Editorial: Scar Tissue

Earlier this year, I wrote about how newspapers should be ready to fail if they want to find success (bit.ly/1Mjr1qq). Failure means they pivoted; they experimented; they tried something different. But there’s one component that never seems to want to change no matter what kind of platform you’re on: money.

Print publishers struggling with declining revenue is nothing new, but when mobile news app Circa was put on a “indefinite hiatus” in June, the reason was—yup—money. Co-founder Matt Galligan wrote in his farewell column, “Producing high-quality news can be a costly endeavor and without the capital necessary to support further production we are unable to continue.” According to media analyst Ken Doctor, Circa was looking for $8 million in funding.

Launched in October 2012, Circa was an app that broke down news stories into their “atomic elements.” When I interviewed Galligan and then-director of news David Cohn in 2013, (bit.ly/1NzxwUy), the two were optimistic about redesigning the mobile news landscape—and for awhile, Circa was a hot commodity that forced traditional media companies to rethink mobile. Perhaps that led to Circa’s downfall as more digital competitors sprouted (see the New York Times and its NYT Now app), and Circa learned the hard, but also inevitable, business lesson that has plagued newspaper publishers for some time now: it’s not easy making money on mobile and in this case, it’s not easy finding money.

Also in June, Gannett entered a new era as the company spun off into two separate media companies:  TEGNA (which includes the company’s broadcast stations and digital ventures) and the new Gannett (which includes USA TODAY and 92 local media organizations).  The new Gannett revealed a new website (gannett.com), a new logo (a white G on a bright blue background with a dog-eared corner), and touted its new identity as a “next-generation media company.”

Although Roger Yu of USA TODAY reported that the spun-off new Gannett was “virtually debt-free,” it was not surprising to read that the publishing business was separated because of falling print advertising. Gannett is just one link in the chain of media organizations (News Corp, Tribune Co., E.W. Scripps Co.) splitting off their publishing units as a way to separate themselves from the entity causing them to hemorrhage money.

So, if something as forward-thinking as Circa couldn’t find a bandage, how can newspapers possibly find a solution?

For starters, you can check out our story “Right Here, Right Now” that features advertising strategies that are making money for publishers right now. It’s an innovative time, an opportunity to try something new, and even if it fails, just think about how Galligan optimistically ended his column: “We hope that someday someone may finish the story that we started, succeed where we may have faltered, and that a news experience built for the future and not burdened by the past will have a shot.”

But instead of waiting for someone else to finish the story, I hope newspapers find their own way to press on toward a successful future without being hampered by its turbulent history of what-ifs and should-haves. Maybe we won’t find a bandage, but we should still show off our scar tissue, our evidence of how many bumps and scrapes we have overcome.

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