This is your industry and you will decide where it goes from here.

(Keynote at Newspaper Association of America on April 12, 2010 in Orlando FL)

Last evening, as I was being driven to this hotel from the airport, I checked in on Twitter and followed the live streaming of tweets covering the Eric Schmidt opening keynote to your counterparts, the Editors, at ASNE in Washington D.C.

I was interested in what he had to say since a) he runs Google and b) he was the opening keynoter at the other, albeit, smaller conference of the newspaper industry. He was speaking to the journalists and I would be speaking to the business folks, the tech folks, the ad sales folks. Maybe I could use some of his insights!

So what did Eric Schmidt say?

A few big things like

a) Mobile is what Google developers are focusing on
b) There is lots of money to be made from devices like phones and pads linked to the cloud
c) There is a “nowness” and urgency to the dissemination of the news
d) Editors are needed if you do not believe it just go see the blogosphere
e) There is nothing wrong with the news industry but there is something wrong with the business model
f) Google is not interested in being in the news business

Mr. Schmidt was right in that I was following tweets about his speech in real time on a mobile device. Mobile check. Cloud check. “Nowness” check.

And the rest of what he had to say?

Not untrue.

But.

Pandering.

So I am getting real time updates from people I follow and then a stream of tweets from the conference (of which a high percentage complain that there is too little tweeting!) and I feel pretty informed but ladies and gentlemen there are no “editors” that Mr. Schmidt believes are needed to save the blogosphere. (This morning there was no coverage of his talk in the papers I read either because the editors decided it was not important or maybe because it missed deadline?)

Yes Google is not in the business of news. It’s in the business of monetizing the news. That ladies and gentlemen is the business. Your broken business model is part of his working business model.

And finally he says things are okay with the news industry but not the business model. I believe the very idea of what is “news” needs to be rethought. Last night when following his talk on twitter I thought it was news. No journalists. No editors. No “content” company. It was news to me because it was what I believed was news in my context (today’s speech) and it was delivered to me just when I needed it and the form I wanted.

So in addition to what Mr. Schmidt says we also have an editing problem, a news problem and a monetization problem.

And it is going to get worse unless we rethink things and get on with it.

Why? Because underlying all the changes we see is this little thing called the Connection Engine. The Connection Engine is how I describe the Internet. People connect to share, transact, discover, and express themselves. Many years ago the Newspaper was a great connection engine in that news allowed discovery, classifieds and ads were the transaction medium, letters to editors allowed us to express and we chatted over what we had read in the papers.

This is still true for over 100 million people in the US. This is still an industry that is huge with over 40 billion of revenue. But it is one that is half the size of what it was three years ago. Yes, this year it will decline 4% versus last years 27%!

But being less pathetic than last year is not exactly something to feel good about.

We are living in a time of STD and there is no contraceptive but only a vaccine. A time of Seminal, Transformative and Disruptive change. We must infect our own organizations and minds with seminal, transformative and disruptive thinking to thrive.

So what would I do? I worry about the media industry because as media weakens it reminds me of Hemingway and “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. Working in a communication company and seeing so many media partners struggle forces us to rethink our own business and in doing so we have some collateral thoughts for yours.

Facilitation: First I would ask in an age where people are marketing to themselves and learning by themselves or other people they connect with how do we facilitate this behavior?

Voices and Users: Second, in a world where not just users of a product and service but also voices (advocates and detractors) are instrumental to decisions how do we combine, curate and make convenient all this information?

Re-aggregation: Third, as marketers, advertisers, retailers struggle with fragmentation how do we re-aggregate groups large enough to affordably market to or scaled enough to impact business? Google is an amazing re-aggregation engine in that via search and to a lesser extent Adsense it combines people who share intent one at a time into large groups.

I believe with the right mindset and right technology and right people your business can do very well in the future because of something that we see and what Eric Schmidt said.

Mobility.

All things analog are becoming digital (such as television)
All things digital are becoming mobile (i-phone, i-pad…)
Most things mobile are becoming deeply linked to analog (local and retail space).

