A Cluetrain Manifesto For Newspapers

- - The Future

A blog post  written by William Lobdell, an 18 year veteran of the Los Angeles Times entitled “42 Things I Know” should serve as a clue train manifesto for newspaper (cluetrain is here and here).

As a former media insider I know the feeling of “this shit is broke and you clowns have no clue how to fix it” that he’s expressing in his post. I’ll highlight a few of the points I strongly agree with here:

3. … the business model for newspapers is broken.

5. … it can’t be fixed.

7. Technology has run laps around the print media — giving readers instant news, open-source journalism, no barriers to become publishers, and an infinite news hole.

8. The idea that your daily news is collected, written, edited, paginated, printed on dead trees, put in a series of trucks and cars and delivered on your driveway — at least 12 hours stale — is anachronistic in 2008.

11. Newspapers were unbelievably slow in embracing the Internet, even though younger reporters have been pleading with their bosses for years to embrace the Web.

15. Business side of the paper was worse in recognizing the Internet’s potential and its threat to the newspaper business. I once suggested that, since Craig’s List had arrived on the scene, The Times should match that business model and give away most of its classified ads (since we were already losing it already) in exchange for Internet readership and premium ad prices for corporate advertisers (such as employers). The business people laughed.

17. You can’t just transfer a news gathering operation from print to the web. Revenue on the web is fractured (like cable TV) and a news web operation can support far fewer journalists and layers of editors. It requires a different mindset.

24 … We operated as though we had a monopoly on truth and great journalism for far too long. We didn’t listen to our critics and sometimes our readers. That cost us.

33. If I were publisher, I’d have a clear mission statement for The Times’ editorial department (if you ask 100 journalists at The Times about their mission, you’d likely get 100 different answers).

35. I’d get realistic estimation on the size of The Times’ future work force and then make one large cut to get it there (good sources say another 150-200 layoffs are on the horizon). An internet operation can’t support a huge newsgathering operation, and morale would improve if everyone knew no more major layoffs loomed. People can deal with reality; it’s just this surrealistic no-man’s-land that make it impossible to move forward and has good people bailing out.

36. I’d take the very talented journalists I had and develop a SERIES of websites that provided the best information for that beat/subject matter. The Web is all about niches. The Times, for instance, could have the premiere sites for every professional and college sports team in Southern California. It could be THE place to turn to for news on City Hall, Los Angeles Unified School District, and Los Angeles Police Department. Not to mention Southern California environmental issues, LAX and the coast.

42. And this is ultimately why I left The Times. Though the paper has been in business for 125 years, it had become riskier to stay than to go.

Visit the entire list (here).

The people who can take media into the future are sitting right there, on staff at all the major publishing organizations, but they’re slowly leaving, so somebody needs to get off their ass and empower them to help make changes. I asked for a blog at the last two publications where I worked and finally had to just start one on my own.

Oh, and don’t miss Simon Dumenco shredding the LA Times Magazine to pieces in Advertising Age (here).

There Are 17 Comments On This Article.

  1. These points are much more universal and go beyond the publishing industries. There are businesses and corporations large and small that aren’t embracing the internet, and not empowering employees, and yes, talent is bailing.

  2. Once newspapers get their business model straight, those photographers and videographers that do great work will have multiple opportunities for creating content. Like it or not multimedia content, ala Boston.com’s Big Picture, will be a requirement to be succesful. The question is, will they pay creators for it?

    I don’t even remember the last time I picked up a newspaper, but I read niche blogs such as aphotoeditor.com that speaks to my interests.

  3. Right On: Number 36 could serve as the foundation for maniy, many areas. Change is now at warp speed and promises not only new, light-speed fast communications, but also new political, social and economic forms to both deal with and incorporate these changes

    As a retired J prof and magazine photographer I am of the over-the-hill generation, but find this one of the most exciting times of my life. Hope to be around for a few more years to see where all this is taking us.

  4. To be honest.. it sounds like a lot of the same reasons I got out of the music business. If we would have just embraced the internet…. oh well..

  5. The real kicker is that there are a lot of talented people out there, out of work, who don’t want to hang up the gloves yet.

    And it doesn’t take a newsroom of hundreds anymore to put out news.

    One-man ops aren’t really tenable, but getting 3-10 people together to cover a beat or series of related beats should do it.

