But you need to know more than that to set the strategy. Amid the handwringing and keening about the decline of media, an array of interests is measuring the field and toying with “products” that are all basically news based. These range from simple community websites to vast social networking products like Facebook. Yahoo, AOL, Google, countless independents and experimenters are looking for what will become the new model for news media.
It’s time to revisit that old story about Colonel McCormick. He was not born with newspaper instincts. He honed his knowledge of Chicago while he was reforming the Metropolitan Sanitary District. In his head, he had a central piece of knowledge that was important to the fortunes of media in his day; he knew where development was going to be in Chicago because he knew where water was going to go.
If you want to win the war this time around, you need to know where technology is going to go, where demographics are going to go, where people are going to go for news, and you need to put everything you can muster in front of them.
You want a plan for the future? Go get the news business.
As CEO, you will be picking the people who run the institutions that fall under Tribune’s umbrella. Like a missionary, you must create converts to the news cause. You must explain to them that technology and change are not enemies, but opportunities.
You must develop a much deeper awareness of customers. It was a mistake to think of a customer as a shareholder. It was a mistake to think of success as increasing quarterly performance. It was a huge mistake to think of print as a near-dead medium (embracing the rhetoric of people whose own fortunes were connected to its failure) just as it was a huge mistake to think of the Internet and technology as enemies. The “either/or” model was just flat wrong. It’s time to transform thought about this.
You must start on two levels. One level is about customers and the second is about repairing damages of the recent past. The latter, which will be hard, costly, and painful, should come first.
Get Smaller Fast
There is no plausible reason anymore for Tribune to be running publications in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Florida, Pennsylvania, or anywhere but Chicago. The arguments about synergies and efficiency and gigantic advertising footprints have all collapsed. They were strategies that made sense in an era that ended a decade ago.
People in those places despise you. They cannot wait for you to fail. They wish you only ill. No one can be a worker focused on customers in that atmosphere. Their days will be consumed by rumors of cuts to come and resentments of cuts already accomplished.
Recall that when Tribune owned the New York Daily News (and there were historic reasons for that relationship that transcended shareholder value) the buzz in New York was that all of the Daily News profits were shipped to Chicago and dumped into Lake Michigan.
The atmosphere has changed so radically that an argument can be made that only local markets in advertising and news can help news companies return to stability for the long term.
What is certain is that Chicago can never care as much about Los Angeles, Baltimore, or anywhere else as it cares about itself. And caring about one’s self is a crucial component of success. All great news companies deserve local ownership.
In this process, avoid the creative debt nightmares that wrecked the company the last time around.
All of those decisions are “inside the Tower” decisions for Tribune. What comes next is not.
A New News Universe
Nothing changes all at once.
Readers will tell you when they no longer want a print product. Don’t rush them.