Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Gary Pruitt to Publishers: Reinvent, Transform

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Gary Pruitt to Publishers: Reinvent, Transform

Article excerpt

Another speech got most of the attention this week at the Newspaper Association of America's annual convention in San Diego, delivered by Google CEO Eric Schmidt. But another CEO, Gary Pruitt of McClatchy, also spoke and his remarks proved perhaps more heartening for many in attendance.

We briefly quoted from them yesterday. Now we have the full remarks, published below, courtesy NAA.*

Each year at McClatchy's shareholders meeting, we conclude with a video highlighting the work of our photojournalists over the past year. I pick a song that I think speaks to the year and we set the photographs to the music. This year, I wasn't sure which song to choose. I like the Rolling Stones, and they have several songs that fit our current economic environment:

--"I Can't Get No Satisfaction," of course. But also consider ...

--"You Can't Always Get What You Want" -- "19th Nervous Breakdown"

-- "Shattered" and -- "Gimme Shelter"

But I really don't feel fatalistic. I speak to you this morning with a strong sense of resolve and hope. We have a serious fight on our hands, but I believe we are up to it.

Public Service Mandate

I came to newspapers not as a journalist or a businessman but as a First Amendment lawyer from Berkeley, California. So as you might expect, I'm passionate about free speech and a free press. I believe in the idea - and the ideal - that newspapers should provide high quality public service journalism so that the public can fully participate in democracy. This is not just some abstract concept. There is emerging empirical evidence to support the important relationship between democracy and the press.

A study published in The Journal of Law, Economics and Organization in 2003 looked at the per capita circulation of newspapers in different countries around the world and among the states in our own country. The study found that the lower the circulation, the greater the political corruption. Of course, the First Amendment isn't a business model. Making the case that we're important to society - proving it, even - does not guarantee our success. It just means the stakes are high. It is up to us to devise a business model that will sustain quality, public service journalism.

Our critics and the naysayers aren't going to do it. This is the challenge before us. So while there were easier times to lead newspapers, there has never been a more important time.

Future generations will judge how we do. Or, as Abraham Lincoln said so eloquently in 1862 during an even more historic fight: "We can not escape history ... The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation."

Competitive History

I think history has much to teach us. As Mark Twain said, "History may not repeat itself but it does rhyme a lot." Newspapering, for much of its history, was a fiercely competitive, rough-and-tumble, dog-eat-dog, low-margin business.

Consider The Sacramento Bee. In the first 30 years of its life, from 1857 to 1887, 80 newspapers came and went in the Sacramento market. That was a tough business. The number of daily newspapers in the United States peaked in the early part of the 20th century. There have never been more newspapers before or since.

Not coincidentally, that same time period witnessed the birth of a new medium -- commercial radio. First radio and then television emerged, taking share from existing media, namely newspapers. Many people predicted newspapers would go out of business - and many did. So many, in fact, that by the second half of the 20th century, all but the largest cities in the United States had only one daily newspaper. And then a funny thing happened. Those successful, scrappy, surviving newspapers got rich because there was no other print or classified advertising competition. It's a noteworthy paradox that the development of radio and TV ultimately led to the enrichment of newspapers. …

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