Vin Crosbie reflects on 5,000 days in new media

Over the past 18 to 24 months, there has been a mini-boom in people blogging about new media, newspapers online and such.  I’ve come to know a lot of smart and dedicated people whom I didn’t know 10+ years ago. Some of these people are clearly new to our industry.

I just wonder how many of them ever stop and think that before they started contributing their expertise that there were a lot of smart people already doing this online newspaper stuff?

There’s nothing new under the sun, as they say, and there are damn few new ideas coming out in blogs today that weren’t floated on e-mail discussion lists such as Online-News, Online-Newspapers, the New Media Feds list or the ONA list before there were blogs. The perscriptions and solutions of 2007 aren’t much different from what a lot of smart people in our industry were saying in 1997.

Among those people who has been more often right than wrong over the years is Vin Crosbie, but since he doesn’t make blogging his vocation, a lot of media bloggers don’t seem know who he is or appreciate how important he is to our industry.

Today, Vin celebrates his 5,000th day in newspaper new media. He’s posted an excellent retrospective of his career.

And there’s this:

I’ve not seen the up and down phases of the Internet bust and boom that the popular and trade press are fond of seeing since 1993. What I’ve seen is a straight line continually rising. The ups and downs, booms and busts, and other gyrations were investors’ and traditional media companies’ helical movements rotating around that upward line. When in 2000 investors lost their shirts in the Internet bust and quite a few traditional media company executives were saying, ‘I told you this online thing was just a fad,’ consumers’ use of that ‘online thing’ was rising as steadily as it had during the Internet boom, no matter if investors had lost shirts and wingtips.

I agree. Internet growth has been a straight line for all practical purposes. And when the dot com bust came, a lot of newspaper company top executives pulled back the reigns on new media development. It wasn’t like we were doing all that great of a job on putting our ideas into place anyway (newspaper new media operations were always bootstrap efforts), but whatever momentum we had going in 2001 was lost. If newspaper companies do not survive the transition to digital media, then 2001 to 2004 can be considered the black pit that sucked all the life out of efforts.

It was stupid to pull back and we’re still paying the price.

That three year period should have been the years we doubled down and tried to get out in front of the audience. It wasn’t like we couldn’t predict that social networks (what we then called virtual communities) and niche interests and participation would be big things. Some of us, in fact, were saying exactly that. With the first emergence of broadband, how hard was it to see that video would some day be a big thing?
Or what about this: Why couldn’t we have made our online classified efforts more robust back then? Interestingly, it was during this dark age that that NAA’s Horizon Watching committee release a report on “web centric classifieds” that was largely ignored by the industry. In fact, to this day, I think most newspaper sites are far, far, far away from implementing a web centric classified strategy.

Of course, people like Vin were warning us …

… sometimes when I’ve written something particularly controversial about the news or newspaper business (such as during 1999 when I’d write about how printed edition circulation would in a few years begin to plunge), some newspaper industry executives would dismiss off-hand what I wrote because I was only ‘a consultant’ and not someone actually ’employed by the newspaper industry.’

Vin may not be saying, “I told you so” — I think he’s more just in a reflective mood — but, well, he did. If only the suits had listened.

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