Bill Lobdell, longtime writer and editor for the Tribune-owned LA Times and its subsidiaries, has an excellent, insightful piece up on his new blog titled "42 Things I Know," outlining why exactly he left his cushy corporate job and what's wrong over at the LA Times. Much of what Lobdell has to say is pretty much what those of us who work in new media have been saying for a long time now: that print media (in particular, the overfed layers of managers who spend most of their days having meetings about meetings so they can plan more meetings, thereby justifying their spendy salary-and-benefits packages) don't know what the hell they're doing when it comes to the real world in the age of the Internet.
The most telling of Lobdell's "42 Things" are the following:
Newspapers were unbelievably slow in embracing the Internet, even though younger reporters have been pleading with their bosses for years to embrace the Web.
Amazingly, it took until 2005 for top editors at The Times to realize the Internet not only wasn't going away but might lead to the demise of newspaper.
Prior to that, the Internet operation at The Times was used as a place to hide reporters and editors who had fallen out of favor.
What I find particularly sad about this is that the dinosaurs running the LA Times (and other print media outlets) could have learned a lot by paying attention to what happened to companies like Kodak and Xerox when the Age of All Things Digital started to ascend. I was project managing at Kodak at the start of the new media revolution, and sat through endless, frustrating meetings with folks we in the Internet Marketing division lovingly referred to as "old Kodak" folks -- people who refused to accept that yes, your average person would -- much faster than they thought -- embrace the idea of digital cameras and being able to pick-and-choose which pics to get prints of, rather than paying to develop a whole roll of film.
It seems all so obvious now, but back in the day, you couldn't convince them it would ever happen. They thought they could rely on their old branding forever, in spite of I don't know how many millions of dollars flushed down the toilet on marketing studies and test groups that told them otherwise; they didn't get it, and their current stock price is, accordingly, in the toilet.
What's all this have to do with film and film sites? The same thing that happened at Kodak in the late '90s is happening now (and has been happening for a while) with regard to print media versus online, and, as Lobdell so eloquently illustrates, the dinosaurs are still running things, especially at behemoths like the LA Times. They don't get that you cannot simply take something designed for print and translate that in its entirety to a web model; the Internet's a unique entity, and sites -- and their content -- have to be constructed for their audience and the nature of the internet. Offering an "online edition" that's essentially just slapping your print content into a virtual space doesn't cut it, and print outlets need to be much savvier about their web sites and blogs to compete with the leaner, meaner sites that were designed for online from the outset.
One of the smartest points Lobdell makes is that you can't run a web outlet on the print model of layers and layers of managers and editors as the print industry's gotten used to. In the real world of the Internet, you don't need 89,000 editors managing every single thing; you multipurpose your editors, you streamline your content flow, and you hire a few smart, experienced journalists who can research and write and get your content out fast. You also design your webspace to drive the flow of traffic intelligently, simultaneously making it easy for your readers to find what they're looking for, while guiding them to information they may not have come looking for, but might also be interested in.
Print outlets are losing money because they vastly underestimated the impact of new media. Bloggers have gotten more intelligent, and as money has flowed into online outlets, they're increasingly able to afford to pay better writers (even those with real journalism degrees!), and they're able to break stories faster and keep feeding the flow of information at a faster rate. Those print outlets that are savvy about playing catch-up may well survive and even thrive, building on their existing brand and the respectability banner of "real journalism" while merging seamlessly into the "new media" lane on the information highway; those that insist upon clinging to their brand as their one-and-only selling point to boost their credibility above the pack will become increasingly less relevant until they finally go away entirely.
And of course, this is not new news, but it is news that the old guard of print media seem not to want to hear, or perhaps willfully ignores, as they make decisions about the managing of their companies and the design and allocation of resources to their websites and blogs. Lobdell outlines quite astutely some things that would probably help the LA Times stay competitive, if they were smart enough to listen to him. Given that he finally quit in frustration rather than continue to beat his head against a corporate brick wall, I rather think they won't.
Unfortunately, by the time someone in charge does get around to waking up and smelling the virtual coffee, it may well be too late for the big print media outlets to recover. They'll wake up one day to realize they've now been rendered completely obsolete, their best writers have absconded to sites run by smarter companies, and those damn pesky kids are kicking their asses in traffic and ad revenue. The question is: would that necessarily be a bad thing?