Monday, December 14, 2009

Newsosaur, the accidental blog, enters 6th year

Sipping a fine single-malt scotch after dinner exactly five years ago, I fired up my laptop to see if I could begin to understand what the blogging craze was all about.

After registering for an account on Google’s free Blogger service, the first question you are asked is the name of your blog. That stopped me cold. Inasmuch as I had no intention of actually writing a blog, I had no name in mind. That got me thinking…

If I were going to write a blog – which I have no intention of doing – I suppose it would be about how changes in technology and consumer behavior would rock the world of the traditional media.

Given my background as a newsman-turned-businessman, I could – if I were going to write a blog – leverage my ongoing involvement in Silicon Valley to provide some objective commentary on how newspapers and other traditional media companies could parlay their then-dominant market power into preserving quality journalism in the emerging wired world.

So, the title of the blog – if I there were going to be one – would be “Reflections of, er, um, Something or Other.” And then, after a few more sips of scotch, it hit me: “Newsosaur.”

Once I completed the registration process, I was invited to write a post. And, for reasons that elude me to this day, I did. Then, I wrote another. And another. And, well, you know the rest.

As the odometer on this effort clicks over to the sixth year, I discovered in the State of the Blogosphere Report from Technorati that I have entered a rather rarified crowd. Of all the 200 million-ish bloggers in the world, only 13% have been doing it for six years or longer. The rest undoubtedly have better things to do.

I attribute the durability of this entirely accidental effort to the dumb luck of being in the right place at the right time.

When I started writing about the looming threat to the mainstream media, the traditional companies couldn’t have been fatter or happier. Newspapers, which have been brought to their knees in the last four years, actually achieved record high advertising sales of $49.4 billion in 2005. This year, they will be lucky to eke out $28 billion in sales.

As a lifelong journalist who loves newspapers and cares about preserving vigorous, professional journalism, I found the rapid unraveling of the MSM to be not only an important story but also an irresistibly fascinating one to cover.

While the tale has gone through a number of unimaginable twists and turns in the last five years, some things have stayed remarkably the same. One constant theme is the inability of newspaper publishers to accept and embrace the changes they should have made to their venerable, but no longer relevant, business model.

One of my very first posts called out the problem on Dec. 13, 2004. It is as valid today as it was back then. Here is what I had to say:

Making lemonade out of lemmings

My old friend Steve Yahn, a scrappy journalist who has helmed such publications as Ad Age and Editor & Publisher Magazine, once referred to our bosses at the late Chicago Daily News as “rabbits.” I could tell by his tone that he didn’t mean it as a compliment.

“What do you mean?” I asked, as battered Smith-Coronas clacked loudly through the smoky newsroom and a Rube Goldberg-style conveyor belt whirred over our heads, carrying wads of hastily edited copy to the clattering composing room.

“They've got no guts,” Steve huffed, swigging a cold gulp of see-through, vending machine coffee in the pre-Starbuck’s era of 1978. “They just run like rabbits to their holes.”

Not long after that, the newspaper was shut down and about 300 colleagues and I were encouraged to explore new career opportunities.

In fairness to the rabbits, there wasn't much they could have done to save our distinguished evening newspaper from declining circulation; rising production and delivery costs, and perhaps the greatest culprit of all – prime-time TV.

Newspapers in 1978 were produced pretty much the same way they were made in 1878, 1778 and, heck, 1478.

No one debated the nuances of the “business model.” It was older than Benjamin Franklin himself. There were only two choices: sell more ads or cut costs. The most radical variation on those themes was doing both at the same time.

But that was then and this is now.

Today, as you might have heard, we have the Internet and cell phones and iPods and wireless PDAs and what-all. Each of these technologies offers unprecedented opportunities to give and get information. And each suggests a rich variety of new revenue and profit streams.

Yet, the proprietors of the press are oblivious, walking arm and arm with Poor Richard to Armageddon.

You couldn't blame the rabbits in 1978. They were simple creatures, obeying their instincts, doing the best they could with the information and resources available to them.

But the guys who run today’s newspapers have no such excuse. When are these lemmings going to learn how to make lemonade?

17 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have followed you for three of those years, and think you write a valuable and insightful blog. I don't always agree with you.

6:40 AM  
Blogger Steve Buttry said...

Alan, congratulations on five years of valuable insight. I wish more of the rabbits were following your advice.

8:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great job, Alan. Thanks for telling it like we wish it wasn't. -jcs

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Tired of newsmedia silliness said...

I think you got it mostly wrong. the problem wasn't entirely in an outdated business model but rather that you made a product that a lot of people despised and detested and so at the soonest available opportunity they deserted you to the Internet. That this chance to avoid liberal establishment bias and contempt went from the chronically aggrieved to pretty much everyone.

After all, why pay good money to be lied to by idiots thinking that they are better than their revolting readers.

No, you establishment newspaper types didn't like your readers and your former readers didn't like you and so when we got a choice or ten million of them from the Internet, we left and never looked back.

7:07 PM  
Anonymous Bob Rosenbaum said...

Congrats. And don't ever stop.

8:02 PM  
Anonymous Patrick Martin said...

Hmmm. Eking out a "mere $28 billion" in sales. How much are the blogs doing?

9:07 PM  
Blogger Pino Rea said...

Viva quel single-malt scotch !

11:43 PM  
Anonymous Denney said...

My only problem with Reflections is that I haven't followed it the past six years. I only stumbled onto it last year, as the newspaper at which I was working skidded rapidly down the back slope of the bell curve. I got shaken off earlier this year. Now, as I continue my re-education in journalism for the modern era, I read every post with great interest. Regardless of whether I agree with a given post, I come away mind buzzing with possibilities for rescuing journalism. Thank you for making the effort. dc

5:30 AM  
Anonymous Tom Wolfe said...

Alan - Keep up the great work!

6:32 AM  
Blogger Rudyard W. Fulch III said...

Thank you for your insightful commentary and devotion to a noble calling. Often I have found that the knowledge I gather from Newsosaur and its clinging Wendeloons weighs upon me like heavy cargo on a slim goat. Even so, you give me hope that journalism can rise again from the ashes of its tattered pelt. Roll the presses!

6:40 AM  
Blogger TP said...

Alan: keep it going. Thanks!

7:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alan: I think posting a recipe for rabbit stew would be only appropriate. Or, try writing a post speculatively describing how the nupe landscape appears five years hence.
Good job so far.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Oregon said...

Congratulations. I started reading your blog when the share price of my former employer, Lee Enterprises, went from $40 to 40 cents. If only some of my bosses had read it earlier.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Michele said...

Alan,
Keep telling like it is, throwing in suggestions now and then. I know I'm five years late, but am trying to think of a title for my "serious" blog. My other one is written by my dog who has seen some real changes even without reading the newspaper.

3:32 PM  
Anonymous Douglas Craver said...

Congrats Alan. Although my comments are scarce at best I've been dropping in for a read from the start and hope you'll continue your insight for the benefit of your readers.

Now for the real important question...what kind of SMS was it? Whatever it was I'm buying the next time we connect.

6:52 PM  
Blogger D.B. Hebbard / TNM said...

Congratulations on six years of blogging.

If I may contribute an answer to your final question: When are these lemmings going to learn how to make lemonade?

The answer, of course, is never. But that poses another question: Who will make lemonade out of the lemons we are left with after the lemmings give up?

11:05 AM  
Blogger Stan Spire said...

When you were fishing around for a name for your blog, did you consider "Mutterings?"

Congrats on six years. Have you arrived to the point where you're afraid you're repeating yourself (the fear of all prolific writers)?

7:53 AM  

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