A couple weeks ago, I tweeted about newspapers with Twitter giants Jay Rosen and Mathew
Ingram. This may not sound particularly surprising or unusual, but the
truth is, I haven’t tweeted about newspapers in months. And, it felt a
Perhaps even more telling, I haven’t written a blog post in almost a year. Take a look, my last post was about what newspaper companies should be focusing on in 2012.
You see, I have a confession to make. I’m no longer a newspaper person.
My journey to non-newspaperdom has been such a slow process, I hardly know when it began. But I think I can pinpoint it to the Spring of 2006 when I took a five day course on innovation at the Harvard Business School.
I was the Director of New Ventures for my newspaper company and at the time was struggling to save a failing print magazine that I had created a few months earlier. The highlight of the week was a session with Clay Christensen in which he discussed his theories on disruption and innovation. During the case discussion, Christensen challenged me to think about how newspapers and other print media could innovate in the digital world to save themselves. I admit that I dismissed the idea immediately thinking, “It’s not that easy for our industry...he doesn’t understand...dollars for dimes" and all that stuff. When I pushed back at him (embarrassingly cocky of me), he just shrugged and said, “Newspapers will have to innovate, or they will fail”.
Those words stuck with me.
Over the next three years (after shutting down my magazine), I spent all of my time learning the digital space, eventually becoming Vice President of Digital Media. I came to understand the new economic reality of the media industry and the new drivers of value and competitive advantage.
I discovered that it was possible for newspapers to innovate their way back to prosperity if only newspaper executives would:
a) take innovation seriously and
b) get out of the way of the people trying to innovate
Newspaper executives did neither of these things.
And eventually, like thousands of other newspaper employees, I was “structured out” of the industry. In my case, job loss turned out to be a very good thing. It allowed me to redefine myself through my blog, my Twitter presence and various consulting and board gigs. But I still felt very much a newspaper person.
Now, as I watch an industry-wide proliferation of cost cutting, paywalls and cash cow milking, I’m just sad. These great institutions are eating themselves alive due to a lack of imagination, a lack of will and a lack of courage (with a couple notable exceptions).
I've become disconnected. I won't return to the newspaper industry.
In fact, I’m off innovating in the world of local, independent retail as CEO of a start-up called Shopcaster.
I work in a world where disruption and
change are expected daily, things move super fast and inertia leads to a certain
and speedy death. I love every second of it. I know I'm where I'm supposed to be.
I will always love the newspaper world and newspaper people (hell, I live with one) and I wish them well. Perhaps there’s still time to save themselves. Clay Christensen has teamed with Neiman Labs to offer more advice to newspapers. And there’s some pure-play digital good'uns returning to newspapers to fight the good fight such as Jim Brady and Steve Buttry at Digital First, Mark Potts at the Journal-World and John Ferri (full disclosure - the aforementioned person I live with) returning to the Toronto Star.
But, I’m already well into my next chapter. Watch for this blog to be about the joy and pain of growing a tech start-up.
The chart below is already proving to be more accurate than I would like to admit.
I hope you’ll stick around for the ride.