Newspapers get serious
It’s time we take a serious look toward the future
Like many of you reading this column, I’ve been in the newspaper business a long time. I began delivering daily papers for the Johnson City (Tennessee) Press-Chronicle when I was eight years old. It’s amazing my parents allowed me to deliver papers after my brother, who was twelve-year-old at the time, was killed while walking home from his paper route six years earlier. So, when I say newspapers are in my blood, I mean that literally.
For more than 25 years, I’ve worked as a consultant with thousands of newspapers in the U.S. and abroad. In that time, I’ve seen a lot of changes, and not just in the areas of technology and production.
Some of the changes have been exciting. Working on the development of the PDF printing method in the ‘90s has been one of the highlights of my career thus far. Traveling to major universities and professional groups to discuss the upcoming digital revolution in the late ‘90s and early 2000s was another interesting time.
Being invited to address groups including the National Economic Association, the National Press Club, and others about the effects of various elements on the newspaper industry, as well as the effects of the newspaper industry on society in general, has been a highlight of my career to date.
An issue that has concerned me over the past ten or so years has been the lack of unbiased leadership in our industry to keep us on track in accomplishing our core duties, while steering us away from negative influences that could be detrimental to our industry’s future.
Whether out of a fear of upsetting powerful players in the industry or just being too quick to take bad advice, we’ve taken more than a few wrong turns over the past ten or so years. That’s why I’m so excited about some of the work I, as well as others, will be involved in over the coming months.
My schedule this fall is probably the busiest of my career. A quick glance tells me I’ll be in just about every corner of the United States, as well as a lot of states in-between, to work with groups who are serious about helping newspapers take steps toward a brighter future. Let me share a little about a couple of these efforts.
The North Dakota Newspaper Association Foundation is hosting a gathering in Bismarck in October 2019 to gain a better understanding of how newspapers can play a more vital role in the lives of potential readers in their mid 20s to late 30s.
On the Foundation’s “dime,” dozens of millennials from throughout North Dakota will descend on Bismarck, spend an evening together, then spend the following day in focus groups, which I will lead, all in an effort to learn what we can do to better meet the needs and interests of persons in this age group.
On December 6, I will be in Fort Worth, Texas, at the invitation of the Texas Center for Community Journalism, to meet with publishers to discuss digital journalism. There is no ulterior motive. No one has anything to sell. The goal is simply to spend a day together studying what is working, what isn’t working, what should be left behind, and where community newspapers should be considering as we face the short- and long-term future.
I’ve noted with great interest the work Al Cross is doing at The University of Kentucky Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. The work being done by the Institute to deal with the issues of newspaper ownership and creation of new community newspapers could bear significant fruit.
A very successful young business owner stopped by to see me at my office last night around ten o’clock. Yes, it was a late day for both of us.
He is the owner of a very successful company with several offices around the world. His company is a leader in its industry and I’ve been quite impressed as I’ve watched this group of young executives dominate their market so quickly.
What the young owner said to me took me by surprise.
“You know,” he began, “you’ve got what we all want.”
I wasn’t quite sure where he was going, so I asked.
He continued, “We have grown like crazy, we have employees around the world, and we’re making a lot of money.”
I was still lost. It sounded to me like he had what most people want already.
That’s when he landed the punch. “You do important work,” he told me, “and you love what you do.” After a pause, he continued, “I would trade with you in a heartbeat.”
I could have shared some of the difficulties of my work with him, but instead let his words sink in.
“Well,” I told him, I’d trade my age for yours, so how about we trade jobs and I get to be 28 and you be my age?”
We both laughed.
Let me leave you with this thought: We do important work…vital work. Don’t let anyone fool you or lead you to think we don’t.
I’m busier than I’ve ever been. I often work 12 and 14 hour days. It’s 1 a.m. as I write this column. I don’t do it because I’m getting rich. Trust me, I’m not. I do what I do because our work is so important, so vital.
As fall comes to an end, I’ll share with you some of what we learn about millennials, the digital future, and anything else I learn in my travels that might be helpful.