Thursday, June 26, 2008

Time is the fire in which we burn

Early in my editing career, I often moved too slowly in making hard decisions. Sometimes I simply didn’t know what to do, of course, but mostly it was a case of fearing the disorientation or disruption of enforcing an unpopular decision would negate the benefits of the move. I left people too long in jobs I knew they should have vacated. Too often, my decisions were overly influenced by staff opinion, and not the readers’ interests.

I got better as I matured in the job, and though it’s been some years now since I directed a staff, I know it’s harder today. Editors must move faster and act more decisively than ever.

Time is not our friend. Mark Zieman in Kansas City introduced me to the poem Calmly We Walk Through This April's Day, which includes the memorable couplet, “Time is the school in which we learn/ Time is the fire in which we burn.” (I think Mark probably heard it on Star Trek, but maybe he was an English major.)

That works well with some advice I offered a young editor at a non-McClatchy paper in an email exchange earlier today. Maybe I got a little wound up in my argument, but I closed by writing, “My current metaphor for our business is this: We have to move, and we can see a secure spot for ourselves right across the river. The good news is, there's a bridge; the bad news is, it's on fire. There's time to get across, but not to [screw] around. I intend to get to the other side before the bridge burns up. Who's coming with me?

The drumbeat of of depressing news about newspaper layoffs and other cutbacks grows louder by the day. Just this week we learned about about a huge cutback at the Palm Beach Post and a 25% reduction of staff and newshole at the Hartford Courant. (Since the Courant had recently been highlighted as an example of good productivity by some TRB executives, other Tribune papers are now fearing their cuts may be bigger than in Hartford.)

The crisis in our business today is about revenue, not journalism. We’re not doing everything right on our side of the house, but the fact is that total audience – newspapers plus unduplicated digital reach– is growing. More people want what we do today than ever before.

But cash flow – the fuel that keeps our engines running – has fallen by hundreds of millions of dollars. I’ll say that again: hundreds of millions of dollars. (Anybody who thinks our layoffs and other expense controls are occasioned by corporate fat cats staying in $200 hotel rooms is dangerously delusional. That might be stupid, but it’s not the problem).

Neither is it a question of profit margins. “If the company wouldn’t try to maintain historically exorbitant margins, we’d have plenty of money,” newsroom critics maintain. But margins are a derivative of performance, not an objective. If you invest a dime and get back 15 cents, your profit margin is 33% [corrected, thanks KA]– but you still can’t pay back the quarter you owe me. You can’t spend margins; you spend cash flow, and that is what’s declining at alarming rates throughout the industry, partly as a result of new competition from the internet and partly due to specific (presumably temporary) downturns like California and Florida real estate.

If you and your spouse make $100,000 a year and one gets cut back to half-time, you’d only have $75,000. You wouldn’t starve, and you could probably make the mortgage payment, but you’d sure take cheaper vacations and eat out less often. You’d also start looking hard for ways to make more money.

That’s where we are as a company today. We are working hard to increase revenue, though we’re sailing into a headwind blown up by the collapse of real estate prices, auto sales and hiring. We’re filling all sales jobs, retraining sales people to sell online products better and changing commission structures to reward growth there. Our Yahoo partnership, now in its earliest phases at a few papers, promises to bring significant improvement as we deploy demographic and behavioral targeting to online sales.

In the meantime, we are controlling expenses, because we must – and that includes painful cuts in newsrooms, the heart of our public service mission.

This is doubly painful because we’re demanding more of you at the same time – once again, because we must. The bridge is on fire, and we have to keep moving across it. Some of what we’re carrying will need to be tossed aside to speed the crossing, because failure to reach the other side is fatal.

This “crossing” is our conversion from a once-a-day printed paper to an integrated, 24/7 multimedia company. We are well launched on that journey, and successfully so. Even as things get harder, we’re moving forward.

It will require bold moves to keep moving across ahead of the fire. Raleigh and Charlotte are pioneering an intimacy of shared news and effort we’ve never tried before. Others will follow. We’re contracting outside printing for some papers in the Northwest, and may be looking to do so elsewhere. The Miami Herald delivers the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel in Dade County (and visa versa); we may well see far more along those lines.

I mention these specifics (and foreshadow more to come) to make the point as forcefully as possible that our talk of reinvention is not a simple smokescreen or mere bravado. When it’s accomplished, we’ll be a smaller, more sophisticated company, honed and optimized to perform our core mission, highly efficient in production operations and aggressively skilled in selling an integrated media package nobody else can offer. The staffers who make the crossing will understand (and help create) a new relationship with audiences, with competitors, with partners.

That is the destination across the burning bridge.

