Monday, November 17, 2008

Do newspapers have 6 more months?

By Steve Outing on Nov 15, 2008 in Business models
After 50 newspaper company CEOs met behind closed doors at the American Press Institute on Thursday for their “Crisis Summit,” I was tempted to comment, but wanted to wait to see what would come out of the meeting. Would some participants write what transpired that day? The API staff did publish this summary, but it’s pretty thin on detail. There was this at the end, under the heading “Next”:

“Participants agreed to reconvene in six months, and to explore additional collaboration. Some spoke of joint investment in research and development of both technologies and products, others of more formal means of sharing information.”

Well, I wasn’t the only person taken aback by that statement. On his News After Newspapers blog, Martin Langeveld, who recently retired after a long career in newspaper publishing, wrote what I too was thinking in “Busted Flat In Reston“:

“Six months? What are they thinking? They’ve laid off more than 10,000 people in the last six months — what will be left six months from now? They need to launch a Manhattan project to blow up their industry and start over. Now, not six months from now.”

Langeveld is right. The industry’s leaders keep putting off drastic change and hoping that incremental change will do the job. It won’t reset the trajectory to upward and it hasn’t so far.

The API staff reports that turnaround specialist James Shein, who addressed the 50 CEOs and who had researched the basic financials of the public companies represented at the summit, “concluded that as a whole the industry is at or approaching full-blown crisis stage, though individual companies are in various phases on the continuum. And he is pessimistic about their ability to halt their fall without outside help.”

I’m still eager to hear from some of the API summit’s participants (full list was published by E&P); perhaps there’s more to come out of Thursday’s meeting that’s not so discouraging. But from what we know so far, this still looks like an industry in denial about how much it must change, with many leaders whose heads are still high on Shein’s crisis curve (below) while their enterprises are much further down.

So, 50 newspaper CEOs, is there more to the story of what went on behind those closed doors? Because from outside, it’s not looking promising that you’re going to lead a reversal to the slide down that nasty-looking graph. If all that was accomplished at the Crisis Summit was to get everyone to accept that the problem really is big and agree to tackle the how in 6 months, that’s clearly not enough.

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