Another of my beloved colleagues lost his job this month after an incredible 38-year run with a well- established newspaper. We both held executive positions there working together for almost 20 years. Having been over the newspaper’s human resources I’m qualified to say a more gifted, beloved employee could not be found. Now, on the other side of the experience, we both agree. Our grief is not for our own job losses but it is double-fold.  We grieve as much for the employees who remain as for the decline of the newspaper industry itself. But none of it should come as a surprise.

Reams of paper and countless trees have been used for newsprint and in analyzing the demise of the newspaper industry. So what happened?

Media economist Robert Picard says, “Well-paying employment requires that workers possess unique skills, abilities, and knowledge. It also requires that the labor must be non-commoditized. Unfortunately, journalistic labor has become commoditized. Most journalists share the same skill sets and the same approaches to stories, seek out the same sources, ask similar questions, and produce relatively similar stories…

Across the news industry, processes and procedures for news gathering are guided by standardized news values, producing standardized stories in standardized formats that are presented in standardized styles. The result is extraordinary sameness and minimal differentiation.

It is clear that journalists do not want to be in the contemporary labor market, much less the highly competitive information market. They prefer to justify the value they create in the moral philosophy terms of instrumental value. Most believe that what they do is so intrinsically good that they should be compensated to do it even if it doesn’t produce revenue.”

Having been employed to hire, grow and develop  a stellar workforce only to be charged with breaking it down beyond recognition, destroying morale with layoffs, I totally agree with Picard (above) and with Seth Godin. In his new book,  Linchpin, Godin takes it a step further:

 “Over time, drip by drip, year by year, the manual was written, the procedures were set, and people were hired to follow the rules. The organization gets extremely efficient at producing a certain output a certain way…and then competition or change or technology arrives and the old rules aren’t particularly useful, the old efficiencies not so profitable.

In the face of a threat like this, the natural reaction is to try to become more efficient. Run fewer pages, do some strategic layoffs (lay off the weird outliers or the expensive old-timers). The New York Times recently responded by making their Sunday magazine smaller and replacing the typeface with one that crams more letters on each page.

Of course, this isn’t the answer. Doing more of what you were doing, but more obediently, more  measurably, and more averagely (is that a word?), will not solve the problem, it will make it worse. Making the resistance happy is not the same as succeeding. What do you say to your board of directors? You don’t scare them with bold plans, you hunker down, give in to the lizard, and die slowly instead.

The Huffington Post, which soon will make more money than any newspaper in the country, threw out the rules. They have no printing plants, no revered style manual, not even a fancy building. Instead, they’re staffing up with artists and change makers. If they succeed, it will be because they confront the resistance.”

Ebay, Google, Monster.com, Craig’s List, all were newspapers’ classified and retail ad business to lose. Many in the business believed the internet was a fad, a passing fancy. Many STILL believe newspapers cannot be replaced thinking if radio and television can co-exist, so can online and print media. Certainly this is true but not with the standard model that’s always been used.

If you hear the words, “Because we’ve always done it this way” in your place of business, BEWARE and RUN FOR YOUR EMPLOYED LIFE!  Drip by drip your competition is undermining your future by finding a new way of doing business, mining new revenue streams and stealing your progressive-thinking talent. It’s yours to lose. Take it from a plethora of gifted unemployed newpaper employees. In ANY business or industry it CAN happen to you.

~From the desk of Becky Morlok~

 

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