38 comments:

  1. McClatchy Journalist9:58 PM

    Howard, I'm crossing that bridge with ya. Let's go.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous5:51 AM

    (Anybody who thinks our layoffs and other expense controls are occasioned by corporate fat cats staying in $200 hotel rooms is dangerously delusional. That might be stupid, but it’s not the problem).

    But Gary Pruitt's $800,000 "performance" bonus and $4.6 million in total compensation seems a bit gauche when McClatchy is laying off research assistants making $10 an hour in an attempt to recoup those hundreds of millions of dollars in cash flow.

    Wouldn't we get across the bridge a little quicker if we weren't lugging Pruitt's bags of gold and jewels with us? A 50 percent reduction in his compensation -- and I'm quite sure he'll still be able to pay the mortgage -- would save roughly 40 mid-level journalists, benefits included, which strikes me as a significant amount, even across a large chain, at a time when we're transitioning to a new method of news delivery.

    Or will he be taking his 54-foot luxury yacht across the river while those of us lucky enough to be invited along burn our feet?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous6:34 AM

    I write as a friend - a former employee of one of McClatchy's papers who remains a daily consumer of the product and an occassional advertiser.

    It's true that many of the problems are on the business side. What you and others don't seem to understand is that the papers have consistently increased ad rates tremendously simply by declaring that "we reach so many people" by adding up print and online.

    The problem is that from an advertiser's point of view, that's garbage. If I have a hip young restaurant, why in the world would I pay to advertise in your paper which reaches an older demographic that is scattered all around a region? Instead, I pay a fraction of the rate to be in the free weekly and reach a targeted demographic that is much more likely to actually visit my establishment. Marketing is about targeting and newspapers are terrible at this, unfortunately.

    Just take a minute and compare your weekend section with the local free paper - which is bigger, which has more ads? So which do I turn to to find out what to do Saturday night?

    Classifieds are an even bigger example - they are dead for newspapers and they are not coming back. A few personal examples-

    When I needed to sell my last car, I did it on eBay and got bids from 4 states.

    When I bought my last car, I did all the research on Edmunds and found the exact model I needed on the CarMax website. Never touched a newspaper.

    When I needed to buy a stove, I found it on CraigsList for free.

    When I look for a new job, I hit several speciality websites that list jobs in my profession. I have not looked for a job in the paper since high school.

    It is interesting today to look at what ads the paper does get - more and more they are "miracle cures" or cheesy pitches from people to help you beat the IRS - the equivalent of late night infomercials.

    The best thing the paper has left is the Best Buy insert on Sunday. Better hope that doesn't go online.


    With all the ad woes - which are only going to get worse - the news product has gone into a tailspin. The paper continues to do everything, but just half as well. With the exception of certain aspects of sports coverage, every other area of the coverage is weaker. And the paper is so much smaller. So why should I continue to pay several hundred dollars a year for home delivery?

    Local news? Give me a break. That was once the focus group mantra from Knight Ridder. Today, the zoned weekly "neighbors" section is a joke - zones have been expanded so much because of staff cuts that term has lost all meaning. The few reporters left on these beats get pulled off to cover other "breaking news" - so they have no time to spend in the community.

    With fewer staff, strict sourcing rules and a general skittishness, the paper increasingly looks for easy stories to do.

    Newspapers are a lot like the recording industry pre-Napster - they want the world to work in a way that suits them. Ideally, everyone in a large metro area would have the same general set of interests that could be met with a single news product. But what people need now is a hyperlocal product that they supplement with high quality international, national and business news that they can get online or from sources like WSJ. I don't need a 10 inch WSJ rewrite three days after it ran.

    It's also important to note that almost all of the media outlets that are growing - blogs, NPR, Fox ect - are full of attitude and various degrees of political "bias." Ignore the focus groups and watch what people do. They claim to hate "anonymous sources" ect. but they gobble it up. We need more reporting that is ahead of the curve and full of insider scoop - not the "scared of our own shadow" product that source-free reporting is now producing.

    I truly hope that McClatchy and other papers can turn things around. But I fear that the future is not bright.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous6:45 AM

    Here are the cuts at my paper:

    Copy editor
    Designer
    Reporter
    Clerk/reporter
    Photographer
    Reporter
    Clerk/reporter
    Librarian
    Reporter
    Copy desk slot
    Designer
    Designer
    Sports slot
    Reporter
    Archivist
    Reporter
    Designer
    Clerk/reporter
    Reporter
    Graphic artist
    Archivist
    Assistant editor in a bureau


    Draw whatever conclusions you may

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous6:57 AM

    $200 hotel rooms aren't the issue. I doubt if any McClatchy executive is staying in a $200 hotel room. $400 maybe.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous7:39 AM

    Howard, I take your initial point. I don't doubt you'd throw any of us under the bus if you had to. We've always known that, but thank you for reminding us.