Yes, mobile increasingly is about where you are. It is about community. Who is around you? What offers? What is the reputation of the retailer? Is this a good neighborhood to live in?

I would redefine the future of your business not as “news” or “newspaper” or “content” but rather as a leader and key partner in facilitating and re-aggregating community information, history and voices for civic, retail and commercial purposes

Local is where it is at. Community will matter. Your legacy industry has some very strong assets such as sales folks, writers, and relationships with retailers as well as other voices in the community. You also have a trusted brand name that allows you to either be a leader or significant partner in what will be a huge future business.

People need a well-curated, combined and convenient resource as they meander their communities. Retailers need help in promoting and spreading the word about themselves. Marketers need to find folks in large numbers as “intent” based marketing is supplemented by “location” based marketing.

This is one idea. Maybe it is a miserable idea. But it is one aligned with where tomorrow is going and one that reflects the reality that “national news” is a two or three newspaper industry if that. And that “news” is not what it used to be.

As you think ahead I would like to leave you with ten things that I would do if I were you:

1) Run Schizophrenic Models: Andy Grove said that only the paranoid survive. I believe only the schizophrenic will thrive. Run a model for the 40 billion dollar, 100 million-reader businesses that today’s business is. It is a huge business and an important one even if declining. But then run a fresh sheet of paper business with a relentless focus on the future. When you can, give access to the new folks of the best of the old stuff but do not give them the old ways of thinking and metrics.

2) Embrace Technology: We are living in an age of magic. Software coders, hardware designers, application developers and a whole lot of technologists are key to the future. You must embrace them and make them key (either hire them or partner with them). But most importantly you should use an RSS reader like Google Reader, go onto Facebook, get a Twitter account, sign on to Four Square or Gowalla to see how mobile and local intersect. And get yourself a mentor who is in their 20’s in your organization. Buy them a drink or a meal every month and listen. They will surprise you.

3) Move Fast: In the past they said speed kills. Today the lack of speed kills. The future driven in part by the technology industry is rapid iteration and rapid prototyping. Please accelerate. This industry will be very different in 1000 days. Go now. Go fast.

4) Embrace the Blur: Go to your editors and have a honest non bull shit, non fear based, non posturing, conversation with them. This church and state stuff is all very fine but what does it matter when the entire landmass is going underwater? You both must serve the community and the community is the civic folks, the retailers and the readers. People out there will call you out on anything that is weird or not transparent. The folks who read or interact with you are not stupid. They are smarter than us.

5) Get Youth: The newspaper business is struggling at attracting young people to engage with your products but may also not be getting enough talented young people to join your industry. Look, I am not suggesting that old fogies like me are over the hill (just watch what we have in store!) but the way we consume and interact and relate, changes over the generations. A business that wants to thrive for tomorrow must make sure that it gets people who will be like the people who are alive tomorrow unless you are in the cremation business. Give folks more responsibility and more money and whatever it takes. Relative to senior salaries this is cheap.

6) Curation. Combination. Convenience: In a web of streams and not of pages. In a world of voices and users and abundant information and content how can your business curate, combine and make convenient for folks in your community this chaotic but wonderful world. Do not think edit, do not think content, and do not think news, Think Curate. Combine. Convenient.

7) Plan your Device, Platform and Search/Discovery Strategy: In a networked world, links matter. In a networked world leading platforms like Google, Apple I-tunes and Facebook and soon maybe Twitter are huge realities. They are the platforms of the future. You must have a strategy to engage. There are new devices like I-Pad. There are issues here with regard to closed systems and the fact that you may not know whom your consumer is, but it is a big deal with advertisers. What is your device strategy? And search. It is still there and still growing important. It is not just Google but Twitter and Facebook and others. Maybe instead of your search strategy what is your discovery strategy?

