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Postmortem for a Dead Newspaper 219

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the what-not-to-do dept.
Techdirt points out a great postmortem for the Rocky Mountain News, a newspaper that ended up shutting down because they couldn't adapt to a world beyond print. While long, the talk (in both video and print) is incredibly candid coming from someone who lived through it and shares at least some portion of the blame. "It seems like pretty much everything was based on looking backwards, not forward. There was little effort to figure out how to better enable a community, or any recognition that the community of people who read the paper were the organizations true main asset. ... The same game is playing out not just in newspapers, but in a number of other businesses as well. Like the Rocky Mountain News, those businesses are looking backwards and defining themselves on the wrong terms, while newer startups don't have such legacy issues to deal with."
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Postmortem for a Dead Newspaper

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  • MPAA/RIAA, to name a few (that we love to hate.)

  • by aembleton (324527) <aembleton@gmaMONETil.com minus painter> on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:07PM (#29619439) Homepage
    Can't we link to the original source in the article summary? http://www.johntemple.net/2009/09/lessons-from-rocky-mountain-news-text.html [johntemple.net]
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:23PM (#29619647)

      I skimmed it. In other words ignore the end users of your product at your peril. If you think you know better than the end user your usually wrong. Sure there are tons of examples of dumb end users. But in the end if you do not do what a majority of your end users want they will find/invent something that does. What are they asking for now vs 10 years ago? If you do not keep re-evaluating what you are selling you usually end up selling something people no longer want. Do people still want a pet rock? Probably a small few do. But you do not want a factory cranking out 300k a month to satisfy a demand that is not there.

      With newspapers people want more 'local' stories. Less AP/Reuters shoveled at us. So sites like drudge/fark/slashdot and so on took over that market.

      We wanted a place to list our junk for sale and do it cheap. Instead eBay and Craigslist took the market away from them at low costs and better interfaces.

      We wanted news to show up instantly as it happened. So sites put up RSS feeds to shove them at us faster. Instead with newspapers you find out tomorrow.

      We wanted a way to read just our comics instead of 2 pages we ignored. So we went to the individual comic sites and just read them.

      They forgot about the 'why' the people who pay their bills were around. While advertisers probably paid a large portion of the bills. If there is no audience the advertisers will go elsewhere.

      The internet dismantled ever reason a person would want a paper piece by piece. Papers let the genie out of the bottle and there is no way to put him back in.

      • by writermike (57327)

        I skimmed it. In other words ignore the end users of your product at your peril.

        Good point. Newspapers for so long were more authoritarian and, perhaps, sometimes arrogant. We get information to which YOU don't have access. We then present that information to you in a way YOU can understand. YOU need US.

        The Internet, at some point, demanded newspapers regard their readers as more than consumers. It seems some newspapers have a problem with that.

  • Keep in mind, though (Score:5, Informative)

    by Knara (9377) on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:07PM (#29619443)

    That RMN and Denver Post were essentially owned by the same parent company. Wasn't really a loss, given that neither paper has been particularly good for quite a while now.

    • I was pleasantly surprised by how well the Post and the News managed to maintain their separate identities under the Joint Operating Agreement, actually. There really was a loss when the latter shut down. No question, they dug their own graves, but it's still a shame.

    • by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:40PM (#29619825) Homepage Journal

      I keep seeing RMN and instead of thinking "Rocky Mountain News" I think "Richard Milhouse Nixon". Damn, I'm getting old =(

    • No; patently wrong (Score:3, Informative)

      by WindBourne (631190)
      RMN and DP had issues years ago, so what happened is that they combined the printing/marketing/ads together. It allowed the news portion to compete while it supposedly lowered their costs (obviously not).

