Friday, October 02, 2009

Seven recommendations - for failure

OK, maybe not all seven, but as I was reading this summary on the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association bulletin of a speech by Galveston publisher Dolph Tillotson, it kind of crystallized for me why traditional newsrooms (aka newspapers, but I like to broaden the term) are struggling.

The title, Tillotson Offers Seven Rules for Cutting Costs, Finding Revenues, ought to give you a hint by the order of the way things are presented (costs first, revenues second). Here is his list:

  1. Never do nothing: Some people are not acting simply because they fear change.
  2. We are in a real emergency; we should act that way. He said, “We’ve got to act decisively and quickly.”
  3. We can do things today that you could not do before and may never be able to do again.
  4. Now is a great time to weed the garden. Tillotson referred to money-losing features and operations. Do away with things that newspapers do simply because they’ve always done them. Features that cost money with little benefit, such as TV books and old comics pages, can be cut now with far less outcry from customers because the economic environment makes those readers more sympathetic to change.
  5. Getting costs in line should be the first step.
  6. Focus on your company’s strengths: local connections, local news, local business.
  7. Remember the power of personal leadership. Find the center of your operation and move your chair there. “I think the quality of leadership is what will make a difference in our industry in the future,” he said.
Maybe the bullet points don't do it justice, but I'm failing to see anything in there about innovation or investment. It seems to me the tone largely is cut, cut, cut.

No. 3, for instance, talks about doing things you could never do before and probably never do again. I'm betting he's not talking about totally rethinking your operation's structure, culture and ability to track and implement useful innovation. By the way, I say "operation" here and not just newsroom because much of the work to be done is up front, in the ad and business departments, where far too often it's still business as usual.

No. 4 - do away with things you do just because you do them. Good idea, but what about also do some things that you're not totally sure will work, but provide potential for good revenue opportunities? And then actually put the management muscle into measuring and evaluating them. Put another way, try leading your market, dang it.

No. 5 - I think this pretty much is the operationalization of all the other points.

No. 6 is good, but I'd sure feel better if it also had "and find new ways to broaden those strengths and reach new audiences or audiences in new ways."

I'm not sure you can have No. 7 if cutting is your primary stance.

Tillotson talked about creating "an atmosphere of hope." But if the focus is on cutting with little mention of innovation, where is the hope? It sounds as if he's hoping the storm, like Hurricane Ike, passes and dawn will come again, bluebirds will sing and all will be forgotten. And it may, but what happens if now the sun rises in the west, instead? All the cost-cutting in the world won't help if it still leaves you looking east.

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