Get Senior Executives to Use It

After Editor & Publisher Magazine’s Steve Outing wrote a Web site column today about how newspapers need to do more to attract college-aged readers, 22 year-old online newspaper whiz-kid Adrian Holovaty replied in his own blog that what newspapers really need to do is to “hire young people.”

We think that hiring the young is OK. But if you really want to change the industry, force the fiftysomething to sixtysomething guys who run the newspaper industry to spend a week reading the news only the way that their sons and daughters do — online.
I believe that communications historians of the future will look upon the senior executives of the newspaper industry of 2003 the same way that today’s transportation historians look at the livery stable executives of 1903.

Those business owners and managers earned their spurs on a venerable form of conveyence. They’d be the first to remind you that civilization for centuries (if not millennia) has depended upon that venerable form of conveyence and that most homeowners and executives in their towns still consider prefer to use it and not the newfangled conveyances that technology recently invented.

What these geezers don’t yet understand is how rapidly even time-honored transportation or communications media can ceased to be used. Within 20 years after 1903, conveyance by horse was a thing of the past. The same is happening today with the printed newspaper as a news conveyence, the transition has begun. Just as few of those fiftysomething to sixtysomething owners & managers of livery stables put sizeable share of their capital into automobile sales in the first decade of the 20th Century and thereby allowed their business survive, few of today’s fiftysomething to sixtysomething owners & managers of newspaper companies are properly funding their online and wireless ventures. Few of their albeit healthy businesses today will survive.

The only real difference in this analogy between horse and newsprint is that usage of the horse wasn’t declining in 1903. Newsprint edition readership today has been declining for nearly 40 years! What newspaper industry managers today are really managing is DECLINE — a dubious accomplishment that gives them even less excuse for not properly supporting the new electronic forms of news conveyance.

Can a declining industry make the transition in time when its senior management is so enamored with riding a waning conveyance into the sunset? Crank up the Model A and run them off. Or else get them to use the new conveyance.