      You will see that they are owned by 2 different companies:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Denver_Post [wikipedia.org]
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocky_Mountain_News [wikipedia.org]

      RMN died because DP outlasted them. DP is in serious trouble as well. Neither of them had a clue about how to make money except on print.
      • by rwade (131726)

        Mod parent up -- this is absolutely correct. Scripps' Rocky Mountain News and MediaNews' Denver Post entered into a joint venture, the Denver Newspaper Agency, through which they combined circulation and advertising operations and shared an office building.

  • Horrible submission (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:07PM (#29619449)

    Why on earth is this a link to a tiny summary of the actual article?
    Here's the article http://www.johntemple.net/2009/09/lessons-from-rocky-mountain-news-text.html [johntemple.net]

    Techdirt doesn't deserve the ad revenue for such pathetic summary spam

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:14PM (#29619515)

    Do you know why people are moving away from traditional media? Because it acts like it's better than we are. Blogging has become popular because it's there in plain english, the way we look at things -- and it's accessible and free. I can share it with my friends instantly -- unlike a newspaper which is physical and takes time. With the digital age, all of my friends are only a few feet away from me most of the time. Cell phones and laptops are like spiders -- there's always one within a few feet of you.

    Traditional media has forgotten that the most important asset they have is trust -- and accessibility. There is still just as much need today to know what's going on in the world now as there was fourty years ago. But most media is awash in a crapflood of advertisements and profit-oriented behavior, which when people see they reflexively numb their senses. Seriously -- hold a normal conversation with someone and in the middle of it toss off a marketing slogan. If they don't strangle you, did you notice they're about half as smart as they were a second ago? They recover, but the momentum in the conversation is now gone. We don't trust traditional media (GenX and GenY) because it's full of crap and irrelevant to our daily lives -- so we blog and we talk to our friends, and they filter stories they find relevant back to us.

    I have friends on facebook that post links of personal interest to their feeds so the rest of us can see and comment on it, and this is the foundation of the new media -- peer relationships. Journalism needs to mesh with this, and the journalists themselves need to get out there and put their reputation on the line in a public and accessible way. I want to 'friend' journalists I like and trust on facebook and then see their stories -- separate from these stupid constricting media websites and the constant crap-flood of advertisements that go with them.

    Okay, but how do the journalists get paid? I mean, it costs them time to do the job, right? I don't have all the answers there, because it's not my industry, but I know that having a hundred friends that listen to me about anything related to computers is worth something. And a lot of people here on slashdot are in the same boat.

    • by peter303 (12292)
      I prefer to get news from edited sources. There might be some fact checking then, less bias, and better writing in most cases. Blogging tends to be more like newspaper columns where assume a certain bias and literary style in whom you chode to read.
      • by the_womble (580291) on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:46PM (#29619879) Homepage Journal

        So why do these edited sources keep making factual mistakes, write misleading stories, bury stories that do not suit their political line etc?

        Read Reuters for neutral factual coverage and blogs for opinion and analysis. That said I do read a few newspapers and the BBC online.

      • by 0123456 (636235) on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:47PM (#29619909)

        There might be some fact checking then

        But probably won't be. Almost every news story I've been involved with -- either directly, by knowing some of the people involved, or by understanding the technology or science they're reporting on -- has been sensationalist garbage which bears little resemblance to the facts.

        I find far more facts and better analysis of them on blogs than in mainstream media.

        Blogging tends to be more like newspaper columns where assume a certain bias and literary style in whom you chode to read.

        Sorry, but if you think that newspapers are unbiased, I have a bridge you might like to buy.

    • This is the most succinct description of the problem that I have read.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Enderandrew (866215)

      Blogs are better for trust?

      Please point me to your collection of honest, fact-based blogs without editorial bias and a full-time staff of fact checkers. I'd honestly love to see them.

      I have no qualms with new media emerging. It is just that all my friends honestly seem to prefer blogs because of their obvious bias.

    • Do you know why people are moving away from traditional media? Because it acts like it's better than we are.

      That's a reasonable hypothesis. I can believe that the average person doesn't want news gathered by people with more resources than them then analyzed by experts with more knowledge than they have. Of course the average person wants to marry someone stupider than they are too. So do you have any sort of support for your hypothesis?

