Paul Steiger’s been in journalism a wee bit longer than I have and his reflections on how newspapers have changed in 41 years is a fascinating read. Steiger is stepping down as managing editor of the Wall Street Journal.
His history of the last four decades of the newspaper industry might be summed up by this paragraph:
In some ways, what’s happening to the newspaper industry is a return to its past. Less than 50 years ago, American newspapers were in the main relatively small, narrowly profitable, family-owned, locally focused and hotly competitive.
… Or at least the locally focused and hotly competitive part.
He also says newspapers misplayed their online strategies:
A bigger problem was that newspapers often sought to copy fairly closely on the Web what they did in print, rather than offer new products taking full advantage of digitization. The most creative new products came mainly from enterprises with little connection to newspapers. And soon, if you named almost any bit of data you used to rely on papers for — sports scores, weather, stocks, movie times — there were Web sites offering more information faster, and free.
Pretty apt. Applying the precepts of one business to another is seldom a winning gambit, but that’s a fallacy we’ve yet to recognize in day-to-day practice.