    But to the larger issue: I truly do not believe that corporate guys -- even creative ones dedicated to the mission like you -- are going to reinvent journalism. Why? Because you don't have to. You're not hungry.

    Howard at 25 might have been capable of it, but not Howard at 55, comfortable, handsomely rewarded, cushioned very nicely come what may with the newspaper industry and McClatchy.

    You're a 20th century newsman. So am I. And so are all the editors I work for. And that's exactly the problem.

    Sure, let's talk some more about the urgency of the mission and the bridge that's on fire.

    At the Bee, the mid-level folks put into place to actually do the work? They dither. They meet. Lord God yes, they meet and meet. They waste so much time in meetings, but they feel very important doing it, and isn't that the point of these meetings?

    They micromanage their reporters -- out of the theory, I suppose, that if they don't know what they're doing, reporters surely can't, either.

    They talk about change and creativity, and they stagnate in fear.

    This is who's running the show still, Howard. Why aren't you throwing them under the bus?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Anonymous8:13 AM

    When you visited the Washington bureau this month, did you stay in a hotel? Was it the $250-a-night J. Willard Marriott, or the $450-a-night Hay-Adams?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Anonymous8:42 AM

    Typical, Howard, that you would pick a poem about Alzheimers:

    Each minute bursts in the burning room,
    The great globe reels in the solar fire,
    Spinning the trivial and unique away.
    (How all things flash! How all things flare!)
    What am I now that I was then?
    May memory restore again and again
    The smallest color of the smallest day:
    Time is the school in which we learn,
    Time is the fire in which we burn.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Easy ones first, more thoughtful responses as time permits:

    Anonymous 1: As I said, you're perfectly free to criticize the bonus or my hotel bills. But don't kid yourself; you are not addressing the problem when you do.

    Anonymous 4: The hotel for which I was initially criticized cost $210 per night; the usual place in Raleigh (Sheraton) is $179, but it's also a $30 cab ride from MI, where I started my day.

    Anonymous 6: Hilton Garden Inn.

    Anonymous 7: And how typical of an anonymous critic to take a cheap shot rather than recognize the essential truth of the couplet. Chickenshit.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Anonymous9:47 AM

    Howard: Your online people are over there waiting for you guys... we hope you make it!!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Anonymous10:23 AM

    What Howard Weaver meant to say…

    Dear Loyal McClatchy Employees (especially those of you poor blokes over the age of 50):

    The bridge is burning. The bridge is burning!! Have I told you? The bridge is burning!!! Run as fast as you can to the other side where I am enjoying all my corporate perks. Those of you whose knees are too feeble to make it, well, sorry, thanks for your service, but we don’t need you anymore.

    Hey, we know we made a whopper of a bad decision buying Knight Ridder way back when. But it is your fault, not ours. You should have told us the Internet might change how we do journalism stuff. But you didn’t tell us, so it is your fault. Besides, we wouldn’t have listened anyway, because like I said in my blog, I shouldn’t be listening to the staff anyway. And, just like the Iraq war, it is ancient history now, so who cares how we got into this mess? Why bother figuring out what we did wrong. Leave it for the history buffs.

    So here is what you should do: Go find one of my Alaska icebergs and drift out to sea. Oh, I just read on the internet this morning that the North Pole melted. No icebergs. Sorry, not an option. So I am completely out of ideas. I am going to go to my $200 a night resort and think about it awhile, take in a round of golf, and I will get back to you on my blog. Don’t worry, my hotel reservations are all approved by the McClatchy Travel Office which Gary, Frank and I control anyway. That sentence was pretty ugly but not to worry we are outsourcing our copyediting to India just like the Orange Country Register. It’ll get better. Now stop bugging me; I’ll see you in the U.S. Eastern District Bankruptcy Court in a couple of months.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Anonymous10:27 AM

    Newspaper management is the smokescreen, and it's a 30-year-old smokescreen. It was inevitable that the clique of "it's somebody else's fault, we're great leaders in this room" for decades against every challenge.

    And look at the list of layoffs. That's why many people post anonymously. We're in no way insulated from losing our jobs. After all, we're not part of the management - yes, I'm generalizing, but we are where we are - so we're all rather paranoid these days.

    Forgive those of us on the chopping block for being a little snippy at times. Nobody gave us a parachute when we were hired.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Anonymous12:04 PM

    Wow, Howard,
    You sure are taking it on the chin today. I feel a little bad joining in.