      Blogging has become popular because it's there in plain english, the way we look at things -- and it's accessible and free.

      Hmm, I think blogging has become popular partly because it is more similar to the reader than mainstream news is. But I don't think that's really a problem with the writing so muc

      • by Obfuscant (592200)
        I can believe that the average person doesn't want news gathered by people with more resources than them then analyzed by experts with more knowledge than they have.

        If you believe that the journalist writing the stories is an expert in any field in which they write, there is no reason to continue reading your comment. You are patently wrong. They demonstrate this on a daily basis by the errors in their reporting. Talk to anyone who IS an expert in a subject that the journalists cover and see if they don't

        • I can believe that the average person doesn't want news gathered by people with more resources than them then analyzed by experts with more knowledge than they have.

          If you believe that the journalist writing the stories is an expert in any field in which they write, there is no reason to continue reading your comment.

          Journalists are supposed to be experts on fact gathering and interviewing. Many of them also have knowledge within the field they report on which greatly exceeds that of the average reader.

          You are patently wrong. They demonstrate this on a daily basis by the errors in their reporting. Talk to anyone who IS an expert in a subject that the journalists cover and see if they don't tell you they see far too many errors.

          I don't have to, since I can look to fields where I am an expert myself. Yes, reporters get things wrong. They almost certainly get things wrong more often than experts in the field do, although they may do a better job of communicating accurate facts to normal people than those experts. I've too often seen experts talk

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jedidiah (1196)

      It's not just the pretense.

      Quite often, people with direct knowledge of events or a subject area
      will find that "Journalists" get things terribly wrong. Their view of
      a given field may be woefull out of date or they might put so much
      spin on a set of facts that those that actually present don't recognize
      the situation anymore.

      Once you see this, you quickly lose any trust in journalists.

      Then you continually wonder what else they are leaving out or misrepresenting.

      Journalism has lost most of it's value based on i

  • I bet Rock Mountain Bank just gave away their info and someone robbed them, case closed.
  • Hindsight is 20/20 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:16PM (#29619557)

    There are a handful of leader-types.

    - The conservative (like this guy). He understands his company's strengths only as a function of what it currently is. He can fortify the company's business in good times.

    - The forward-thinker (like *gack* Larry Ellison). He understands not only his own company's strengths in regard to what it is, but also in regards to the changing environment. He can take action to position the company well for the future.

    - The visionary (like Steve Jobs or Sergey Brin). He understands both his company and the changing environment and can perceive the changes within the changing environment. He is able to not only strengthen the core competences of his company but drive new business and create new markets.

    - The idiot (like Woz (sorry)). They grab on to anything that looks like a good idea and drive it forward without care for business, competition, longevity.

    What happens is that every once in a while the idiot will strike it big (Jeff Bezos). Most of the time, these guys go out of business. On the other hand, the conservative leaders will do what they can and most of the time it pays off. Markets really don't change very much, and there will always be winners and losers. All they need to do is try to stay on the winning side as much as possible.

    But RMN stuck to what it knew and failed. This is what happens in business. But to look back now and to analyze the failure is a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking. Of course it's easy to see all the trends after they've passed. It's easy to see where mistakes were made and how easily it probably could have been to avoid them. But at the time it would have been much more difficult to make the same judgment call.

    It was a failure of management to fail to adapt to the changing business environment, but not every leader is going to be a forward thinker and even fewer will be visionaries. You can academically analyze these business cases from now to eternity, but unless you're actually in the leadership chair at the moment of crisis, you'll never know whether you would make the right choice.

    • What happens is that every once in a while the idiot will strike it big (Jeff Bezos).

      Bezos strikes me as more of a conservative/forward thinker - he spotted a market hole and exploited it, then expanded it to leverage item identity and third parties, and it worked. Sure, then e3 stuff is a little goofy, but there's only so much you can do with the model of 'sell stuff online'. Also, the focus on durable competitive advantage is anything but stupid.

