Is it a burning bridge, or just a short window of opportunity?

Interesting post from Howard Weaver about what some newspaper companies are going through (and I think his primary intended audience is McClatchy).

He says this:

Time is not our friend. Mark Zieman in Kansas City introduced me to the poem Calmly We Walk Through This April’s Day, which includes the memorable couplet, “Time is the school in which we learn/ Time is the fire in which we burn.” (I think Mark probably heard it on Star Trek, but maybe he was an English major.)

That works well with some advice I offered a young editor at a non-McClatchy paper in an email exchange earlier today. Maybe I got a little wound up in my argument, but I closed by writing, “My current metaphor for our business is this: We have to move, and we can see a secure spot for ourselves right across the river. The good news is, there’s a bridge; the bad news is, it’s on fire. There’s time to get across, but not to [screw] around. I intend to get to the other side before the bridge burns up. Who’s coming with me?”

In the past, I’ve been a bit of an alarmist about the need for newsrooms to “get it,” and I still think that is terribly important. But not because the bridge is burning, but because we have a window of opportunity to build a new business that will be better for journalism, better for society and better for the companies we work for. (I should note, I’ve always made a point of saying journalist should prepare for the worst, because the preparation will help them and their companies take advantage of the best opportunities … there’s nothing to be lost by becoming online intelligent).

It’s a window in time, to be sure

Some hard choices have to be made by newsrooms (unlike Mr. Weaver, I believe there is a problem with modern journalism, that our revenue crisis has as much to do with journalism being broken as it does with competition from internet classifieds start ups), but I think newsrooms can find ways to evolve. Most journalists are pretty smart people.

Those newsrooms that do evolve will produce journalism that is better for society and because of that they’ll grow audience, which will make their classified platform more valuable (Unlike Mr. Weaver, I don’t believe that most newspapers are really extending their in-market reach with their web sites, and that’s a problem).

Those newsrooms that don’t evolve may survive despite themselves, because there will be a market left for a long time for the kind of stilted journalism that they produce; and, of course, some may be shuttered. And those that are shuttered will close because those local audiences will have been offered better alternatives from disruptive competitors.

The smaller the newsroom, the more likely it is to make the necessary changes.

But I no longer fear the crisis as I once did. I’m feeling surprisingly calm these days. Maybe that’s just because I work for a company that is doing pretty darn good, comparatively. I’m feeling pretty optimistic about the ability of many newspapers (but not all) to survive the current shake out — and I’m thinking that may be all that’s going on … some papers will close, some papers will morph into different kinds of operations, but a good number may actually grow stronger.

And I’d like to think I’m in a position to help make that happen.

And most of the crisis in newspapers is about big metros, who get all of the attention, rather than the kind of community newspaper I’ve spent my entire career working for, caring for and being passionate about.

That said, nobody should think I’m going to let newsrooms off the hook for “getting it.” The work still needs to be done — whether it’s motivated by a sense of crisis, or because it’s just the right thing to do — the work still has to be done. There’s still threats. There’s still defensive measures to be taken. (And of course, there’s huge opportunities.) It’s still an all-hands effort. We can afford to be confident, but we can’t afford to be cocky or cavalier.

So, you can still expect me to get riled up at times :)

9 thoughts on “Is it a burning bridge, or just a short window of opportunity?

  1. “Maybe that’s just because I work for a company that is doing pretty darn good, comparatively.”

    Compared to McClatchy maybe. Was a bit hard to read that line though in the wake of four coworkers in my mid-sized paper – 2 of them in Online – getting laid off this week. You sure GateHouse is doing pretty darn good?

    Me, I’m scared.

  2. First, I’m not old enough to sit still for “Mr. Weaver” from *you,* Owens.

    Secondly, the matter of extending in-market reach with websites isn’t one of belief; it’s empirical. I’m sure.

    Third, as H.L. Mencken traditionally replied, you may be right.

  3. It’s Mr. Weaver, with all due affection, Mr. Weaver.

    As for in-market reach — it’s all a matter of which and whose statistics you use.

  4. Most of the crisis in newspapers isn’t just about big metros. GateHouse finished today below $2 a share. Stephanie has a right to be scared.

  5. You stated: “Maybe that’s just because I work for a company that is doing pretty darn good, comparatively.”

    Perhaps we should not take “doing pretty darn good” as meaning financially. Perhaps you mean journalistically. Because if you mean financially, Stephanie does have reason to worry — and, yes, that is based on the stock price, which is based on financial performance.

Leave a Reply