    But then, I think your comments about "cash flow" vs. "profit margin" are deflecting rather than educating.

    You continue to say that profit margin isn't important because "If you invest a dime and get back 15 cents, your profit margin is 33% – but you still can’t pay back the quarter you owe me."

    For some reason, in your examples, I have an outstanding debt. Why do I have this outstanding debt? And why is this outstanding debt not considered part of the profitability of the company as expressed to your stockholders?

    The point of the original profit margin comment was that this company, and many others, are beholden to people who are more concerned about return on investment than journalism and that perhaps the future of journalism is in private ownership where owners can accept a smaller financial return because the mission of delivering news is more important to them.

    Even you can admit that the profitability of newspapers has historically been beyond that of many, many other industries and that one of the reasons stock values have dropped is because that is no longer the case -- nor, I think, will it ever be again.

    Just something for you and your readers to consider.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Anonymous2:01 PM

    Seems the profit margin thing is still wrong. Check wikipedia (I know, I know, but this isn't a news story, and it's quick to find)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Profit_margin

    ReplyDelete
  15. Packeteer3:10 PM

    Howard, our question is, what the hell is on the other side of the bridge? Everyone is well aware of the bridge de en fuego (and we all have many burn marks to prove it), but no one at any point has told us what sort of Shangri-la is on the other side? Are we going to prune ourselves down to one-reporter newspapers and then build back up from there? Is the business model to wait until people stop reading the internet? Seriously, what is this "destination" and how does running through fire ensure that we'll get anywhere safer on the other side?

    I'm reminded by another reporter of the movie "Deep Rising," where the heroes escape a cruise ship full of monsters only to land on a deserted island, also full of monsters. That sucked for them, I'm sure, particularly Treat Williams, who seems like a fine gentleman in all his films.

    ReplyDelete
  16. The margin example is not wrong.

    It is operating margin, which is a way of measuring profit after accounting for the costs of doing business (the money spent to generate revenue). It excludes the costs of being in business (taxes, interest expense, and the like)

    That dime of investment, in this context, would pay for newsprint and people. So you spend 10 cents to generate 15 cents of sales. Your operating profit is 5 cents. You're going to have to pay taxes on that 5 cents, cover any interest expense out of it, etc. But your operating profit margin is 33%.

    --------------------------

    All that aside, I'd like to propose something: Let's start talking about solutions. I mean really talking about them, as if we were crazy entrepreneurs in a garage, with a napkin (they always have a napkin) hopped up on ambition.

    I'm a reporter in a McClatchy newsroom. And I'm tired. I'm tired of the complaining. The blaming. The conversations that devolve into endless rounds of finger pointing.

    They achieve NOTHING.

    I had a business professor who said that journalists are great at identifying problems. They're terrible at figuring out solutions. He was right. Every day we investigate politicians, agencies and businesses to find what they don't want us to see.

    But my professor was wrong in a big way: Brilliance lives in our newsrooms. It's time we unleash it!

    We know the problem. God, we've discussed it to death at Romenesko, on our news pages, at parties, at bars, and anywhere else where two or more journalists gather.

    Don't want to see another colleague pushed out the door? Then propose a solution to our revenue problem instead of wallowing in the self-pity that has enveloped our industry. Be bold!

    Yes, our industry and our company are in the tank. And a commenter here was right. Howard Weaver will not figure out the solution. Neither will Gary Pruitt. No one person can, because no one person got us here. So we have to quit waiting for "them" or "they" to deliver wisdom from on high.

    Gary, Howard, et al should dedicate themselves to clearing the way so the best ideas come forward and get implemented.

    On that note, we have to quit letting our ideas for fixing this company rest quietly in the back of our minds only to be awakened with a little liquid courage. We need them! All of them! Out in the open!

    We've also got to get past the notion that we have to know the destination as we progress on this journey. We should have a goal -- an audacious one. And that, should not only motivate us.

    It should consume us.

    Howard, McClatchy should set up an online repository for ideas, sort of like what Starbucks did when it solicited suggestions from customers. Give people a venue. Innovation will happen. It must.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Anonymous6:30 PM

    I'm not going to argue with you over $200 a night hotel rooms, because I happen to like $200 a night hotel rooms, though not on the company dime.

    Thing is, you're missing the point. Some people may just be petty jerks who don't think anyone should have any perks or any kind of salary and lifestyle that outstrips theirs. I'm not one of them. So please, please, please, pay attention to this and take it to Gary:

    When you're asking everyone else to sacrifice while you're taking a sizable bonus after tanking the corporation's stock by 70 percent, you look like a greedy pig.

