N E W S P A P E R D I S R U P T O R
Changing The Newspaper Game One Day At A Time
( H t t p : / / N e w s p a p e r d i s r u p t o r . c o m / I n d e x . p h p / A u t h o r / J o e y Y o u n g / )
What I am going to say is going to piss some journalists off. I am OK with that.
I am so sick of hearing about the death of newspapers, it is starting to drive me insane. Why do so many good journalists just accept that the industry is dying without looking at the mounting evidence that it is simply changing slightly and there are not just a few good years left, but decades, and more for a lot of us?
Look, I don’t pretend to know what a P&L looks like at a metro daily newspaper, and I really don’t care to know either, so unlike so many national journalists, I won’t pretend that my company is just like everyone else’s.
What I will say is that I know a lot of publishers. I just got done hanging out with many of them in Topeka at our annual Kansas Press Association Convention and not only are many publishers and owners excited, many of them were having record years.
The simple truth about newspapers is that we suck at telling our own stories, we act like the 20 to 30 percent margins of the ’70s is success, and we weeklies allow our readers to read garbage that lumps us in with the few corporately owned newspapers that can’t seem to figure this business model out. When the Wichita Eagle shut down their press to print in Kansas City, I got questions about it. People asked me how much longer I was going to keep doing this—like it was a regional death nail or something. It sucked. From what I understand, it was just about profit margins, overhead, and an overbuilt press in
Kansas City that existed before the economic downturn. That seems simple to me and certainly not a death nail for the Eagle, but absolutely not one for me. This happens constantly, though, and all over the country.
I think because most of the community-based newspapers in this country are in smaller towns, the owners and publishers are a little quiet about their business models. They know their neighbors and fellow business owners in town. They don’t want to brag if they had a great year. I don’t blame them, either. I certainly feel this way often as well—good or bad year alike. This is why I am so irritated. If McDonald’s was going through a change with their business model, people wouldn’t associate the local cafe with their model change. I’m not sure why when giant, hedge-fundowned newspapers make profit margin based changes it should associate with me, either, but what do I know?
Some say that the reporting on journalism is largely based around the metro papers because they do the “real journalism” in this country. A comment like this is likely to get a lot of lost respect from me. This is ignorance. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate what these metros are doing and the national papers for covering a largely dysfunctional government, but tell me you can’t report or even mention the thousands of other papers in this country that are profitable and are doing just fine when you are writing your death nail pieces. It’s just crap.
This all came to a head when a friend, Kevin Slimp (yes, that was a name drop, and I don’t care), tagged me in a post on Facebook. I was busy, heavy into a project, and tired, but when Slimp tagged me I wanted to give it a look, as I appreciate his work. (He does more than I can tell you about. Check out his newspaperacademy.com to learn more).
I saw what I assumed was another share on my page about the awesome weekly in Iowa that just won a Pulitzer Prize. I liked the post without paying a lot of attention (I normally hate this practice) and said that I thought those guys were awesome. I just assumed I had read the story 1,000,000 times already, but I should have known it was something different when Slimp shared it to my page. A national writer tried to tie the small weekly in Iowa (you guys rock, by the way) to the decline of family owned newspapers. It was so stupid I could hardly believe that was on my wall. Surely it would be from some crap website and Slimp was just screwing with me, right? Nope. Wall Street Journal…
Then I just got pissed off, which derailed my project and eventually led to this column, which I am finishing now, because I am freaking busy. Let me repeat myself. I AM BUSY. If we were such a dying industry with no value to give left, I am sure I wouldn’t be so damn busy, but I am, and usually I am spending my time on growth projects for our company. That is right: growth projects for my company. I feel the need to repeat myself over and over again, because I sometimes wonder if the world is dense or doesn’t care. Either way, I learned repetition was the best way to get something to stick, so one more time: I am busy, and busy on growth projects. Got it?
There are many like me, as Slimp points out all the time, but we can’t seem to get that message to stick. I can’t tell you why, but this is yet another blog post to get the message out there. Not all papers are the same. They aren’t all making money. They aren’t all losing money. Some are stodgy and old and in need of desperate change to make it. Some are thriving and enjoying their fruits. Funny, I think this is true in nearly every industry, but I don’t see the broad brushes painted when I read about most other industries.
This is my plea: understand there are thousands of papers making money and serving their communities, and if you are going to write a death nail piece, just mention it, as it is kind of important.