  • the community of people who read the paper were the organizations true main asset

    Bingo. The same is true of many types of businesses including big blogs and sites like Slashdot. Marketers usually understand this, but it's an easy point to miss.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      the community of people who read the paper were the organizations true main asset

      Marketers usually understand this

      Considering the marketers making annoying ads, marketers using 1/3 of the TV screen to show an ad while the program itself you're trying to watch is on the other 2/3 of the screen, considering this [slashdot.org] marketing campaign by Microsoft, I'm going to have to say [citation needed].

  • Newspaper Value (Score:3, Insightful)

    by colganc (581174) on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:18PM (#29619583)
    The main value in newspapers previously was their distribution network. They had a system in place to distribute information. Radio, TV, and the internet all compete with them for information systems. Each one added more competition, lower latency, and broader reach. In short they provided better value. A daily delivery of dead tree is a non-optimal delivery system. It is getting boring hearing about newspapers and TV news dieing. Why care? The replacement is here. It is better, faster, cheaper. It is the internet.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rob Riggs (6418)
      They should have gone weekly, focusing on Denver, Colorado, and Western US interests in the same way that Time/Newsweek/et al focus on US national interests. No one owns that market (yet) and there are enough folks that would pay for it. They could have been a mainstream Westword [westword.com] and people would have continued to pay for it. It would not succeed as a daily. A daily just isn't needed. I doubt the Denver Post is going to last more than a few more years.
  • by NoYob (1630681) on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:26PM (#29619673)
    We're in a unique part of history where there is a huge upheaval in technology - mostly centered around computing. Newspapers are biting the dust, film cameras are biting the dust - digital cameras are basically computers with lenses; new weapons are being developed and I'm sure in my lifetime, guns that use gun powder and bullets will not be used by modern militaries; music playing and purchases is changing dramatically; and there's more. Sure, many of those old technologies will probably stay around, but they won't be mainstream: they'll be something that hobbiests use. There will be a few folks who still use film cameras and there will be a few niche camera producers that will still make the camera, film and supplies. There will still be gun makers for those that still or have to keep using gun powder - or the government will outlaw the new weapons for civilian use. And there may be some traditional newspapers around here and there. But the thing is, things are changing at a fast pace now and eventually will slow down. If you look at progress throughout history there are times where their are huge leaps and changes and then things fo back to a baseline of progress. Some past examples: the Industrial Revolution and the Renaissance,
    • I work for a newspaper that is circling the drain. When I was hired, a VP (who later became our new CEO and Publisher) spoke to us and said that since radio and TV didn't kill the newspaper, then we shouldn't take the internet as a serious threat.

      In reality, both radio and TV provided immediate news, but people still enjoyed turning to the morning paper for more in-depth coverage that neither radio nor TV seemed to provide. The internet was a different beast. It provided immediacy, in-depth coverage, and al

    • We're in a unique part of history where there is a huge upheaval in technology - mostly centered around computing

      I'm not sure it's quite unique. Yes, it's unique in the sense that every event in history is unique-- it will never happen again quite the same way. However, there have been social/economic upheavals due to new technology before. Even something as simple as the adoption of iron for making tools and weapons instead of bronze brought an enormous impact. The printing press made books available to pretty much anyone. Recorded audio and video has had a big impact in the last century.

