Avoiding the mistakes of Kodak

Here’s a good story for newspaper people to read: Mistakes Made on the Road to Innovation, from Bussiness Week. It’s mainly about Kodak, but the lessons could be applied to newspapers.

It is taking time for Kodak to understand that it is an image company, not a film or camera company. Perhaps it should take lessons from Western Union. (WU ) Founded in 1851, the company has managed to ride each successive wave of change in its history rather than getting swamped. (A bankruptcy protection filing in the early 1990s was caused by management mistakes rather than external threats.) After handling the first transcontinental telegram in 1861, it spotted the opportunity to transfer money by wire 10 years later. Then, a series of firsts: a city-to-city facsimile service, a microwave communications system, a commercial satellite network, and online money transfer.

Why has Western Union been able to adapt to severe disruptions and survive over so many years? It never confused the business it was in with the way it conducted its business. At its core, Western Union was about facilitating person-to-person communications and money transfers — whether via telegraph, wireless networks, phone, or the Internet. “We always saw ourselves as a communications company,” says president Christina Gold.

I’ve heard it said that newspapers need to learn they are not in the news business, but the information business. I disagree. I think we’re in the community business.

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