Rocky Mountain News publisher’s post mortem

1 10 2009

John Temple, former publisher of the former Rocky Mountain News, reflects on its demise in his keynote address at the UC Berkeley Media Technology Summit this week. It is a remarkably insightful and self-critical examination. The shorthand version:

Know what business you’re in.
Know your customers.
Know your competition.
Know your goal.
Have a strategy and be committed to pursuing it.
Measure, measure, measure.
Keep new ventures free from the rules of the old.
Let the people running a new venture do what’s best for their business, regardless of the potential impact on the old.
To compete in a new medium, you have to understand it.
Invest in R&D.rocky-mountain-news-600x769

Temple’s prediction for the industry is grim:

There’s still too much of a sense of entitlement in the industry. The Associated Press spends too much time making the case that copyright violation is the problem bringing the industry down when the industry should be focused on building new and better products and services. Are companies making the same mistake in this decade that the Rocky made in the ‘90s, not understanding the competition? I think so.

However, his prescriptions for newspapers could improve the prognosis:

Newspapers should think bigger at the same time as they think smaller. They should look for opportunities to scale. They’re still too focused on unique, market by market solutions. …

Newspapers could end the criticism of an ever-shrinking amount of content if they would partner more with others and invite more people to participate on their sites. (When people say what you often hear, that newspapers seem thinner and thinner, we can’t forget that it also creates a negative impression of what’s happening to their Web sites.) …

Newspapers have traditionally served a small percentage of the businesses in their communities. … Newspapers should find more ways for more local businesses to reach potential customers.

Newspapers should give consumers more control. They’re still thinking too much about themselves and not enough about what the consumer wants.

Newspapers should stop looking longingly in the rear view mirror at 30% margins. …

And, of course, finally, the most difficult recommendation of all, newspapers should stop making decisions about new business opportunities based on how they’ll affect their legacy business. The main newspaper cannot dictate the shape of the future.