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?