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Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?

As you all know, it’s not pretty out there for print media. My colleague Erica Smith keeps track of the layoffs in our industry.

Through it all, the Statesman managed to avoid layoffs, buyouts and other ugliness. In fact, it was one of the few papers that had somewhat weathered the storm. Until now.

So, are newspaper operations doomed?

I read blogs, columns and trade publication opinions all the time that talk about how we’re all just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  They are either morbid or gleeful that the industry is in trouble (depending on the author, of course).

What I never read are solutions. And there are some.

That’s what has driven me to start this blog in the first place. I want people to realize there is hope out there. I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll share with you what I think can work.

As Bluto so eloquently put it, it’s not over.

In fact, most newspapers have MORE readers now than they did 10 years ago. In the late 1990s, when I arrived at the Statesman, we were in the midst of a campaign we called “Summit 2000.” The goal of the campaign was to reach 200,000 daily subscribers by the year 2000. We fell short, but just barely. Now we’re under 170,000 daily subscribers.

Sounds bad, eh? Well, this past Friday, we had 120,000 unique visitors to our sites (statesman.com and Austin360.com). 120,000 + 160,000= we’ve vaulted over that summit!

Of course, we have yet to find a way to truly capitalize on that. The online advertising competition is fierce. Print has been heavily reliant on classified ads since the first lost puppy ad was printed. Craigslist, Monster.com, etc. killed that.

I’m not an expert in newspaper industry business models. What I’ve posted here is pretty much the extent of my knowledge. I do know that there are some smart people out there trying to figure it out, and I think they will.

OK, I haven’t offered any solutions yet. I’ll do that in future blog entries. For now, let me just say that innovation can and is happening at newspapers. I have seen amazing change at the Statesman in just the past 20 months that I’ve been Internet editor. Our web developer and his team are so busy that they have a list of tasks to accomplish that would make your head spin.  That’s a good sign – that means there are some innovative ideas on the plate, and we just haven’t gotten to them all yet.

Believe it or not, I’m excited about the future of newspapers. Major changes will have to happen for us to get where I think we need to be. But I’m seeing those changes. The reason the Statesman is for sale is because Cox knows the paper has good value. I hope the new owners realize that the success is mainly due to the employees’ and management’s achievements and innovation.

There’s a lot of naysayers out there, both within the industry and on the outside. They say it’s all over – the battle is lost.

Me? I may be delusional, but I’m with Bluto: “Over? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is!”


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