    And your employees are going to point this out to you again and again until one of you -- that would be you, Howard -- admits what a horrific PR blunder your perks and bonuses are.

    Is that so hard to understand?

    If your bonus this year only comes to half a mil instead, that really doesn't count as sharing the pain you're putting your employees through.

    I appreciate the previous poster's little pep talk about pitching in and solving problems instead of criticizing. It's an important point.

    Howard, there are a lot of us who've been with you a long time and will continue to be with you, on this side of the bridge or on the other side.

    We will follow you across the bridge. Shit, I'd crawl across burning coals if you asked me to.

    But please stop being so dismissive of your employees' financial concerns. We're hanging in with you as best we can, but we're worried we're going to lose our jobs. Considering that, is it really so hard for you to understand why Gary's stupid salary and bonus pisses us off?

    ReplyDelete
  18. GrizzledScribe7:10 PM

    As an ex-employee, I have to ask: Why does McClatchy need you, Howard? Why have a roving editor? Shouldn't each shop be in charge of its editorial content and let Corporate call the financial tunes?

    Also, the staffs are burning. Let's drop this "we" stuff. Sorry, but the current state of affairs has made it an "us against them" battle.

    McClatchy is $2 billion in debt. What's the ballpark number on the daily interest? How much does the $70 million in recent cuts go as far as putting a dent in that $2 billion? Seems to me that $2 billion is the diamond-like center; the other debt from the K-R purchase has been dealt with by removing arms and legs; all that's left are the internal organs.

    In case nobody noticed, the Constitution has been revised. The First Amendment? Hah. No more freedom of the press. The press has been bought by Wall Street. Journalism as we once knew it, is dead.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Anonymous 13 (I think it is): I did write about my hotel stay and recognize why it was inappropriate. The comment on April 17 was, "... they're right about me staying at the Umstead – not because it cost $400 a night like Gearino and others implied (it didn't), but because it wasn't my best choice. They're right in reminding me that examples matter. I can't promise to sleep on Gearino's couch next trip – despite the invitation – but I'll never stay at the Umstead again. (I do hope I can get some credit, at least, for having spent only $21.31 on dinner for both editor John Drescher and me that night.)"

    ReplyDelete
  20. Anonymous7:46 PM

    Newsrooms can innovate all they want (not that that's really happening anywhere) but until newspaper advertising departments replace everyone on the payroll (including managers, alas) with Internet-savvy entrepreneurs who can connect local advertisers to their customers online, all is lost. Rich folks will be able to promote their public policy agendas by hiring their own investigative teams (ProPublica is just that model, and we'll be seeing more of that from all sides of the political spectrum) but that ain't journalism as we've known it. Businesses in local markets will find the Internet help they need from various sources, but never from newspapers. The last journalist standing will undoubtedly be some highly paid muckety-muck blogging about how folks in newsrooms just need to work harder and smarter to reshape the future of newspapers. And then that guy will get his walking papers. End of story.

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  21. Anonymous12:20 AM

    Ok, first, can we let the goddamn hotel thing die? It's like McClatchy's own Paris Hilton story that won't go away. The man spent some nominal extra amount on a hotel room and made it up on cab fare, hello NO STORY!!

    Someone else said that Howard was a 20th century newsman. They were wrong. I see Howard on blogs, I see him on Twitter, I see him on Facebook... but I see precious few of my so-called peers there.

    We know the newspaper world is changing, moving to the internet and all that, but I see little of that change reflected in our newsrooms. Where I work there are 200 people responsible for putting out the paper but only about 5 dedicated to the web. That's just nuts.

    But that's not the half of it, a good portion of that 200 have absolutely no idea of how to take advantage of the web in any meaningful way to tell a story or provide information to our readers. Add to it that literally on a daily basis I hear a disparaging tone when I hear people in my newsroom talk about the web.

    It's no wonder we're having a hard time making money on the web, by and large, we're not even trying.

    What's on the other side of the bridge? Maybe a newsroom full of people who get it, maybe its a newsroom full of people who have as much (or more) experience online as they do in print that can deliver really a useful web experience to our users/readers/viewers that draws them in and keeps them interested and we can reap the financial rewards from that.

    It will not be a newsroom full of people who's entire experience on the web is a few weeks of on-the-job-training on whatever the web publishing system du jour is and a rubber stamp on their head that says "web guy".

    So, why do we need people like Howard? Because he understands that. My only complaint is that Howard is still trying to cajole people "across the bridge" when as far as I'm concerned it's time to start tossing over the side the people blocking the way.

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  22. Anonymous4:33 AM

    Fire is the last thing we need in these dry summer days in California. My suggestion is to call the fire department and put out the fire before it catches onto the forest and burns down the homes of innocent people.

