The tension remains palpable in journalism between those who want the future to be electronic and those who want it to be the way it has been for a long time. The debates are about nothing more complicated than how to present the news product. I have run operations on both sides of this divide. I found that the ethics and values involved in collecting information don’t change for journalists. They are looking for the truth. The product they collect just moves to the public through a different set of filters and a different set of skills. But that does not change the truth. These entities are not in competition with one another. They live in symbiosis. You need to get everyone on board with that thought.
You also need to embrace that the challenge you face is today, not a year from now, not ten years from now, not in some perfect digital future. If your business is news, and everyone agrees it is news, then how it moves to the public really doesn’t matter. What matters are how good it is, how broad it is, how aggressive it is, and how complete it is.
I believe there is great fortune and opportunity in news, and most of it is local, but not “local” in the way news companies have traditionally viewed local news.
The Internet has eliminated geography as a measurement of what kind of news you receive. News from Moscow can come to you in an instant. News from down the street can come to you in an instant. The question is, Who will collect it and how will it be delivered? The “local, local, local” I would emphasize would not be focused on stories occurring within a 200-mile radius of Tribune Tower. Instead, “local” would mean your ad market, your news market, your challenge, which is Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, and the Midwest. Provide the people who live there and the businesses operating there with the news coverage they need. Don’t leave an opening for a national or international newspaper or website to become a necessary “second read,” to supplement incomplete Tribune coverage, because then they also become a necessary “second advertising venue,” hurting your business. You can make this work by reasserting Tribune’s place as the gold standard for news.
Most of all, you have to learn how to win again.
You should own news in Chicago, no matter what development it covers.
This will take a commitment to be so connected to the strengths of technology and what it can do for news that Tribune becomes a test bed for innovation and product creation. Your news websites should be constantly evolving creatures, full of interactivity, video, and the certainty that if something happens, it will show up on one of your websites first.
Where will the revenue come from? It is by no means clear that the sale of Tribune’s assets will add money to the news pot. There are creditors lined up from Chicago to the moon waiting to get cash once the company emerges from bankruptcy. It will take a powerful vision and strong execution to become a news leader given that reality.
Think of your company as a great vertical machine. News is poured in the top by aggressive staffs on all your media platforms and then tailored for customers on each level as it moves toward the ground floor. In the process, it goes everywhere and it carries your brand.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking there is a single source solution to the challenge you face. People are not yet born with iPads. Your news customers live in a variety of worlds easy to reach with old and new technology. That being the case, make certain you are on the cutting edge, even as you pay close attention to existing customers.
What you are telling them is more important than how you reach them.
Don’t make the mistake of asking the question, “What do people want?” at your level. The answer is “Everything.” There are two more important questions:
“What is news?” and “How do I become the dominant source of that news?”
First, embrace perhaps the biggest change in the news landscape of them all. “News” used to be whatever You said it was. Now “News” is whatever the People say it is.
The “Gaza versus Gaga” argument is another false either/or that you should reject. Editors need to be smart about both Middle East news and pop culture sensations. You have to create news products that recognize that fashion, music, art, culture, food—an array of subjects that were once thought of as “features”—are now actually news to the people who want to know about them.