Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Newspapers Need a DNA Transplant: What We Can Learn from the Tech Industry

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Newspapers Need a DNA Transplant: What We Can Learn from the Tech Industry

Article excerpt


I STARTED MY CAREER AS A NEWSPAPERMAN, BECAME a Silicon Valley CEO, and work today as a consultant helping media companies understand technology and helping technology companies understand the media. Here's what I have learned:

The talented people in these seemingly disparate industries are remarkably alike, but the cultures of the businesses are completely different. And here is why this matters: The tradition-bound and risk averse nature of the newspaper culture is the single greatest reason publishers are losing readers and revenues while competing digital products run circles around them.

With new technologies, media formats, and business models emerging at an ever-quickening pace, newspapers must learn to think and act like start-ups--or risk falling to the margins of the media world.

In other words, newspapers need some fresh DNA that will make them think and act more like techies and less like, well, newspaper people. The good news for newspapers is they have an abundance of the most important asset every business needs: great people.

Just like tech companies, newspapers are filled with exceptionally large numbers of highly intelligent, highly creative, and highly motivated individual contributors whose ideas, talents, and egos must be channeled efficiently into creating a product that not even the brightest among them could produce on his or her own.

Although the people working at newspapers and tech companies are more similar than you would think, their business cultures are polar opposites of each other.

Newspapers are all about faithfully and efficiently producing a well-defined product according to time-honored standards and procedures. In other words, the culture values tradition, consistency, and predictability, which, by definition, are inhospitable to change--particularly the sort of disruptive change that the Web, mobile, and social media require.

Newspaper folk essentially come to work every day to do their best to fully optimize a product that serves a clearly identified audience, that has a clearly defined revenue model, and that, until the last few years, has been a stunningly profitable business.

Tech companies--which are unencumbered by tradition, institutional inertia, and frequently even a clearly defined product for the first few years--are created expressly to do something that no one else has done before.

When techies come to work, everyone in the company--from engineers to marketers to salespeople--is eager to debate such fundamental questions as: What's our product? …

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