Monday, August 10, 2009


Success in businesses is not the result of highly mysterious factors.

To be successful an enterprise must offer a product or service that people want; it must provide it with better quality and service than other providers—or at a lower price than competitors; it must change with the times and demand; and it must never forget to focus on customer needs rather than its own. And a limited number of competitors helps. Duh.

Many journalists have trouble understanding these principles, however, and we were treated to 2 classic stories in which journalists breathlessly announced this discovery over the weekend.

The New York Times told us about the “resurgent” Seattle Times. The Times is starting to reap the fruits of monopoly caused by the demise of the print edition of the Post-Intelligencer and the stabilizing economy. It has picked up most of the print readers from the P-I, raised its circulation prices, and been able to keep the higher ad rates that were charged when ads were put in both papers.

The Associated Press told us “Small is beautiful” and that local papers do not feel competition for big players like CNN, metropolitan television, and Craigslist because they focus on local news and advertising not available elsewhere. “Less competition means the print editions and Web sites of smaller newspapers remain the focal points for finding out what's happening in their coverage areas.”

Journalists are also starting to discover that the industry might not be as dead as they have been portraying it to be. A number of stories have reported that the drop in advertising due to the recession appears to be near bottom, that profits and share prices are rising, and there is no wholesale rush to the web by print newspaper readers.

These “surprises” are developing, I believe, because journalists have never covered their own industry with the same interest and vigor that they have covered other industries. This is partly true because they have adamantly and publicly expressed distain for the business side of the news industry and because they tend to accept and endlessly repeat the views of publishers without critical fact checking or seeking better understanding of the business dynamics of news. Whatever happened to the old journalism adage "If your mother says she loves you, check it out!"

Perhaps they will learn.