Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The face of things to come

This is undoubtedly true, but so is this.

Nobody has yet figured out a good way to replicate the depth and breadth of journalism committed by the country's major metro newsrooms in any other way. Virtually everything on TV, the radio or online that doesn't come off the police scanner originated in a newspaper newsroom somewhere. But guess what? The big, old, traditional structures built around those newsrooms aren't necessarily the only way to get the job done.

The next phase of online and mobile news will almost certainly include efforts to go after the serious news market while shedding (or never acquiring) the financial and cultural baggage of the newspaper companies. And in most markets, it will likely come from former newsroom folks who've been laid off, took buyouts or sought out startups. These are people who know what they're doing.

The development will come fastest in cities where the traditional newspapers die, as some will likely do this year. But even in markets with relatively stable news orgs, upstarts will be coming for them. And they'll be coming soon, for better or worse. I tend to think it'll be better -- for news consumers and ultimately for journalists and entrepreneurs -- but there'll be a long, painful period first. In fact, the more I read Romenesko and other news blogs, the more I realize that period is well underway.


I'm feeling relatively optimistic these days, about the news industry and my particular hidey-hole within it. It's a great time to be innovating and reinventing ourselves and our business, and I'm having more fun than I've had in a long time. We're building on online store, creating the organization's first iPhone apps, toying again with the concept of an e-paper and doing a long, slow dance with potential content partners.

That said, the handcuffs that continue to be placed on us -- limiting any large-scale innovation -- are real. They're the biggest threat we face. The old "we have met the enemy, and he is us" bit, right?

It's on my mind this morning because humorist and novelist Marc Acito generated by far the biggest laugh of the night at the Portland Schools Foundation Roast Festival last night with the line below. (He was referring to another speaker, Oregonian columnist Anna Griffin.)

So, I went online to read some of her columns, which, of course, meant I had to navigate the Oregonlive Web site. Has anyone here tried to find anything on this site? Seriously, they oughta call it AbandonHopeAllYeWhoEnterHere. Dot Com.

Unfortunately, it's hard to argue with the guy. I mean, if he ever read Anna's columns in the newspaper, there's a tag at the bottom guiding readers to her shelf at Oregonlive. But like an increasing number of Portlaners, he doesn't read the print paper. He wants to find his news online or through his mobile, and we don't necessarily make it easy on him.

So there is a bright future, but it's going to take a fairly large dose of innovation at the local level to find it. One of these days we need to take off the handcuffs and get started.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Radio silence

I never intended for this blog to be well read, or influential, or important in any way. I'm just not that smart and not putting that much time into it. It was just a semi-private outlet for ramblings and rumblings inside my head at a time I was feeling particularly unable to influence change in my own work life. If anyone out there in the ether noticed and felt like engaging in conversations about the future of things, that would be fine, too. But that was about the extent of it.

Yet even I have to feel guilty about going this long with the lights off. Sheesh. The truth is I've been working furiously trying to help build an online store. It's something the paper should have done years ago, admittedly. At least it's a project that's leaning forward a bit, though. And one with future revenue potential. (Though maybe not one with much current revenue potential, given the state of the economy.)

In any case, an early version of my efforts are visible at If things go according to plan, it will grow and evolve in the months ahead.

Which brings me to a point I intended to make in this space weeks ago. One of the legs of the future business model is likely to be that news companies need to be willing to sell -- everything and often. The store is a small and obvious example. The list could also include databases of information we collect and maintain, a speakers' bureau, the licensing of our news for all sorts of purposes, etc.

We should probably attempt to turn a weakness into a strength by leveraging our printing plants into a more full-service print business, too. As the newsprint portion of our business becomes less and less important, we'll have these large and expensive pieces of equipment that increasingly can't pay for their own existence. So hire a division manager to run them like a standalone print business. The newspaper is one client, and an important one, but hardly the only one. Aggressively seek out business that takes advantage of the equipment. Update it, if need be. Be innovative, and grab market share from existing competitors.

I digress. But you get the idea. The era when we were a one-product company is over. The time when we need to have our (business) noses under 50 or 100 different tents is dawning. It's scary, but it's also a helluva lot of fun. So let's stop playing defense and go on offense for a while, eh?