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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.


Lead generation: Reframing the future of advertising

In the last several weeks, my whole concept of advertising and marketing has been reframed, and I’m still sorting out what it means. But I know this: It has given me a clearer understanding of the path local media companies must take in sales.


The Rosetta Stone was the key in unlocking several ancient languages

Now I’m going to try to work the same kind of reframing on you.

Reframing is what happens when some new fact, or a new interpretation of old facts, reveals a subject in a very different light. It’s often a breakthrough that clarifies your priorities and shows you new ways to overcome your challenges.

And in advertising and marketing, we have more than our share of challenges. Print and broadcast media have been struggling for years to assimilate a bewildering array of new tactics.

The list includes buzz terms like SEM, SEO, targeting, retargeting, social media, video, reputation management, email, native advertising, content marketing, Big Data, programmatic advertising and more. And new ones show up all the time.

Read the rest of this entry

Rethinking the mission and purpose of local reporting

How do you define the mission and purpose of local reporting?

Cover the news? Hold institutions accountable? Maintain a well-informed citizenry? Hold up a mirror to the community? “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?”

Search around the Web for statements of journalism’s purpose and you’ll find all of the above, and more like them.

And there’s a lot of anxiety these days about the present and future of this mission. With local advertising and circulation revenues spiraling steadily downward, and with newsrooms shrinking along a parallel line, two things are evident. Whatever the mission of local reporting is:

  1. A lot less of it is happening now.
  2. Even less will be happening in the future.

In many places in this business, the central question these days is: How can we drive revenue from new sources, so we can keep supporting the functions of journalism that are critical to a free society?

To an extent, I buy that. But there’s also something seriously misguided about it. Read the rest of this entry

Why the definition of news must change in the digital age

Nothing is more deeply ingrained in the newspaper industry than the definition of news. It’s the foundation of what we do, the “product” we use to attract and serve consumer audiences, and the platform on which we sell most of our advertising.

Now the definition desperately needs fundamental change, as I’ll document below. If we hope to be relevant and engaging to the people in our markets, we need to start over, beginning with a fresh answer to the question, “What is news?” Read the rest of this entry

Seeing a bigger picture: Two examples of how to spot opportunities amid disruption

When you spend years working in a disrupted business, you often wind up with a vision problem. You tend to become so focused on trying to evolve your existing business models that you don’t see the much bigger opportunities that surround them.

We’ve seen two examples of that recently in my work at Morris Publishing Group. In both cases, we’ve widened our view, and we’re now seeing and targeting some bigger possibilities. Read the rest of this entry

Newsroom jobs: We know about the big fall, but why the big rise in the ’80s?

The plunge in newsroom jobs has been a big story in the industry over the last six or seven years, for obvious reasons. But a look at the bigger picture — newsroom employment over a span 30 years or so — add some interesting perspectives. Read the rest of this entry

Explore ‘adjacencies’ to discover new business models

Breaking out of the mindsets of traditional business models is one of the toughest challenges for any disrupted industry. And it’s one of the most important, because the old mindsets keep us from seeing new opportunities that are staring us in the face.

In the newspaper and magazine industries, we definitely need new ways to see opportunities. At last May’s World Congress of the International News Media Association, James T. McQuivey of Forrester Research presented a good one: Adjacencies.

We’re putting it to use in a practical process at Morris Read the rest of this entry

50x current information = lots more disruption

If you’re involved in traditional media and your mind wasn’t boggled by last month’s IDC report, “The Digital Universe in 2020,” it must be that you didn’t see it.

So let’s take a look, and then let’s consider the implications.

Each year, IDC — a division of EMC — attempts to estimate the amount of digital data created, replicated and consumed that year, and to project the growth likely in the “digital universe” by the end of the decade. Read the rest of this entry

TV is being disrupted, too — stay tuned

Back when I was working on the Newspaper Next project, around 2006, I had one of my infrequent exchanges with Ava Ehrlich, a former J-school classmate at Northwestern. She’s been working in TV for years in St. Louis.

When I described the work I was doing in the N2 project, there was a note of condolence in her response. Read the rest of this entry