Business of News: Blow It Up and Start Over!
Posted: 5/14/2014  |  By: Tim Gallagher
The most inefficient process in the world today is the manner in which we exit and board commercial aircraft. Think about trying to move 200 people off a vehicle and 200 people onto a vehicle. Each person is carrying at least two bulky items. Would anyone devise a method that asks these people to squeeze out of an aisle with 22 inches of clearance to walk 300 feet in another aisle with 24 inches of clearance? Would you expect these people to be pleasant during this process?            

I can’t think of any method that’s worse. It is so bad we have invented teleconferences (with frame freezes and other technical glitches) so we don’t have to travel to have a business meeting.            

There is a better way.            

What about an airplane that opens like a DeLorean car? We could get on the plane and off the plane like they do at Disneyland’s Pirate of the Caribbean ride, couldn’t we? Exit left. Enter right.            

This is how my mind works. Don’t try to solve the problem by incrementally improving the process. Blow it up and start over!

I thought of the DeLorean when I read David Carr’s (March 24) media column in The New York Times about companies rewarding journalists based on the number of clicks their stories receive or the number of Tweets they send each day.            

Newspaper owners are trying to reverse their shrinking audience and advertising revenue by incrementally improving the process—by imitating what other websites and social media mavens have done. They believe that by copying what successful audience-stealers are doing they can steal the audience back.            

It won’t work.            

Newspapers have failed to convert their good journalism to a delivery method that their audience has come to expect. Newspapers have one way of selling you their product and they refuse to learn what others have—that audiences value convenience and personalization along with content.            

The music industry learned this and there are parallels and lessons for the newspaper business.            

Remember LPs? CDs? If you liked a musician, you were forced to either pay for the entire album (that included three or four songs you liked and seven or eight that were so-so) or go through the annoyance of buying 45s (singles we used to call them.) CDs were no better.            

And then along came iTunes. Suddenly the audience could buy exactly what it wanted and not waste money on the songs it did not want.            

Musicians screamed about this model. Some refused to participate. (Stop me when this sounds like journalists squawking about the Internet.) But the audience had spoken. It wanted music the way it wanted it. It would pay for what it liked and only in a mobile format it could take anywhere it went and on any device. Convenience and personalization, right?            

Newspaper companies should have learned from this. They did not. They take the print model, which is a lot like “You MUST buy the whole album,” and move it to a digital format. And they have finally started charging for it—but there is only one price and it’s all you can eat.            

The websites and formats eating the newspapers’ lunch are those that allow the user to personalize the experience (see Bleacher Report and Pinterest) and carry it wherever they go. The next answer for the newspaper industry lies not in imitating formats that have worked for others. Blow it up and start over. Understand that newspapers produce something valuable, but they must find a new and innovative way to meet what new audiences expect.            

I’ll be waiting for the next flight.  

Tim Gallagher is president of The 20/20 Network, a public relations and strategic communications firm. He is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and publisher at The Albuquerque Tribune and the Ventura County Star newspapers. Reach him at tim@the2020network.com.