    Small, cottage innovation generally is the most successful in changing an industry. The big boys are lumbering giants with too much red tape.

    The trick is getting the right minds together.

  6. Craigslist charges to make posts now, btw. wtf is that all about? I guess you know the economy is hurtin’ when . . .


  7. The resistance to embracing the Internet is similar to the resistance to ‘computerizing’ paper files and many other growing pains of businesses past. The bottom line is those that are willing to change with the times flourish while those who do not lag behind.

  8. You left one gigantic omission from your post.

    Yes, they are slowly leaving. But you don’t say where.

    Let’s get realistic and understand that news and newspapers aren’t going anywhere. They’re changing and maybe (I dare say) for the better.

    Check out this entry: http://www.pbs.org/idealab/2008/07/the-turning-tide.html

    Former investigative reporter for the the Chicago Tribune. Where did he go?


    He went where he was needed most. I have faith.

    Those who have the strength to leave (hats off toe William Lobdel and to yourself) will empower themselves and ultimately do what they do best.

  9. I like what the NYtimes is doing with print and web and I think that it definitly has a future like similar first rate newspapers around the planet (the Guardian, Liberation, Süddeutsche Zeitung and others come to mind)

    now the LA Times from the perception of a reader has really two problems I would say: first its taking the wrong direction. They should invest in good content and not cancel the few good contents they had (magazine was just canceled). Not sure if Lobdells solutions would work either – most of them don’t sound attractive to me (as a reader).

    Other problem: Newspaper culture in LA – just doesn’t seem to be as it is in New York or in Europe. I will bet any amount that there wil be newspapers in Europe for the next 20-30 years. Fewer – yes, but there will be quality newspapers. In LA – I feel everything is so much about celebrity culture. Its just not a newspapers city. So argueably the LA Times has failed to build that culture and its too bad because now its probably over for them to become a quality surviving paper (although trash can have long life too, it just stinks more…)

  10. quirkyalone

    I am not sure if this applies worldwide, or in the USA only. I live in eastern Europe, and for example here in Slovakia we have 5 dailies, and they are all doing just well. Or, in Austria for example, the Kronen Zeitung daily sells about 1 miliion copies a day (in the country of 8 millions).

    I for one read print newspapers and will continue to do so. I spent a lot of time on the Internet as well, but that isn’t the same experience as reading a “live” printed newspaper.

    I saw a lot of pondering on the blogs about how to “save newspapers”, but I think most of them miss the point. Hyperlocal, crowdsourcing, news-on-phones, … will that really save anything?

    IMHO, the biggest problem with newspapers is, that they declined and fail to provide a truthful and balanced picture about the World – which is a true purpose of newspapers. The are influenced by money or politics, put more emphasis on celebrities and less on important topics, news are not put into proper perspective (for example: two USA detention camps are criticized to death, but 1100 Chinese gulags are barely mentioned), etc. etc.

    To sum it up, the only substantial problem newspapers have is that they are not trusted anymore because they are not up-to-par. Improve that and they will be selling like before.

  11. I agree, newspapers aren’t exactly embracing the web (even though it’s bloody old now) but in the same breath, they aren’t going anywhere soon.

    When I did work for the Financial Times, they saw the potential of the web and this was back in ’98, the end result of that is a very very popular FT.com website.

    Both technologies go hand in hand. For the older farts, who don’t really do this mobile tech thing, they get to handle the pink paper whilst being driven to work in their Maybach, the tech-savvy kids use their tablet devices, but at the end of the day they are all reading the same content.

    It’s down to the dinosaurs in control to admit this intaweb lark won’t go away and change their business model. It’s the same for photographers, if you cannot understand the basics of how the web works, you will struggle.

  12. I read this thread the other day and have been thinking about it since….and you know my morning coffee with my laptop is just not the same as morning coffee with my newspaper spread out over the table with croissant crumbs all over it.

    But then I’m still listening to vinyl!

  13. It’s amazing to me how many organizations refuse to accept the inevitability of the future. Either in the newspaper business or any other business, when your youngest employees and customers are shouting for something to change, then you need to listen. Soon those young employees and customers will be managers/editors and longtime customers – or they won’t be – they might be working to help your competitors grow beyond you and becoming customers competitors if you don’t change.

    The real lesson here is to listen and don’t assume that just because someone is young and inexperienced that they don’t know what they are talking about.