Author Archives: Steve Gray

Under summer’s spell

I’m on vacation in northern Michigan now, and I had intended to take a pass on writing for this month, too.

But my mother and my wife changed my mind.

My mom brought to our vacation spot a copy of an editorial I wrote about 30 years ago while working at The Monroe (MI) Evening News — the paper our family owned at the time.

Mom pulls this piece out every August and makes me — and anyone else nearby — read it again.

This year, my wife was one of those. She read it and said, “You ought to publish this in your blog this month.”

So that’s what I’m doing.

Consider this a month off from reading about the challenges and opportunities of the traditional media. Instead, think of this quick read as a prose poem celebrating the joys of summer (it’s summer in North America right now).

So here goes:

Under summer’s spell

There was a time when summer was magical. If you are old, you remember it. If you are young, you are reveling in it even now.

This magic happens for those between the ages of, say, 6 and 12. Those in the school years, that is — the years before work or college or the onset of worldly responsibilities and cares.

This magic begins on the last day of school. The bells fade into silence, the bus rumbles away down the road for the last time. The ratcheting machinery of time chunks and clunks fitfully for another day or two and then falls still.

At that moment, the future is bliss. Days stretch away uncountable into the vast reaches of summer. Placid, brilliant days of heat and sun and grass and buzzing bugs. Days of promise — of swimming, and playgrounds, and fishing, and fireflies and noisy fun with friends.

In that timeless span, children count days as the Navajo once did — as a cycle endlessly repeated. It is the same loop over and over, not moving forward down some relentless calendar, but just always now.

Until the county fair approaches. It looms ahead, but how far? Eagerness tricks children into counting the days until at last the time is here.

And then, almost immediately, it’s gone. But mysteriously, unbidden, the steady beats of time continue. The slow surge of summer, once seamless, now comes in units of daylight and night, like spans of pavement on the highway. And these seams thump by with gathering speed.

Summer is ending. In mid-August, it can no longer be denied. The shop windows show school clothes and notebooks, and they cannot be ignored.

Mostly the little girls admire them and think of seeing friends. But mostly the little boys try to look away and hope it will never be necessary to sit at a desk again.

And in the air, at night, there is a telltale tinge of chill. It whispers, “Fall!” Each night it whispers louder. Late-summer heat waves tease, but they can’t stop summer’s wane.

All of this is happening now, this week. And children begin to ask: How many weeks till school? And soon the question is, How many days till school? And then school is here.

For better, for worse, summer has begun its ebb into fall. For children, it is the end of a spell, a gradual awakening. And, after a few short years, adulthood begins to creep in, and that summer magic comes no more.

– 30 –

In September, it’s back to the hard challenges and decisions of our business. But right now, I’m on vacation. I hope you are, too.


In a disrupted industry, how can you future-proof your career?

Here’s the plain truth: If you’re an early- or mid-career employee of a company that still depends heavily on print revenues, you need a plan.

Jobs have been disappearing from these media companies at an alarming rate for more than a decade.

Print-based newspaper and magazine companies are fighting hard to replace declining print revenues with digital revenues and other business models. But very few — if any — are winning. The jobs keep going away. Read the rest of this entry

In Jacksonville, a new business model for the local editorial voice

Downtown Jacksonville, Fla., straddles the St. Johns River. (Times-Union photo)

Back in April, I lamented the steady decline in commitment to local editorials across the shrinking newspaper industry with this post: “Editorials: Headed for extinction?”

It’s a sad story. As ad revenues tumble and newsrooms shrink, so, too, are owners’ commitments to strong, impactful local comment in editorial pages.

Editorials lack any clear business model, so they’re vulnerable to cuts. Never mind that a strong, community-leading editorial voice can be a hallmark of our local brand and a reason we are seen as essential in the community.

In April, I hinted that I would blog on this subject again soon. One of the Morris publishers, Mark Nusbaum at the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, was working on an entirely new way to amplify his paper’s editorial voice and build a bold new business model around it. But it was still in development.

Last week it hit homes and businesses in Jacksonville. Read the rest of this entry

In the political fray, don’t guess at motives — debate the facts

Motives, motives, motives.

Why did President Donald Trump dismiss FBI Director James Comey?

Why did Hillary Clinton operate a private email server when she was Secretary of State?

Why did FBI Director James Comey say the FBI wasn’t, and then was, continuing to investigate Clinton’s email practices?

What was Trump’s motive in announcing immigration bans on seven countries? Read the rest of this entry

Why the bitter U.S. political divide? Blame the digital information explosion

Business Deal FailureMost Americans would agree that our country is more fiercely divided along political lines today — Democrat/Republican and liberal/conservative — than ever before in our lives.

Through the last two or three presidential elections, this divide seems to have become more and more bitter. In the 2016 race, it reached a fever pitch, which has shown no sign of abating since the election of Donald Trump.

Why? Read the rest of this entry

Editorials: Headed for extinction?

Powerful local advocacy is essential to your news brand

20170322_120803As the relentless decline in ad revenues empties more and more newsroom desks, there’s been a little-noted side effect: Waning commitment to locally written editorials.

Nobody seems to be noticing, and that’s a shame. In this and probably a future post, I intend to make the case for strong local opinion-writing as a key element of community journalism.

In the local media business, we like to think that our brand has immense value. I believe the thoughtfulness and impact of our editorials plays a huge part in creating that value. Read the rest of this entry

Power structure: Another “Big-J” project for strapped newsrooms

Last time I blogged about a fairly simple but powerful “Big J” journalism project we did years ago in my hometown, shaking up the judicial system in a very positive way.

Here’s another “Big J” project we did back then. It can be done in any community, and it will reveal very interesting things about who has and wields power in the community. Read further to learn how, and to see clippings of the stories we produced.

It started in 1992, when I was editor of my family’s newspaper in Monroe, Mich. At the time, I was doing some serious thinking about the local power structure. Read the rest of this entry

“Big-J” journalism projects for resource-strapped newsrooms — Part I

Justice sign on a Law Courts building

It’s an article of faith in the local media business: High-quality content is our trump card in the high-stakes business of attracting and monetizing digital audiences.

But how much of that high-quality content do we really produce? And how much of it really has the huge audience pulling-power we need?

It’s the same answer for both questions: Not nearly enough. Read the rest of this entry

The next media disruption tool: Predictive analytics

Yeah, sure — Big Data. We get it, right?

We all know that the digital age is producing huge amounts of data about consumers and their behavior. And, sure, we know that anybody who’s in the marketing and advertising business — like local media companies — needs to get good at it. Right?

Hand drawing Lead Generation Business Funnel concept with white chalk on blackboard.

Not that we’ve quite learned how to do it yet. But surely we know — don’t we?  — that we simply must master it to benefit both ourselves and our customers? And we’re working on it, right?

Well, I am. I hope you are, too.

Why? Because somebody is going to bring Big Data to Main Street. If it’s not us, Big Data will be the next big wave of disruption in our advertising and marketing business. It’s guaranteed to whittle down our local media ad revenues still further. Read the rest of this entry

Can local media find a new home in real estate?

Ah, real estate. It used to be such a wonderfully profitable sweet spot for newspapers, back in the dear, now-dead days before the Web. And now it’s just a shadow of its former self.

The real estate business itself is doing okay these days, although it always has its ups and downs. It’s print real estate advertising in newspapers that’s been deeply and permanently disrupted.

The question I’m trying to answer these days is, isn’t there another model through which local media companies can play key roles in the real estate market? Read the rest of this entry