in, as long as you don't get distracted.

No comments:

Post a Comment