Once upon a time I was a newspaper reporter. I thought of myself as being above the mere pedestrian concerns of business. My job was to get scoops and tell stories. I passionately believed the better we did that, the more papers we would sell. The penny-pinches in the corner offices just didn’t get it.
Of course, they probably didn’t get it. The problem was, I didn’t either.
Twenty years later, its pretty clear a strategy of aiming for journalistic excellence doesn’t work. The best newspapers in the world are being hammered by declining circulation as our audience scatters across an ever expanding mediasphere.
It’s time for journalists to break out of their insular worlds of Pulitzer chasing and bellyaching about shrinking newsroom budgets. The modern journalist needs to be part of the solution. The best way to do that is to gain a little business literacy. If journalists want to ensure there is a future for good journalism, and they want to understand what their roll should be in this brave new world, then they should study. They should learn about the forces shaping media today.
Here are five books I think will help:
- Innovator’s Solution, by Clayton Christensen. You could read the Newspaper Next report for free, but the book is better. You need to learn what disruption is (i.e., user-generated content sites, blogs and low-end media production) and why it tends to eventually crush top-of-market businesses. You need to learn about jobs to be done and to think about what audiences really want.
- The Search, by John Battelle. Google dominates the media today. This book will teach you a lot about how people really use the Web. You will learn about the database of intentions and the power of search and why it is hard to hold people’s attention.
- Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug. Even if you don’t design Web sites or Flash user interfaces, this book will help you understand the power of simplicity. You will understand better why Google and Apple are so successful. You will think differently about how you produce content.
- The Vanishing Newspaper, by Philip Meyer. For spot-on business literacy about newspapers, there isn’t a better book. You will better understand the competitive pressures and strategic decisions that we all need to think about. This book will also scare the hell out of you, or should.
- The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson. This book is essential to understanding modern media consumption and how it effects us all. The competition for people’s attention is fierce and the alternatives for readers and viewers is only growing. We don’t just compete against our cross-town rival, or the evening news broadcast. We compete against the entire universe of choices.
If you take my advice, I guarantee you, you will think differently about your job and you’ll be a better journalist because of it.
UPDATE: When I made this list, I was thinking most about business books journalists should read. You’ll note that the only book on the list directly related to newspapers is Meyers book, which says some real important things about the business side of newspapers. The goal was to stretch print journalists to think about newspapers beyond content. That said, there is a very important book about modern journalism and about content, a book that speaks directly to many of the strategic challenges we face, and that is Dan Gillmor’s We the Media. This is one of the most important journalism books of the past decade or so.
[tags]newspapers, journalism, business[/tags]