The StarTribune in Minneapolis is one of those newspapers in deep trouble. Actually, it’s a business in deep trouble. Reading David Brauer’s reports on MinnPost about StarTribune layoffs … well, as a guy likes to think the best of people I hope that there’s a lot we don’t know about how things are being managed at our premier local news organization.
Because from the outside, I get this familiar twinge I used to feel when a client, or my own agency, would respond to business challenges by cutting staff, restricting options and depressing employee spirits, rather than investing in the change and innovation needed to turn things around. Now, while our local news organization is investing in shiny new mobile technology, it otherwise may well be out of financial options. Even so, cost cutting your way to growth has never seemed like a winning strategy.
Meanwhile, my wife and I were talking about the news business the other day (an admirable thing for her to do with me, since I think about this stuff all the time and am thus I suspect am pretty insufferable when talking to those who don’t). Her take was that while it’s great to be able to get the news you want on the topics you choose, you lose the opportunity to be surprised by what’s in the paper.
Now one can argue the point … and many do (although the fellow at this link admits to being deliberately provocative). For myself, I’d point out that if the web had only given me Google and Boing Boing, my access to interesting and informative stuff would have been expanded dramatically and happily. As it is, the social web is far more than that.
But there’s a difference between selecting headlines on a screen — a tiny screen, at times — and scanning full stories in print, chosen by professional journalists and editors, and in that difference, she says, there is something lost that isn’t entirely made up for by random tweets, blog links, emails and the wisdom of crowds.
On the face of it, I agree. Newspapers are built around the idea of setting community agenda, of being “The News.” Journalism is a profession, and for some, a calling. It’s at least as much public service than a business.
And the great news organizations supported for so long by the newspaper business will never thrive again until they get around the problem of this premise.