By TOM HONIG
You just never know where cogent commentary on the future of newspapers will come from. This one is from the chief revenue officer of the Bay Area News Group -- owners of the San Jose Mercury News, the Sentinel and most of the other papers around the Bay Area.
His name is Jeff DeBalko, and as he quit his position, he posted some thoughts about daily newspapers' strategies -- or, more precisely, the lack of a strategy.
Writing on his personal blog, DeBalko talks of his brief career in the "local media" game after having spent most of his career in specialized, business-to-business media.
It's worth following the link and reading his entire post, but essentially, here's what he has to say:
1. Hope is not a strategy (Don't say: "Oh, things will get better. We just have to wait for a better economy."
2. Corporate culture is stronger than any strategy. ("Treat employees better.")
3. Get out into the community. (He argues that the web-only Patch.com is doing this better than most old-line newspapers).
4. Diversity matters. (Old white guys -- like me, admittedly -- are running the show.)
5. Selling online is not the same as building a sustainable business. (Too much focus on "the sale" and not enough on growing a productive business.)
6. Technology matters. (You're not a media company; you're a tech company. That's your competition.)
7. People matter. (Bosses might actually ask employees what works and what doesn't.)
I especially was convinced by his comment on tech. Think of every major change in media -- iTunes, Craigslist, Groupon, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix -- and not one came from an already-established media company. There are a lot of reasons for that -- mostly the need of established companies to affix a return-on-investment requirement to every new idea. Still, old media types love to talk about innovation -- even though I can't think of one real great original idea to come out of the standard, mainstream media.
The best reporters I've known over the years were the ones who spent more time out of the newsroom than in. I think that's instructive for newspaper executives. They should stop talking with each other, get their noses out of the budget sheets and actually connect with readers and advertisers to discover their needs.