I've simplified my thinking about the Mobile Web. After years of hating everything about cellphone companies, subscription "plans," half-baked "standards," slow connections, crappy phone software and inept vendors, it's all becoming clear:
Howard Owens' declaration that the original sin of newspapers was "Keeping online units tethered to the mother ship" is the subject of much chatter this morning. Having been on more than one side of that question, and having been one of the originals, I categorically reject the notion of any "original sin."
In 1965, before a lot of you were born, Eric Burdon of the Animals sang these lines:
But I'm just a soul whose intentions are good:
Oh Lord! Please don't let me be misunderstood ...
That's the background music. Here's the story.
I am a news guy, not an ad guy. I have, however, sold ads, designed ads, composed ads and even delivered ads at one point or another in my newspapering career. The one thing I've never done is studied ads, so what I'm about to say may seem terribly naive to my academic friends.
But it seems to me that there are two things you can do with advertising. You can create demand. And you can channel demand to a preferred resolution. Some advertising may do both, but they're really different functions.
I read the CJR screed by David Simon, journalist turned TV entertainment writer, demanding that newspapers act quickly to build a wall around themselves to keep the Internet out. Here's what I got out of it:
Only the New York Times and the Washington Post matter.
No real journalism gets done outside print newspapers.
The regional papers all stink and deserve to die.
The AP must kick out the broadcasters and dump the commercial customers, or die.
I may be the last to comment on the American Press Institute's report, "Newspaper Economic Action Plan," which was produced in May and distributed in June at the not-so-secret NAA meeting in Chicago. But I was flipping through it this morning and was struck how thoroughly the report exposes its own fatal flaws, in a section titled "Assumptions:"
The wailing, the gnashing of teeth, and the rending of garments is getting tiresome. The "death of journalism" / "death of newspapers" meme has been useful, but it's time for it to die. It's not true, and it's outlived its usefulness.
Useful? Yes, useful. Five years ago American newsrooms were dominated by denyers who refused to face the facts about changes in the media landscape, and curmudgeons dedicated to the proposition that all change is inherently bad.
That is no longer true.
My trip to Minneapolis has reminded me of how much the newspaper world lost when the McClatchy Company acquired the Star Tribune in 1998.
While it was never McClatchy's goal to do so, it snuffed out one of the few bright spots where innovation critically important to the future of newspapers might have happened.