Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sad but Searing

This recent story from the Nashville Scene makes the Editrix sad, very sad. To summarize, Gannett is making a ton of money off the Tennessean, which is a boring, very thin paper. How is it doing that? In part, by not trying to hire anything close to the best and the brightest. And, it has become a really brilliant financial strategy:

The true crime of the corporate takeover of the American newsroom is in instituting a culture where smart people do not wish to work. Or so we’d like to believe.

The problem with this logic, as you well know, is that it is utter rot. From a financial standpoint, anyway, it doesn’t appear to have a downside. There’s simply no evidence that putting out a quality news product will produce more revenues or profits for the parent company—at least not anymore. In fact, a careful analysis of the 13 largest publicly traded newspaper companies today indicates that just the opposite appears to be true. That is the genius of Gannett. You figured it out first. Your papers don’t win serious journalism awards. Few self-respecting journalists with job options would consider a career at Gannett. There is almost no original thinking or cutting-edge analysis of the important issues of the day in your papers. Your columnists are absolute nobodies. Your editorial writers have virtually no impact on policy-making institutions, either here inside Nashville’s Interstate 440, or inside the Beltway, up near where you live.

But what do you care, Mr. Dubow? Gannett is kicking everybody else’s financial derriere in the newspaper industry. As CEO of a public company that trades on the New York Stock Exchange, you well know that you have a fiduciary responsibility to return value to shareholders. Fact is: you’re better at it than any of your competition.

Although newsletters and magazines are not as guilty of getting rid of good editorial folks in the name of profit, it is happening. Well, maybe it has already happened. Newsletters and b2b have never been the place where it's at, where the center of cutting edge lives . . . yet still, marketing-think pervades our business, even more than newspapers. And by marketing-think, the Editrix does not mean thinking up clever ways to market exciting, innovative products.

Here's what the Editrix means: Last summer at the product development retreat, she suggested we look into doing podcasts and webinars, rather than just audio conferences (which, for those like the Editrix who had never HEARD of such a thing, are like webinars but without the PowerPoint and you have to call in on a phone. They're so . . . 1990s). Now, most people would think this suggestion was a little . . . late. The reaction? MAN, "Well none of our customers are demanding that. I don't think they want it." Um, yeah. That's the way to be innovative and a leader in the field. Simply ignore larger societal trends that you don't personally get.

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