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  23. Anonymous9:04 AM

    I'm a reporter, second-to-last anonymous. Does the new newsroom-on-the-Internet not require reporters? Most of us in newsrooms are reporters. We're happy to post our stuff on line. Stamp our words on your forehead, if you'd prefer. Print them wherever you'd like. I don't care. I just want to report. I provide content.

    Do you really want to toss me off the bridge or leave me back on the other shore?

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  24. Anonymous2:39 PM

    McClatchy is like a poorly performing school where teachers have 30 students per class. The solution from on high: Fire 10% to 15% of the teachers, keep all the administrators and then tell the teachers to educate those 35 students ... OR ELSE!

    Doesn't work in schools. Won't work for our company.

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  25. Anonymous5:32 PM

    Howard, let's sweep aside this guff about bridges and time, and tell us poor fools out here about your vision for the future:
    1. Not only have newspapers lost young readers, they are losing the bread and butter upper middle class male audience. E&P recently reported that 67 percent of senior executives rank the Internet as their No. 1 source of information -- up 37 percent over the last four yerrs. Since this is a key group of family breadwinners who decide family budgets, I can well understand why advertisers are bailing out of newspapers and and following them to the Internet. So what are you going to do to get back this audience? Shouldn't we reverse course and bring back full stock tables and increase business news? Or don't you care about this audience?
    2. Newspapers have lost this younger generation of readers completely. They aren't ignorant and they do read, and they are doing things with technology that I cannot keep up with. But one thing they aren't doing is reading newspapers. So what are we going to do to reverse this course and pick up these readers? Should we go back to installing newspaper stands in university libraries and food halls?
    3. One key audience newspaper seems to be retaining is women 35-60. Should our newspapers be retailored to ensure this audience doesn't drift away. If yes, how would you change newspapers to keep this audience. Should we return to Society News?
    4. Is your real message that the age of newspapers is over and that newspapers are dead? Instead of battling to recover lost audiences, then why not just take a giant leap and move to the Internet immediately. There are obviously big savings by eliminating print, so why not just pull the plug instead of this death by a thousand cuts? Can it be that you do not have a vision that you trust for what McClatchy's version of Internet journalism will look like? Do you harbor any belief that the Internet is ephemera?
    Thank you in advance for at least reading my questions. I will wait to see if you have an answer any of them.

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  26. Anonymous9:04 PM

    anonymous@9:04am: You underscore the problem: You may be "happy to post our stuff on line," but your stuff should already be online.

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  27. Anonymous8:08 AM

    And it IS, last anonymous. Are you telling me that you'd like me, as a reporter, to post directly to the newspaper site as soon as I'm finished with my story? I'm happy to do that, too. Please alert the editors -- the good ones as well as the idiot micromanagers -- that McClatchy no longer requires their services.

    And FYI, I run my own blog, too. I Facebook. I LinkIn.

    Maybe you should come up with a few better suggestions than your tired "if only the dumb-ass technophobes would get with the program, everything would be OK" rant.

    And to the previous commenter who suggests that because surveys show women still read papers, we should reinvent Society News: WTF, dude. Is that what you think women want?

    ReplyDelete
  28. Anonymous9:11 AM

    Wow. Top McClatchy brass and the underlings they have left are finally hep to blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Who isn't? Now if somebody on McClatchy's business side could have INVENTED something like Facebook or Twitter, maybe the company would have the revenue it needs to keep valuable content providers on staff.

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  29. Anonymous10:08 AM

    anon@8:08 After it's edited for content yes -- not, however, after it's been edited for print, that's trash. Then you update it online, continually. And you post news alerts and then you geocode it to make it mappable and then you update the database that supports the story (or maybe your story supports a database). Maybe you blog about the story, who you talked to or anecdotes about the process. And you engage with the readers (no not the rabble that poison my paper's comments - ideally you've cultivated a better community than that, have you?).

    Maybe you get all this, maybe it's old hat to you, but then you'd be alone or at least in the minority. Maybe you say it's too time consuming, and you'd be right, it is. News flash: maintaining a useful news and information web site is damn hard work, it is not just "posting your stuff online" and walking away.

    But that's where folks like Howard need to weigh in and make sure that his newsrooms not only have reporters such as yourself, but have plenty of people who can actually make a powerful online presence out of your work. Today, most papers don't have many in that roll (or if they do they're inexperienced print folks shunted into online positions to get rid of them) and they are not represented at all in management.

