The Tipping Point for Newspapers

Last week Borrell Associates made their media predictions for 2024. That sounds like a long way off, but it’s just 10 years away.  A few predictions were startling, because media is quickly transforming from an industry built on delivery platforms to one built on content creators.  Or as the Borrell folks put it in their presentation, “control shifts from those who own an audience to those that influence it.”

This is where the opportunity is for all of us.

Howard Beale, the deranged network news anchor character in the movie Network, knew people didn’t want change, but he challenged them in the film’s famous “I’m as Mad of Hell” scene:

“We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is: ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.  Well, I’m not going to leave you alone.”

It’s our nature to seek out comfort and resist change.  But, no one can stop change.  Change will only get faster.  Change will disrupt media, the lives of those that earn a living from it and the consumers who use it.  It’s happening in radio, television and newspapers and nothing will stop it. Change is a constant.

Borrell_Newspapers

Above is a slide from Borrell’s presentation last week.  You’re reading it correctly.  Take a moment and digest what they are saying.  Borrell is predicting only a dozen “metro dailies” will exists in 2024.  A dozen as in twelve.  50 states, some of the most populous cities on planet Earth, hundreds of millions of people and consumers will be served by just 12 daily newspapers.

newspaper

A few days after the Borrell presentation the local business weekly in Cincinnati, the Business Courier, published an interview with the editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer, the city’s only daily newspaper, which is going through a massive reorganization as 2014 comes to a close.  Carolyn Washburn was very forth coming in the interview, discussing changes the Gannett newspaper was making in order to (hopefully) survive until 2024.

Senior management will now be on the “young side, they’re more digitally experienced.”  Current content creators, reporters and photographers, must reapply for their jobs with some (as expected) declaring “no mas” and taking the offered buyout.  The title “editor” is gone and replaced with “strategists” and “story telling coaches.”

It’s all summed up in one statement from Washburn, “We are not just a daily newspaper anymore.”  

I’m sure that may come as a shock to many who work at the Cincinnati Enquirer as 2014 concludes. But, to anyone who has seen the paper shrink, the classified ads disappear and its printing plant sold off with the paper now being printed in Columbus, Ohio it comes as no surprise.

I tell people that when I got into the business, we published the newspaper once a day. Today, I’m the editor of Cincinnati.com and two daily newspapers and 26 weekly newspapers and I’ve lost track now, eight or nine apps, including the traffic app that we just launched a couple months ago. We do podcasts. We do video documentary work. We are one of the rare newspaper-based organizations that has several Emmys on the shelf. We do live audience programming. We have a structure, today, and we’ve had a structure that is still built on producing a newspaper everyday. There are some skills and talents that we need to make sure that we are fully set up and organized to produce a much wider range of media that we do now.

Washburn’s a lady who, if she ran a railroad company back in the day, would have realized railroads were in the transportation business and not the passenger hauling business.

No question these are tough times at the Cincinnati Enquirer, but with these changes comes opportunities for people with different skill sets and additional opportunities for the many seasoned and experienced reporters who will be leaving the paper.

About six months ago I started writing this blog and creating content.  Many articles or posts have gotten tens of thousands of views.  Many have been quoted in industry trades.  I’ve always had ideas for books, columns, blogs or documentary films bouncing around in my head, but I was too busy being a corporate suit, too focused on the next Nielsen ratings book and was held up by writing required reports for corporate overlords…reports few read.

I have a passion for radio.  I have a passion for marketing and media.  One day I decided to put my thoughts into blog form and about a year ago one of my most famous missives got me into a lot of trouble.

You know how much this blog cost to start up?  About $65 because I bought a premium template from WordPress.  I could have done it for nothing with a free template.  I already owned the domain.

My point is simple.  You no longer need a television station, a radio station or a newspaper to get your content watched, heard or read.  You are the content producer and creator.  You no longer need to depend on who or what owns the audience.  The power has shifted to the person who influences the audience and that’s you.

These are stressful times and my thoughts are with my many friends at the Enquirer.

But, the truth is there’s never been more opportunity.

 

Please like and share this blog.  

Get more insight and thoughts in 140 characters on Twitter by following me @darryl_parks

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