Saturday, April 22, 2006

Tough times, bright prospects

Let’s say this straight out: these are tough times at newspapers.

Start with the uncertainty and anxiety of being in a phase transition for the news business. Not knowing what the future holds or whether it will continue to value what we do is scary. We make decisions every day about a future we cannot know. We go to sleep every night less certain about tomorrow than at any time in the last 30 years.

And at the moment, we must do so in an operating environment of slow ad sales and stalled revenues. I’m convinced this is mainly a cyclical (and temporary) downturn like those that have always punctuated the newspaper business – not the leading edge of some inescapable secular change that's beyond our reach or response. Nonetheless, it sucks, and we have to manage through it – often by reducing expenses, tightening belts and curtailing spending.

Add to all this the new X-factor in our world at McClatchy: the increased scrutiny that comes with our bid for Knight Ridder, and the vastly higher stakes for which we’re playing. This, we have already learned, multiplies all the normal pressures and intensifies concern about our performance. We don’t run McClatchy with a short-term perspective – but performance has short-term consequences nonetheless, and there’s no denying that we have felt some already.

These pressures feel especially frustrating right now because they come at a time of extraordinary opportunity and promise. In my gut I know we are on the threshold of far better times – an environment where we have mastered new platforms and technologies to extend our reach, where citizens recognize the value our “journalism of verification” brings, where that all adds up to revenues that comfortably support us.

I also know the colleagues who will shortly join us from those 20 Knight Ridder newspapers and their Washington bureau will make us stronger, better and more productive. Together we’ll create a leading 21st century news company, and in doing so prove that real journalism is central to any media landscape that may emerge. We will find better ways to multiply our strengths online and with the wire service and through other alternative deliveries. We’ll get better at knitting all that together. We will forge closer, more trusting relations with audiences – real people, not partisans and advocates – and their support will sustain us as we serve them.

I have more confidence in our future today than I did 10 years ago. There’s proof-of-concept all around us, and our efforts to extend those winning ideas throughout the company are accelerating.

Some of this is very hard, but we can navigate through without blunting the forward progress. There’s some house-to-house fighting through the budgets yet to be done, but it comes with the promise of transformation on the other side.
– Howard Weaver

1 comment:

  1. I am pretty weary of the "death of newspapers" diatribes. Is this what it was like when radio, then TV, came about?

    Good newspaper journalism is good business, and the newspaper business is healthy. I do not understand why pencil-pushers on Wall Street think 20-30% profit margins are a bad thing. Just about any business on Earth would kill for those numbers.

    I have been in this business for 21 years now. My dad was a reporter, and his dad was a reporter. I think the future is brighter - and more fun - than it was for them. I go to bed each night wondering what cool thing I will learn the next day.

    We need to remind ourselves that, as journalists, we are in a great position for the future. Media Web sites dominate local, regional and national markets. Everyone looks to us for news. They might not always like us, but they do read us. They will for a long time. I have to chuckle whenever some poster on trashes on MSM because 99% of the stories linked from Fark are MSM sites.

    I think newspapers are stronger than ever. Sure there is some collapsing of the industry, but that's just background noise as far as I'm concerned. Here in Tri-Cities, I don't see shrinking news hole, smaller news staffs or fear. Overall readership (print/online) is growing, and we're doing a better job of reporting and presenting stories that matter.