    "News" is no longer about just the story (or just the photo) and it's no longer about writing the story, seeing it the next day in print and calling it "done" either. It's about the entire gamut that the internet can provide. Yes this includes the overhyped existing media (video mostly, but audio and slideshows) but it also includes the web-only things like the aforementioned databases, dynamic graphics and even *gasp* hyperlinks (remember those?). Would it be so hard to even "tag" our content to make it available by topic or concept to whatever mechanism wants it (think "related stories" or event-based news feeds)?

    So, no, I'm not ranting against the dumb-ass technophobes, I'm ranting against those who think that the web begins and end with a copy of the story from the newspaper and then can't figure out why they can't make money from that.

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  30. When Larry and Sergey "invented" Google, they had no idea what they had. It would have died if Yahoo hadn't licensed it to power search for them. Facebook was a relatively small, innocuous service for Harvard students only; nobody invented its current status; it evolved. Twitter, of course, still doesn't work reliably and doesn't make money.

    This kind of simpleminded blame-somebody-else-for-being-stupid approach isn't worth much in solving our problems.

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  31. Very good blog. I wish you much success.

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  32. Your bridge analogy is great, but you have to build the bridge before you can cross over it. From where I sit, McClatchy is trying to throw things across the water but nothing has made it to the other side. We live in an age of data consumption but the infrastructure we currently use was outdated a long time ago. I don’t know how many people work at Criagslist currently, but they changed classified advertising with only 18 people. How did they pull that off? They paid attention to their data and made it easy for the consumer to enter their own information. Someone stated that classified advertising is dead; it seems to be alive and well on craigslist and kijiji.
    I don’t believe that we should be able to complain without offering some solutions.
    McClatchy is a national company with local presence in major markets. Let’s maintain the local presence but open the data to our national audience. If I subscribe to a McClatchy newspaper, offer me access to the digital editions of all the other newspapers, don’t make me sign up with every newspaper, I want one sign on to remember. It’s called Single Sign On.

    We want ABC numbers. For every paper I subscribe to, give the other paper a penny so it counts as a subscription. You have influence with the ABC organization; it’s time to rewrite some of the rules.

    The digital edition should not look like the print edition. Putting Ink on Dead Trees is in a death spiral. I should be allowed to log on and select what interests me, whether it be in Miami, Fort Worth or Fresno.

    Mr. Pruitt once said that you cannot beat the portability of a newspaper – you can even take it into the bathroom with you. Now almost everyone carries a portable device, even into the bathroom. It is our cell phone. The rules for the display on a cell phone have already changed, we don’t need to bother with the mobile display web pages, iphone gives you a normal web browser which means that all of the other cell phone companies will have to compete and match it.

    Let’s make some money and learn from the companies that are making money on the web, Amazon and EBay. They make their money by getting involved in the transaction. Amazon started by selling books online from their own inventory, do-able but they found an easier way. The logistics of promoting, ordering, storing and shipping books was a daunting task so they let individuals list their own inventory on Amazons website for “free”. When a book is sold, Amazon charges the seller $1.00 plus $1.20 plus 15% of the purchase price. Not a bad commission for letting the seller do all of the work.

    We need to change so that we are in the middle of the transaction and think of everything as data. Let’s create a digital insert for the advertisers, put a quantity box on each item and let the consumer decide to buy it now or add it to a wish list. We then settle the transaction, for a fee of course, and forward the order to the advertiser where the advertiser either ships or the consumer picks it up. This works for any type of commodity, classified, retail, grocery and even restaurants. We are then in the customers and advertisers back pocket and will stay there. Will this be accepted 100% right away...No, but if done correctly it will grow as we move forward.

    We will need more that one bridge to make it to the other side and those bridges should be built using data as the foundation. Let’s start building those bridges, pull our customers closer to us and get everyone over to the other side.

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  33. Howard et. al.,
    Wow! What a lot of energy here! I haven't contributed for several days because I don't really have anything new to add but I have read all of this. I do think there are some interesting ideas here, and I do hope that Howard and other McClatchy brass are reading this and considering. As harsh as some of the criticism is (including from me in previous posts), I do sincerely believe that Howard is one of the good guys, and I wouldn't waste my time here if I didn't think so. Working with Howard in past years has been a pleasure and I can think of no one better to cast a vision for a new kind of news company than Howard. I used to work for Copley Newspapers in San Diego in the days when former Nixon aides ran the newspaper and, trust me here, I do know what the bad guys are really like.

    All that said, I have a few questions I hope Howard or others might address at some point:

    1- Much of what is consuming this blog is a conversation about how to make a profit. Let me question whether the concept of news-for-profit is a dead idea, or at least in need of radical re-thinking. For example, NPR and public television stay in business as a non-profit with a mix of quasi-advertising and donors. Should newspapers consider going this route in some manner?

