Rearranging the lipstick on a sinking pig

Mark Potts, fresh from the demise of Backfence, rolls out a to-do list for newspapers who actually want to re-invent themselves — as opposed to those that want to have lots of meetings about re-invention.

A few of these I’ve been throwing in your face for quite some time, dear readers, so I won’t give you the blow-by-blow, but obviously one of my favorite bits is the one about giving readers what they can’t get anywhere else:

“Get local. Very local. Does every paper really need to have the AP story on Iraq or Bush or Paris Hilton on Page One? That news is available all over the place. Bring your readers something they absolutely can’t get anywhere else–news about what they care most about.”

Lots of good ideas, of course, if you can get your organization, or corporation, or mega-conglomerate to implement any of them.

But that’s the catch, isn’t it?

Are news organizations just too damn big to turn around at this point?

In the comments on Mark’s post, it looks like Christopher Mims, a blogger at Scientific American, has this to say:

“In other words, no institution as hidebound as a newspaper can possibly have the agility of the nascent startups that are going to replace them.”

Yikes. He’s right, of course.

So here’s the mission: Make your newspaper function like a start-up. How would you serve your community if you were the small, agile online news site in town?* That’s the question we’re all trying to answer — that we must answer — if we want to survive.

Get busy re-inventing, or get busy making plans to get out of the business.

*Credit where credit is due: I didn’t use this “let’s pretend we’re a start-up” bit until one of my bosses said it. In a meeting. About re-invention. I’d love to hear some real answers to that question.

3 Replies to “Rearranging the lipstick on a sinking pig”

  1. I get strange looks when I say I want to start my career at a tiny daily or weekly. But how much freedom would I have to play at a bigger paper? The less red tape, the better.

  2. Getting out of bigcorpthink thinking is so hard. There’s a constant belief that ‘We can’t do it that way because we’re xxxxxx’, ‘We can’t make a mistake because we’re xxxxxx’.

    Acting like a startup is tough unless you’re eating ramen.

  3. I used to think the solution was “empower your tech-savviest staffers to incubate new ideas.”

    But now I’m wondering: If the solution to this problem were easy enough for a few scrappy young’uns to implement at any given company, then why wouldn’t those same folks just up and launch the site themselves, given the ridiculously low barriers to entry cheap hosting and open-source solutions have brought about?

    Maybe the real question is, “what do the resources available to traditional news organizations (money, staff, reputation) allow them to do that three people in a garage couldn’t?”

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