In hindsight, it was poor resource allocation

While marveling at the very idea that 876 people work in editorial at the Los Angeles Times (and catching up on two months of blog reading), I read this:

… the question came to mind — if a newsroom, under economic pressure, can afford to lose 10, 20, 30 or even 50 staff positions now, why couldn’t those same newspapers have lost them five years ago — and lost them to the Internet side of the business?

Imagine if the Los Angeles Times had shifted 50 or 100 positions to web-only content production five or 10 years ago how much further along would be in audience growth today?

Indeed. It’s a very sobering thought. Not only for the L.A. Times, but for all the other newspapers too. Much time has been squandered while allowing non-Web-savvy managers to steer online news operations, and meanwhile, the public has been steadily moving online for almost all its information and communication activities. Yoo-hoo … hello … ?

I know there’s no point in crying over spilled milk, but maybe the publishers and executive editors and division heads could reflect, just a little bit, on how they consistently slighted the online staffing and the online work during the past 10 years. There were people in almost every newsroom who understood this sea change, if not in 1995, then at least by 1999. Their knowledge was ignored. There was ample time to set a wise course that would have brought many of these organizations to a safe harbor by now.

It would be a wonderful study for a scholar of enterprise management.

On the bright side, some managers are finally seeking new ideas:

We are charged to take a blank sheet of paper and come up with a way to make the Spokesman newsroom efficient while completing all of its objectives. The eight of us are meeting every day, often for several hours at a time, to work through this process.

That’s Nick Eaton, in Spokane, Wash. His editor gave him and seven other young journalists 11 days to write a plan.

10 Comments on “In hindsight, it was poor resource allocation

  1. Thanks for the link …

    @Mindy: “… maybe the publishers and executive editors and division heads could reflect, just a little bit, on how they consistently slighted the online staffing and the online work during the past 10 years.”

    They never admit it. To them, it’s all “who could have thought it would have gotten this bad?” And now they think they know what to do. In other words, they’re still ignoring the experienced online pros.

    I hear it from my colleagues all the time.

    Just look at what happened to Chris, Ron and Jim in San Diego. Do you really think Karin Winner knows how to run a news web site? She thinks she does. Many editors do, even though before 18 months ago they used the Internet for nothing more than e-mail.

  2. Newspapers are forced to make these cuts because of steep revenue declines. Publishers never considered they would be hit by a double whammy with the housing bubble bursting and the skydiving economy. Remember 2004-06? If that money train was still running the Web would still be a fun new toy rather than a potential life raft.

    The Web was never a priority because there was – and is – no newspaper business model that has shown it can make money on the Web. I still believe papers need to embrace the idea of reaching various consumers in various ways. Having a Web site is not the only answer.

  3. Hi, Howard. That was a good post you wrote. I agree that a lot of the online bosses are absolutely the wrong people to be running these online operations at newspapers. They are not hip to the culture. They don’t understand usability. They don’t do stuff online. They just … read newspapers. That is the worst qualification for the job!

  4. @igould: I agree that news organizations “need to embrace the idea of reaching various consumers in various ways.” It’s not only the Web. But look at how 99 percent of them are totally ignoring mobile data. Now is the time to be investing in THAT future. But they are so far behind on the Web, they are in a tailspin — yes, because revenues for the print product have plummeted. But if the managers had not been so ridiculously blind (heads deeply buried in sand) for the past 10 years (10 years!!!), they would have created a new business model by now.

    Think about it: Isn’t it ridiculous that these gi-normous media enterprises, after years of obscene profit margins, were not able to adapt and invent new, viable business models in a span of 10 years? Obviously the utter lack of R&D (and their hubris) has come back to bite them — maybe fatally.

    I don’t believe in newspapers anymore — even though I passionately believe in journalism.

  5. I am a proud iPhone owner – not upgrading to 3G for various reasons – and it kills me that my newspaper does not have a mobile Web site. That could be a money maker and it’s a missed opportunity to connect with readers.

    People used to laugh in the early 1990s when someone carried a cell phone. Now everyone has one. PDA’s/iPhones/BlackBerrys are more common now than they were five years ago. Can you imagine where technology will be in 10 years? And not having your foot in the door of that market is a mistake in my opinion.

  6. @Mindy and Howard,

    When did qualifications ever get in the way of someone heading up a newspaper’s online operations? 🙂

    It doesn’t matter what you know in this business. It matters what you convince other people that you “know.”

    Too many online editors are not of the Web. And to be of the Web you have to use the Web all the time, especially when you’re not at work. My former Web boss just got DSL less than a year ago at his house.

    I love the Web, not newspapers. It is what it is. How many online editors can say the same thing?

  7. @ Pat. There are more jobs than qualified people. To your point, there are unqualified people being called upon to fill online roles. But the qualifications I’m most concerned about isn’t that these people don’t have the technical chops. No, the qualifications I’m concerned about are more about attitude, mindset. That’s always the first thing I look for in hiring.

    I say that, because I should say, in our company we have a couple of GREAT online editors who were totally involved in print for long careers — guys with lots of gray hair, and they didn’t necessarily know the technical stuff, but they’ve been curious about the web for a long time and are ambitious to learn new things and realize they have a lot to learn, so they’re willing to listen.

    That’s a great combination — experienced journalist and open mind.

    It’s amazing there are not many of those kinds of people in this business.

  8. @Howard,

    I agree it’s more about mindset than technical chops.

    That’s why I’m so shocked at how many online editors don’t love being on the Web and trying new things. That’s what it’s all about.

    If the work is the only time an online editor is really online, that’s a major problem. There is always something new to see and do on the Web.

  9. It’s certainly true that having an online mindset has nothing to do with age. Some young’uns haven’t got it, and some who do are old enough to be great-grandparents.

  10. Pingback: Newsroom reinvention update, invitation « Stories on the run

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