    2- What do you think of the non-profit foundations that are attempting to do investigative, environmental and other kinds of journalism? Does McClatchy participate in some of those ventures? Does this have a future in at least supplementing how newspapers morphing into internet news companies will get news?

    3- Much of what is transpiring on this blog, in my view, is evidence of how the top-down management of newspapers is no longer suited to the creative web-modeled management that is now needed. This is an organizational cultural comment, not meant as blame, but it is based on my own experience in seeing other kinds of organizational structures that work well. Will McClatchy start looking at other ways to organize and manage beyond the Civil War-vintage organization that remains in place in most newspapers?

    Again, thanks for letting me participate in this conversation.
    -- Jim

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  34. Anonymous5:26 PM

    Rev. Jim: We have a non-profit model in St. Petersburg, and it is suffering from the same problems plaguing the for profit models.
    There are other possibilities:
    1. Subsidies. Okay, get over the immediate shock and think how European newspapers thrive on subsidies and maintain some measure of independence. A government bailout might be part of a solution to maintaining a free press.
    2. The public stock model is in trouble, but not yet dead. It is normally a very useful way of managing successful management. I'm predicting the collapse of the stocks is soon going to result in a revolt in corporate boardrooms against the current management. In spite of all this turmoil, Gannett, the Washington Post and Scripps seem much better positioned to survive. Stay tuned.
    3. The private chain model is something we only get a glimpse of, obviously because it is private. There are real sounds of pain from Hearst and Newhouse, but not as loud as those we are hearing from publicly traded companies which are required to be more transparent.
    4. The lesson from this downturn seems to be avoiding crushing debt levels. McClatchy was a comfortable family-run company until it took on this debt load for picking up KR, and now is facing serious problems with its $2.4 billion debt. Assuming a 6 percent interest rate, that is $144 million a year in debt payments. The question we should be asking Howard is "who set this bridge on fire?" rather than considering how to cross it. I don't see Sam Zell's Tribune making it because of its much larger debt load. I think the Philadelphia Inquirer will soon be under bankruptcy protections, and Blethen will be hard-pressed to avoid that course for the Seattle Times.
    P.S. Also write -30- to Billy Dean Singleton's Media News.

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  35. Anonymous6:24 PM

    I sincerely hope you're right about Singleton, previous poster. He's killed newspapers in many time zones and destroyed many journalists' careers. Do I wish him ill? You betcha.

    And amen to you, Rev. Jim, regarding No. 3 in particular.

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  36. Anonymous5:34 AM

    It is definitely worth asking why the newspaper chains seem so incapable of producing innovation. Newsrooms are full of engaged, creative thinkers who clearly have a passion for what they do...but the management of papers still cling to a "factory" model that creates a workforce that feels powerless to impact any change (as we can see from many posts). Ideas are not welcome, so fixing the product becomes somebody else's problem. It's similar to the mindset that still grips the Big 3 auto makers, who are in even worse straits.

    In most newsrooms, certain people are declared "stars" - their every utterance and sentence a work of brillance. Others are mere grunts doomed to crank out copy to "feed the beast." Of course, the stars often do nothing more than produce a handful of 10-part series designed to win journalism awards and make the manager look great. The readers - well they generally don't care.

    This core management problem is not changing at all. Orlando's answer to its crisis? A redesign circa 1982. Brilliant.

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  37. Anonymous2:25 PM

    Wondering who set the bridge on fire? Pruett bought the gasoline and Weaver supplied the matches. but don't worry fellas, the good news is you clowns will beat the ambulance to the crash site.....since ya'll are driving. it's nice to know that a wonderkid like pruett can get a bonus that is more than most of us will make in a lifetime for destroying a company. and you wonder why everyone in the mcclatchy newsrooms are wandering around with hang dawg looks. but I guess ignorance is truly bliss when you don't have to worry about if you can make your next house payment. sorry for the rant, it just pisses me off to hear condescending statements from rich assholes telling me to work harder and faster for less money. I don't see you (pruett, weaver, et all) taking any hits. and remember howard...you can't always get what you want, but sometimes just sometimes you'll get what you need..........

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  38. Anonymous12:09 AM

    Jonathan said: "Don't want to see another colleague pushed out the door? Then propose a solution to our revenue problem instead of wallowing in the self-pity that has enveloped our industry. Be bold!"

    No disrespect to Jonathan, but this attitude irritates me. Isn't coming up with solutions the whole reason why "managers" and CEO's are paid the big bucks? Responsibility? They can't come up with solutions, so they lay people off. How is that management? That's doing what everyone else in the world does. That's being a sheep. Sheep don't get big performance bonuses or salaries.

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