Turning inner space into outer space

January 13, 2012

Doctor's prescription may be too late for some

Ken Doctor makes comparisons between the decline in newspaper advertising and the faltering fortunes of Sears in the U.S., and between the drop in newspaper circulation and the slow death of Kodak. Needless, to say it’s not very encouraging.

The saving grace for newspapers has been circulation revenue, down a relatively low six per cent in the last decade. Circulation has continued to plummet, but continuing price increases have moderated the revenue losses. Circulation revenue now makes up about 30 percent of all U.S. daily newspaper revenue, so it’s significant — but not enough to stabilize companies reeling from ad revenue loss.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Doctor lists five points newspapers need to learn from the comparisons if they are to survive and thrive. I found most compelling his point about getting away from a cutback mentality and focussing more on innovation.

Most newspaper companies have cut so much, while driving out nodes of innovators here and there, that they are left half-staffed for the apps/HTML5/digital circulation revolutions playing out before them. Innovation means at least fast-following; otherwise, you’re left in the dust.

I’m glad to see articles like this, because they demonstrate that much thought is being put into the future of journalism at a time when we are in dire need of guidance to make it through one of our toughest transitions ever. But another part of me wonders why pep talks like this one from Doctor are still taking place. The newspaper managers who haven’t figured these things out by now are already too late. They’re the ones who will be left behind, to be replaced by a new crop that does get it.

It’s always been this way. Reporters who couldn’t figure out how to use a word processor got left behind. Copy editors who couldn’t figure out how to use page layout software got left behind. Already, journalists who couldn’t figure out social media have been left behind. No one mourns them. They’ve faded into the sunset, never to be heard from again.

In a business that prospers by reporting the news, it should come as no surprise that we will always have to contend with what is new.