      So I guess you could sa

  • After the Rocky Mountain News merged operations (printing, delivery, offices) with the rival Denver Post, the Rocky got the Saturday edition and the Post the Sunday edition. Saturday is the big car-ad day, while Sunday is houses and department stores. Car ads migrated to web sites more easily and dropped faster. The real estate cabal still limits how much information the general public can find about houses on the web.
  • by bzzfzz (1542813) on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:30PM (#29619731)
    I read TFA (more specifically the speech transcript) and I don't believe that the Rocky Mountain News would have been much better off even if they did everything right. There aren't any city-specific news web sites out there that are making anything like the kind of money that newspapers made in their heyday. Like the buggy whips, the telegraph industry, and home coal delivery the business is gone and the new industry that is replacing it is too far removed for a transition to be possible.
  • by realmolo (574068) on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:33PM (#29619755)

    Dead-tree newspapers are dying for one simple reason: All the news anyone could ever want is available for free on the internet. Just a Google search away. The whole idea that a newspaper can survive by catering to the "community" (either in real-life or online) is stupid. It's something to make the investors/owners feel better as their doom inevitably approaches.

    I've thought about it a lot, and I don't think there is any workable "defense" against free news sites. The newspapers are all going to die, or at the very least, shrink radically. Even if they start really producing some great, exclusive content, it isn't going to help for long, and it isn't going to help them regain their fortunes.

    The news world has changed.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Dead-tree newspapers are dying for one simple reason: All the news anyone could ever want is available for free on the internet. Just a Google search away.

      I disagree with this statement. For world news and events, this is largely true at present - but largely because Google (and others) are pulling info from the online content offered by "dead tree" newspapers, IMO. But the thing we're currently losing when a newspaper dies is good local news and reporting. Amateur bloggers simply don't cut it. Twitter doesn't cut it. Look at the crap that was all over Twitter during the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, for instance - the noise (incorrect information, incorrect s

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by BobMcD (601576)

        And I disagree with both of you! And I also agree with both of you!

        We're not only seeing the death of local news, but there is also as strong desire amongst our youth to kill off any other type of local community simultaneously.

        They don't want to be just a part of their own local small town. The internet has shown them they can participate in the global community. Local things seem irrelevant to them, and that irrelevance boosts their ego.

        All the news anyone could ever want is available for free on the internet...

        ...because I don't care about local events.

        This isn't about crap a

  • by kitezh (1442937) on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:43PM (#29619851)
    Is this problem with traditional newspaper a US-only phenomenon? I heard yesterday of a recent study [ottawacitizen.com] of newspapers in Canada which actually showed growth in their industry. What do others see in their country?
    • by iamhigh (1252742)
      That's simply due to the available medium... if the Yukon Quest didn't have such high latency, more people would probably use digital news sources.
    • I also read something fairly recently (though I can't remember where or find it again) that said a lot of newspapers started doing better when they were recently revamped. They modernized their design to make them more appealing and easier to read, easier to find what you were looking for, etc. Some of it was just making the things prettier, but it was also about reevaluating the organization, structure, and layout to make them more accessible and pleasant to read.

      So it at least raises the question wheth

  • by dtolman (688781) <dtolman@yahoo.com> on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:53PM (#29619963) Homepage

    That is true for both the time your paying for and the money you are asked to pay.

    A blog dashed off in a few minutes (or hours), will never compare to the in-depth reporting that most newspapers still actually deliver. For that I'm willing to pay (and do).

    If newspapers ever died, they would drag all the other mediums that have news down with it... most tv/cable/radio/internet copy I've ever seen is lifted from an old dead tree newspaper.

    Not to mention - some of us LIKE real news. You know, stuff that isn't about sports, or celebrities, or the horoscope, or the comics, or crap like that. The only hard news you get out of blog posts are just glorified wire reports - sure I can find out about big events like an earthquake, but where am I going to find out about corruption in China? Or inflation in Zimbabwe? Stuff that is ongoing, slow, and less sexy - that require coverage over years. Cable news gave up stories like that a long time ago - all that's left for that in the US is PBS, NPR, and the big print (NY Times, WSJ, etc).

    Interestingly - I have noticed that some print media is doing well (at least round me), the hyper-local weeklies that cover individual towns and villages in my area (as opposed to the area at large). Another area completely un-served by the web.

    • by pnuema (523776)
      That's polished news - news that appears well researched, articles that are well written. I'm not sure what your experience has been, but every news story I've ever been even tangentially involved in has been hopelessly wrong on many counts.

