Misreading the money guys

A belief that "it's all Wall Street's fault" continues to persist in some newspaper circles. It's not.

Writing for the Winter issue of Nieman Reports, economist Robert Picard says:

"In many instances, management, journalists and industry critics appear to have a skewed vision of what it is that investors expect. ... Although those who are critics of public ownership often accuse these institutions of only being interested in short-term profits, the truth actually lies somewhere else. What these investors are looking for is a good return on their money; to get that they are willing to trade short-term profit for long-term growth and stability. But most publicly traded newspaper companies offer no credible plans (or a vision) for anything beyond the delivery of higher-than-average quarterly profits. With this mentality in place, investors pressure boards and managers for high returns so that they can recoup their investments in a shorter period of time."

(Emphasis added.)

The world has changed.

Newspapers must respond with a credible plan, or investors will discount the stock.

Having a credible plan requires a vision that would lead to not only survival but growth.

That vision has to be reasonably executable -- in other words, within reach. And credibility is something you earn through a track record.

Unfortunately, our industrywide track record is one of defensive thinking (protect the "core"), territorial infighting (intra- and intercompany), and self-delusion (audited circulation bogosity).

We are much, much better today on all three of those points, but our past is going to haunt us for awhile.