This post was published originally on the American Press Institute site on my old Training Tracks blog, April 20, 2007. It was one of several posts in my API days dealing with the Newspaper Next project, an API partnership with Clayton Christensen. I just blogged about Christensen’s most recent insights on the news business, Breaking News, in the Nieman Reports. I have updated or removed outdated links.
I’ve done some exciting and inspiring travel in the past month.
I visited Mainz, Germany, where in a darkened room of the Gutenberg Museum I looked at the first editions of the Bible printed with movable type and even older and more ornate Bibles crafted by hand.
I thought about the modern newspaper in both of these places where nature and man displayed these ancient treasures.
I’ve been in the newspaper business since 1968, when I started delivering the Columbus Citizen-Journal as a boy in junior high. The Citizen-Journal is no longer published. Neither is the Shenandoah (Iowa) Evening Sentinel, the first newspaper I wrote for. Neither is the Kansas City Times, where I was an editor until its death in 1990. And all of those newspapers died before the explosion of the online world, a communication revolution as profound as Johannes Gutenberg‘s development of movable type.
As a colleague said last week in an API discussion of our industry the day before I visited the Gutenberg Museum: The current upheaval in the newspaper business is not cyclical. It’s tectonic.
We don’t know what kind of hoodoos or canyons this massive shifting of ground is going to bring to our industry. But anyone who thinks a cyclical upswing is going to bring back 30 percent profit margins and higher revenues for print advertising and circulation might as well be waiting for the return of that massive lake that once covered the southern half of Utah. Or for the return of the Columbus Citizen-Journal.
However, I don’t expect the future of our industry to be limited to museum rooms with protective glass and dim lights to protect the fragile paper. Remember, Gutenberg didn’t print the first Bible. He just made it easier to spread the word. Like the Internet is doing for news (and scriptures).
I’m sure the monks who were insightful enough to appreciate the revolution Gutenberg was launching mourned the loss of the craftsmanship that produced their beautiful and precious Bibles. But the story was the same and it perseveres – from painstaking hand-written Bibles to movable type to digital scriptures.
In the same way, the earth-shifting that is remaking the newspaper business may mean the eventual end of the delivery form and the business model we have come to know and (on most days) love. But just as printing technology increased demand for the Bible and other reading materials, digital technology is increasing the demand for news and information.
API’s Newspaper Next project is helping newspapers navigate the twisting canyons of this changing world. We are presenting a new process and a new strategic framework for news companies who are ready to stop lamenting the change and embrace the future beyond the upheaval.
We have presented on-site N2 programs for 20 companies, with eight more scheduled in the next two months. We have presented the programs to hundreds more people in our business in full-day regional programs and shorter programs for press associations. (I removed the promotional information about how people could schedule N2 programs for their organizations.)
Soon we will start collecting and telling the stories of organizations that are using the Newspaper Next Innovation Method and the Newspaper Next Game Plan to transform their organizations.
I don’t want to go back to the days of handcrafted Bibles. I enjoy easy access to books. I don’t want that lake to come back to southern Utah. I love the beauty of Bryce Canyon.
I share your love for the good old days of newspapers. But I hope you will help us find the beauty and opportunity in our changing landscape.