      Blogs are all about the comments. Yes, it may start with a wire feed. But soon after, you'll get a post from someone who is much closer to the situation than the original poster, who can share real insight on the topic. Then someone else with familiarity comes and corre

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dtolman (688781)

        So... is it snooty of me that I like my articles to be well researched and polished? Do they get stuff wrong - sure - but I'm not expecting the Truth with a capital T and without mistakes. I do expect them to catch the mistakes (eventually) and let me know when they do. But they don't tend to fuck up the in depth stuff, and thats what I like.

        As for comments... are we talking about the DailyKos site where I have to wade through so much ignorance, posturing, pomposity, and outright shit, that I feel like I h

  • I used to read the paper every day. I had a ritual: Comics first followed by editorials, national/world news and then local news.

    Then I began reading my comics online. You can get all of the major newspaper comics for free online via comics.com or gocomics.com. Then, of course, there are tons of great Web Comics authors that don't appear in the papers. I'm definitely reading more comics now than I ever did during my paper reading days.

    For editorials/opinions, nowadays, I end up going to blogs. By readi

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 02, 2009 @03:23PM (#29620283)

    Take any daily paper, from any city in the U.S. and measure how many column inches are actual news articles.... now subtract the number of inches that are from A.P. or direct pulls/quotes from other news papers, blogs or web sites, leaving only the news actually written reporters employed at that paper. Is that number greater then zero? If not - enough said, but if it IS some real content, do the same thing from the same newspaper, but from an edition from 10 years ago....then 10 years prior to that...notice a trend?

  • by Darth_brooks (180756) <clipper377@@@gmail...com> on Friday October 02, 2009 @03:24PM (#29620303) Homepage

    "There was little effort to figure out how to better enable a community, or any recognition that the community of people who read the paper were the organizations true main asset...."

    Let me make this abundantly clear: The above statement is 100% bullshit. My local paper, the Ann Arbor News, also went tits up. Over the last two years, the paper had opened comments sections on the majority of its stories to enable the aforementioned pipe dream. End result? The trolls moved in and feasted like rats in a corn silo, the nut jobs flooded the forums with "facts" on every story from free republic and the knock offs, and the signal to noise ratio plummeted. Now the paper has relaunched as annarbor.com, and the solution to the above has become: censor comments, and allow the newspaper staff to wade right into the thick of the mud. Fantastic.

    When I see what has happened to old media sites that get into "Web 2.0" I feel like a WW1 vet being told by a fresh out of west point grad that "trench warfare 2.0 will revolutionize war as we know it!"

    I don't really *want* to engage with the community when I go hunting for local "news", I don't *want* to hear from the friend of the victims brother-in-law who got arrested for B&E two blocks from my house. And most of all I don't want the most most useless section of the newspaper (Op-ed) to become the foundation of our "new media." Report, and leave me to use my gray matter to formulate my own opinions. If I'm at the site, the I'm there because I want local news. Period. Well researched, well reported, well digested, local news. It doesn't exist on TV anymore, i don't think it will ever exist on the web.

  • Running your business like it's 30 years ago is not a Legacy Issue. It's just plain stupidity, you'll find it in plenty of businesses, and the business doesn't have to be 30 years old to have someone at the helm who wants to run it that way.

    A legacy issue is having to support customers (or vendors) who insist doing things the same way they did 30 years ago. The reason this news paper failed was they they were the "Legacy Issue" to their customers; hence they were replaced.

  • The local newapaper here mostly consists of AP stories, which are several days behind the internet. The comics page often repeats the same comic over several days, or even in the same day.
    They also use intresting hyphenation schemes. I dislike hyphenation, but this paper has frequently hyphenated the word "the".
    Then, when go get to the end of a column, you get a "continued on page B14", when there are only 6 pages in the B section. If you manage to find the continuation, it's often only a couple of lines.
    Al

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