Tom Mohr, former president of Knight Ridder Digital and now director of the New Media Innovation Lab at Arizona State University, has published a lengthy essay that's worth reading. He writes:
... The low rumble of shifting ground is palpable. Not only is the shift towards online; it is, in tandem, a shift away from print. Not dramatic yet, perhaps—but clear. And the impacts continue to ripple. As I write, the newspapers of the former Knight Ridder are soon to be parts of nine different companies. Tribune Co. faces a boardroom battle which challenges its very survival as an intact firm. Wall Street analysts have cooled on the industry’s prospects. Academics in journalism schools despair the future of the craft in a post-newspaper world. ¶ I believe newspapers’ social purpose—the building of civil society in cities and towns across America through the daily output of good journalism—is worth fighting for. Securing the future of the industry’s social purpose requires securing its financial future. And I have concluded that depends on an industry-wide understanding of seven key points:
-- Local newspapers will not be the innovation source for top online products.
-- "Local” is not, in itself, defensible online.
-- The big money is not in newspaper websites, but in gaining access to top-tier product via partnerships with vertical online leaders.
-- Moving newspaper websites onto common platforms will deliver improvements in quality, cost reduction, traffic and revenue.
-- When networked, newspapers bring critical assets to the table that strengthen their competitive position vs. online-only players.
-- The window of opportunity is closing; failure to act will compromise the future of the business.
-- Ultimately, the key is leadership at the highest levels. ...
Link: Editor & Publisher. Thanks to Bob Lyons of WGBH who sent this to me and to Brian Kane who sent it to him. There's a lot of food for thought here.
Bob correctly points out that one could substitute public broadcasting for newspaper in the essay. In thinking about this in the public media context, I think I might disagree with Mohr's 2nd and 3rd points. First of all, we're community institutions, not national ones, and our currency is impact, not -- uh -- currency. For us, if we can partner with enough other community non-profits and if we can put our one-to-many culture aside sufficiently to admit citizen media to the party, then I think that online is the place to be local. And, substituting impact for money in his 3rd point, I'd argue that rather than the big money being in vertical partnerships, the big impact is in horizontal community partnerships. Ask WKRN, and it's commercial.
Updated 14 September 2006:
Stowe Boyd has a comprehensive critique of this manifesto in Tom Mohr on Winning Online. Link: /Message. Thanks to Rob Paterson for the tip. --Dennis