8)Think Deep about Partnering: The world is moving too fast and the array of skills to vast for any company to do it alone. Partnership is very important but realize that in the world we live in most partnerships are what is called co-opetition where firms co-operate and compete. Things are grey. So build around this reality and choose your partners well. Platform partners, technology partners, and yes content partners too (there is a lot of content you do not have).

9) Organizational Design: The future does not fit in the containers of the past. Many organizations and incentives are optimized for the past and the people who came before. If you are to be an industry of the future you must incentivize behaviors of the future and organizational design of the future. If everything is to protect the declining cash cow sooner or later you will have lots of dead meat and very little milk.

10) People: In the end the future of this Industry is about you. Not about your boss, your weird colleagues, the crazies in IT and others that do not “get it”. Every firm is a wonderland filled with thousands of folks who “get it” who believe nobody else “gets it.”

So I turn to Alice in Wonderland at the end.

Alice is asked about her “muchness”. I ask each of you where is your “muchness”?

And Alice says, “ This is my dream and I will decide where it goes from here”

This is your industry and you will decide where it goes from here

Thank You

(As those who have seen me speak, know, I do so without a script and without any visual aids save a post-it note on which I have six or seven themes. Thus this “speech transcript” is a summary of what I remember having said. Thanks. )

10 responses to “This is your industry and you will decide where it goes from here.

  1. Rishad –

    Thanks for your well-remembered notes, and for sharing your time with us here at NAA.

    We agree totally with your perspective and direction and are implementing the first steps here in Cedar Rapids.

    We believe a key step is creating atomized tagged content in the first instance, so that it can flow easier through the network.

    I will be speaking on our approach this morning at NAA, and hope I can do as well on my notes!

    Chuck

  2. Rishad,
    Thank you for posting the “transcript”. I had been hearing great things from people at the show about your talk.

    Our mission at Loud3r is to empower publishers in exactly the ways your have described. We provide technology and tools to allow publishers to discover, filter, curate, comment and publish content. In practical terms this provides comprehensiveness, speed and relevance to both newsrooms and directly to readers.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Lowell Goss

  3. Rishad,

    Let’s see. Some things never change. Stay on top of technology. Communicate regularly. Respond quickly. Create Community. Old content; new business model needed. Partner up when neccesary.

    Do you think they get it yet?

    bc

  4. Excellent. To summarize: “The road ahead does not lie in the rear view mirror.”

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  6. Rishad,

    Thanks for a very thought provoking post. I would also add two things:

    1. Fast and cheap: You said go fast, I would also add “go cheap.” One of the big things I’ve noticed with traditional media sites is that they don’t seem to develop much unless there is some enormous new initiative or redesign.

    One of the benefits of digital technology is that, if you have your CMS and related templates set up right, you can be innovating all the time, cheaply and quickly. If it doesn’t work then it’s easy to throw it away.

    Big new initiatives should be based on taking those small initiatives that have been successful and doing them on a larger scale.

    2. Learn how to manage and create inventory: Print media are focused on “selling space,” and lack broadcast media’s skills when it comes to managing inventory.

    In digital media, you have to do both, but additionally, you have to create new inventory (social components are one of the ways to do this).

    Unfortunately, at least in my experience, print media people have a hard time switching paradigms in this area. They continue to complain about how much an article might be worth online vs print and ignore the possibility to create new inventory off of that article nor do they seem to be able to be able to differentiate between different kinds of inventory and how to package it effectively.

    Again, thanks for provoking thought.

    – Greg

  7. Always inspiring that leadership like this exists in the Vivaki network.

    Please keep spreading the word on change (reinvention) because sometimes the drive to the top we need to be reminded of the steps that have been taken in the past.

    regards
    champion of agency change
    http://budurl.com/changeNOWpls (change mgmt & collaboration links)

  8. Pingback: How to Save Newspapers | Digital Tonto

  9. All good points above.
    I have also found that PR companies and many other related “suppliers” to the News industry are also struggling to understand what online is all about. The majority have not even understood the need to write in a different style for online consumption.
    Luckily they are being kept amused and busy using Twitter and similar.

  10. Very Good. Very True.

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