President's Column June 2015

Newspapers and their changing times

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”    -- Winston Churchill

The newspaper industry has changed a lot in the past two decades and the pace of change seems to be increasing.

The steady drumbeat of change is  perhaps the only predictable thing about our world. The business model of tomorrow’s newspaper will certainly differ from the one we know today. I cannot imagine how it will look 25 years hence.

I came to the business after most newspapers had made the move to desktop publishing so I missed out on the hot lead days, and I couldn’t tell you the first thing about a Compugraphic machine.

That was in 1994 and Adobe had just acquired Aldus Pagemaker in order to compete with  QuarkXPress for the page layout market.

The internet, as some were starting to call it, was in its infancy. Yahoo and Amazon were founded in 1994 and AOL was only a couple of years old.

Two other things happened that year and, although few of us realized it at the time, both of them would have a profound impact on our industry. The first banner ad was sold in 1994 to AT&T by a company called Hotwired, and the first e-commerce transaction was recorded on a website owned by NetMarket.

Those two innovations, selling web ads, and exchanging cash on the internet for products and services, are still the driving forces behind online business.

And, those are the two areas where newspapers must improve in order to stay viable and competitive.

I’m not saying that the print product is going away, far from it, only that  our business model should reflect the changing times.

We can begin by recognizing that we are no longer in the newspaper business, but in the information business. Collecting information is something we do well but we must get better at packaging that information and providing it to our readers on multiple platforms.

If readers like the print product, and many still do, they should be able to get their news that way. But, if they prefer to read it on their computer monitor or on a smart phone, we must make it available in those formats, too.

American consumers, including newspaper readers, are less and less willing to wait on a product. They want what they want when they want it.

Many in our industry are doing a good job in meeting the demand, offering their product in print and online. Some also provide breaking news updates and streaming video.

The day is coming — some say it’s already here — when the local newspaper will have the ability to compete with broadcast news.

As subscription entertainment services like Netflix and Amazon Prime pull viewers away from the television networks and cable systems, it leaves fewer dollars with which their news divisions can compete. Local TV stations are also threatened.

Similarly, internet radio and subscription services like SiriusXM are directly impacting the bottom line of local radio stations.

We’ve all heard the gloom and doom predictions about the impending death of newspapers. Of course, most of those are being spread by the very people in the television and radio industry whose ratings have declined for years.

I contend that their risk is greater than ours and, if we will only recognize the opportunity, we will find that newspapers are better positioned to meet the challenge. All we have to do is step up to the plate and be willing to change with the times.

Billionaires like Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos are buying into our industry. If they are sold on it, shouldn’t we be?

My old granddad was fond of saying that opportunities are hard to spot because they too often look like a challenge and smell like hard work.

Our industry is filled with people who like a good challenge, and darned few of them are afraid of a little hard work.

And with that, I wrap up my final column for the Messenger. I would, however, like to take this opportunity to say that I have enjoyed my year as TPA president. It has been an honor and a privilege to represent the newspapers of Texas and I thank you for the opportunity.