Media Threads April 27, 2019

Last week I mentioned Ken Doctor’s post from his Newsonomics blog regarding the newspaper industry and how it’s looking as though it will try and merge its way out of trouble. In it Ken gets into the details, and speculates, on possible mergers and what they could mean for the industry.

The discussion is mainly around Gannett, Digital First, Tribune, and GateHouse, which got me to thinking about where this leaves chains like Lee Enterprises and BH Media? Lee and BH Media reached an agreement in June of 2018 for Lee to run the business operations for BH Media. Since that time not much has come from either camp. At least nothing I’m aware of.

This week, in an interview with Yahoo Finance, Berkshire Hathaway’s (owner of BH Media) Chairman and CEO, Warren Buffett said that the newspaper industry is “toast.” At least that’s the headline you see.

What the article above fails to mention, as well as any story that I’ve read on it, is that while Buffett said “toast,” he was actually repeating what the interviewer suggested.

The conversation went like this:

Buffett: The world has changed, hugely. And it did it gradually. It went from monopoly to franchise to competitive to …

Interviewer: Toast.

Buffett: Toast.

Interviewer: Yeah.

I’m not trying to say that Buffett has a rosy outlook for newspapers, he does say that newspapers, other than the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, will disappear. But to write a headline that Buffett says newspapers are ‘toast’ is a little disingenuous – but it did get me to click on it so …

You can watch a video of his comments here.

Regardless of what he said, I’m largely disappointed in what BH Media has brought to the table since it began acquiring newspapers. I had hoped with the backing of Berkshire Hathaway that the chain would do something innovative to try and transform smaller newspapers to compete in the modern media landscape. But, from my perspective, it looks like they just continued to be legacy newspapers. There is nothing wrong with that, but when you hear that Buffett is moving into your industry, you expect more.

And I don’t disagree that newspapers – as we know them – are going to disappear. Except for a few, I think they will. Unfortunately that’s part of progress.

However, the desire of audiences to continue to get local news is not going away, it’s only growing. I think newspapers with strong leadership will continue to evolve into something that has the journalistic integrity of a newspaper, but the culture of a digital startup with diverse profit centers.

Innovate the process

I read a great article written by Jennifer Brandel with Hearken that I put out on my various social media feeds this week. It’s an interesting take on what newsrooms need to do in order to remain relevant. Brandel argues

But we haven’t changed our process: the way that we make decisions is as old as the printing press. We still gather a small group of people (finite inputs) in a closed room to make decisions on what the rest of the public deserves to know. And we make the product in isolation, and present it to the public once we’re finished and move on to the next product. No feedback or improvement along the way …

… So what then? Instead of using tech to fuel a news strategy about more, faster, everywhere, we need news to be about better, more relevant, where and when we want it. And it must be more representative of the narratives of those not in power.

If you’re in the business of creating content I suggest you take some time and read the article. Compare this to how you’re doing things and see if there is a better way. Spoiler: There is.

Is more better?

I had a conversation with someone this week on the merits of member-supported media versus that of commercial media. The basic point being that in commercial media there is a belief that more is better while member-supported media believes that better is better.

While I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, given the evidence I understand the sentiment and agree 100%. But the conversation got me thinking, which is the tread that ties today’s post together.

What can I do to innovate the process of creating and distributing better content in order to bridge the past to the future?

It starts with having the right leadership, which starts at the top. Look at BH Media. Buffett loves newspapers. He was a paperboy and still gets multiple print editions delivered to his home. There is nothing wrong with that, but he seems to like the idea of a newspaper more than he does innovating an industry.

He’s a great leader. Just not the one the industry is looking for.

Once you have the right leadership, you have to begin to understand the needs and wants of your audience. Which includes the fact that these needs and wants will change with technology and generations.

Once you understand your audience, you can rebuild your legacy systems and processes in order to address your audience. Too often systems are built around internal processes with no thought given to the audience. Then we wonder why audience adoption lags?

Once you have the leadership and audience-focused systems for your processes, start to listen and engage with your audience. Journalists can no longer just scream from the mountaintop, hoping someone will listen.

If we start to do these things, creating better content and distributing it quickly will come easy.

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