In a piece about data portability, John Battelle shifts into a discussion about the difference between a business that competes on price vs. a business that competes on service. He says:
An example. My local market charges far more for a good bottle of wine than many shops that are nearby. But there’s a wine guy who works at that market who knows wine cold, and who I trust. Also, the market is close to my home, and I have a personal relationship with the fellow (OK, here’s the reference to the book I’m working on – I have a “conversation” going with this merchant). Those factors, combined with a certain ambiance at the store that I really like, all lead to one result: I buy my wine at the more expensive store. Why? Because the store competes on more than price.
Ironically, I just found a booze store near my house that not only has great prices, but also great service — an owner who knows his booze (not just wine) cold. But that’s beside the point.
Battelle is absolutely right. He’s talking about differentiation. He’s talking about competitive advantage.
The newspaper industry is awash in talk about disruption and innovation. I do it, too. It’s important. We’ve had API do NewspaperNext. But there’s more to saving this industry than coming up with new ideas. I want to know when API is going to do NewspaperBetter.
All of the evidence suggest that ever since the Woodstein era began, readership and circulation have been in decline. Now, there are lots of reasons for that (subject of a future post), but there’s also little doubt that there is something about American newspaper journalism since the 1970s that is turning people off.
We’re not even winning the content battle on the web, so it isn’t just about delivery, convenience or changing lifestyles. It’s also about something that we’re doing or not doing.
Through all of the debates we’ve had about video, there is a “quality crowd” that seems to think the only thing I care about is slapping up a bunch of crappy videos just to make video.
That totally misses the point.
The point is about reinventing newspaper journalism, and I believe video is going to be a big part of newspaper journalism from here on out, and reinvention is all about doing it better.
The quality crowd doesn’t seem to understand, or doesn’t seem to care, that quality isn’t about the camera you carry, the software you use or how much time you spend in an editing bay (if you’re using an editing bay, by the way, you’re in overkill mode). Quality is about the skill, knowledge, experience, understanding, talent and intuition that helps you get bits of interesting stuff — the stuff people really care about, want to read about, or want to see and hear.
It’s the content, not the presentation, that matters most.
Again, I point you to Ira Glass on getting good.
Getting good at any creative endeavor is hard work. It takes time. I don’t care how smart you are, it takes time. Getting good isn’t about equipment. It’s about heart and soul.
So the best thing to do to get good is to do it. Get started. Explore and discover and feel free to fail. You must make yourself create things and not be afraid of some of the crap you will create along the way.
That’s also what my posts encouraging journalists to dive deep into the online social life and conversation are all about.
To be a great modern journalist, you MUST be a wired journalist. You must GET online. That doesn’t mean you just know how to do a Google search, read a few blogs and send a few e-mails. It means you get the culture, the attitudes and the expectations of the online crowd.
Until you do it, you’ll never understand that there is a difference. That’s why I don’t take very seriously the critics who say this call to action is a lot of bunk. They haven’t done it. They don’t know what they’re talking about, or what we’re talking about.
During one of the football games I watched last week, the announcer referred to an interview he did that week with a first-year NFL coach. When asked what was different about the NFL than he expected, the coach said that what he expected to find in the NFL was a group of professional football players, and he was shocked to find just how few professionals there were in the league. Very few players in the NFL, he said, are professionals. They don’t go about their jobs and their routines the way a professional would.
I submit that if you’re a professional journalist, you’ve already done most of what I put in my suggested MBO plan. And if you don’t think you need to do those things, than I question whether you’re really a professional.
It is time for newspaper journalists to set up and start creating the competitive advantage that will help us win. Current newspaper journalism is pretty much a commodity. When what you produce becomes a commodity, you can no longer win on price (and some journalists think we should be charging a fee for what people are already telling us doesn’t much interest them). You can only win on a competitive advantage. For journalists that should be doing a better job of story selection, presentation and interaction with the people in their communities.
If you don’t believe me, go read Mindy McAdams. She’s got it exactly right. I wish I had written that post. It could be the primer for an API NewspaperBetter project.