We don’t need to invent it, we just need to make it work

There is a great deal of consternation in some circles that the newspaper industry has failed to innovate, and by innovate they mean — didn’t invent Google first, didn’t invent Ebay first, didn’t invent MySpace first.

There have been multiple failures by the newspaper industry in the R&D realm, but the problem hasn’t been the lack of big, break-through ideas (even if one of us thought of “page rank” first, could we really have built Google?). Our problem has been one more of lack of imagination about available technology than inventing whole new products. I mean, as far back as at least 1997, it made sense for newspapers to add community to their news sites, but nobody did it.

As others have pointed out, newspapers didn’t invent printing presses, SLR cameras, computer pagination or wire transmission, but we sure figured out how to put those tools to good use.

We don’t need the next big idea. We need to put available ideas to better use.

Consider how well the US companies have done in building businesses around technologies invented elsewhere:

  • HTML (the Web) in Europe
  • MP3 in Europe
  • Linux in Europe
  • PHP in Europe
  • Python in Europe
  • MySQL in Europe

In other words, a good portion of what drives the web was not invented here, but these technologies sure have been great for the US economy.

Why can’t newspaper companies learn from the likes of Facebook, Google, Craigslist, Ebay, as well as what lots of smart people are doing with HTML, PHP, Python and MySQL? We don’t need to invent it. We just need to make it better to meet our core mission: serving our communities (both of interest and of geography).

This post inspired by this TechCrunch post.

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