Avoiding the Tunnel

picture-7

Sir Isaac Newton was a noted genius among geniuses. Most of his lifework is seen culminating in the Law of Gravity and the development of Calculus. This, however, was not his life quest. History tells us that Newton was more concerned with proving that lead could be turned into gold (it can’t) and that the Christian understanding of the Trinity was a falsehood. Stories of Newton describe a neurotic man that would often not get out of bed for hours and sometimes forget to eat as he tossed his thoughts around in his head. The story says that calculus was developed as a result of his frustration with mathematics and a will to “force” the universe to bend to his own thinking.

One wonders if his genius wasn’t a little by accident.

Most of the time Newton spent on his studies, however, was not devoted to “real” science, by any stretch. In fact, all of his experiments and related scientific and mathematical discoveries were a result of his goal regarding lead and the Trinity. In summary, Sir Isaac Newton suffered from tunnel vision.

Tunnel vision tends to plague most people in one way or another. Entrepreneurs focus all their energies on creating businesses that resist the statistical odds and succeed. They devote hours of their days (and nights) and often find relationships in the “real world” strained, and end up sacrificing other very important aspects of their lives.

Cause-oriented people tend to make the cause their life passion and goal. I see this a lot here in DC, a city consumed with the political process and pre-loaded with non-profits dedicated to ending human rights violations, feminism, technology policy, gay rights, or war. Inevitably, the conversation ends up surrounding the cause.

In fact, addictive personality runs the risk of causing tunnel vision in any area of life. Certainly, very few of us border on the level of meshuggeneh that Sir Isaac Newton displayed, yet we all run the risk of getting out of balance if we’re not careful.

Several years ago, while working at b5media, I found myself incredibly burnt out and on edge. I was working 16 hour days, not because I had to but because I wanted to (tho, at times I had to as well). I was surviving on 4 hours of sleep every night and if I was pulled away from my work to do something else, I became incredibly irritable. Eventually, I recognized my problem and limited myself, when possible, to a normal schedule of 9-5 or similar. I couldn’t always do this, and I often worked weekends anyway, but I recognized the need for some kind of balance in my life. Eventually, I would take up photography as a hobby and put more time into that.

Last night, I spent time with folks from Tribune Interactive and the Baltimore Sun. The night before, I watched the Super Bowl with folks from Gannett. The night before that, I chatted with a few political operatives over a beer.

At the end of the day, stepping outside of comfort zones and participating in things that are untypical keeps people well rounded. It makes them more worldly and understanding of people not like themselves. In a society clamoring for inclusion and diversity, being positioned to understand, even if not agree with, other people is an important trait to have.

Do you spend time outside of your circles or on hobbies and activities?

Read More

Roadmap to Victory at Washington Post

Early last month, after the Tribune Company announced that it would enter bankruptcy protection, the conversation surrounding the demise of newspapers and the newspaper industry heated back up. Of course, we suggested that there should be an opportunity for new media to emerge in the newsrooms.

Today, the news comes from the New York Times that Phillip Bennett, the number two man at the Washington Post is stepping down joining the former WashingtonPost.com executive editor, Jim Brady, who also resigned recently.

thewashingtonpostThe Washington Post was one of the early newspapers who tinkered with social media tools in their online offering by utilizing a widget to display links to blogs that wrote about their stories. However, since then, they have not innovated all that much. Sure, they have blogs, but what major newspapers doesn’t? And really, does a blog matter if it isn’t compelling?

If I were on the inside of the Washington Post, I’d offer the following roadmap to a viable business entity.

  1. Combine resources of online and print media. No story should be exclusive to one or the other.
  2. Recognize that the business future does not lie in print and print subscriptions, but in online. Change business model to reflect a more traditional online content network. This is a wide swing from a subscription paper model.
  3. Develop content sharing partnerships with other newspapers. Washington Post has already done this with the Baltimore Sun. Suggest the The Times of London, Sydney Morning Herald or the San Francisco Chronicle to round out other-coastly or international perspective. Not sure how this would be mutually beneficial, but each publication will have its own interests that would need to be examined.
  4. Replace the Op-Ed section with blogs but use syndicated content from external blogs. Eliminate home grown blogs altogether.
  5. Develop online video channel on YouTube and bring into the online WaPo offering.
  6. In a related sense, develop a rich media network of content including podcasts – maybe primarily podcasts, due to the lack of exclusive attention required.
  7. Hire internally, or bring someone in from outside, to help the online business adapt to the new and changing landscape involving the internet and social media. The Toronto Globe & Mail did this with Mat Ingram.

I’d like to throw out one self-serving offer, since I know that there are increasingly a number of newspapers who are watching, reading or otherwise paying attention to our content here – I’m happy to discuss opportunities where I can step in and help. Sometimes that outside set of eyes is what is needed. Drop me a line at aaron@technosailor.com or call me at (410) 608-6620.

Read More

Tribune Company Bankruptcy Highlights New Media Opportunity

About an hour ago, the privately held Tribune Company filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection. The Tribune Company is the owner of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun, as well as a minority owner of the Chicago Cubs (not included in the bankruptcy filing).

The conversation I’ve heard around this news has been interesting. For as much grief as some of these main-stream press have caused some community members, mostly in politics or local governments where the Tribune papers are, the feeling is that metropolitan areas served by these papers currently cannot function without a hard format newspaper.

The cities with the biggest three Tribune papers all have alternative daily circulars. Kind of. Los Angeles could lose the LA Times and still have the Los Angeles Daily News. Chicago could theoretically lose the Chicago Tribune and still have the Chicago Sun-Times. Baltimore would be stretched thinnest losing the Baltimore Sun and leaving the Examiner (though proximity to Washington, D.C could position the Washington Post or the investigative journalistic Washington Times to fill the void).

What strikes me is the difference between long-standing community members (those who have been born and raised in an area, and have been shaped by the daily circular) and the generational transience of those who simply don’t care, and move from locale to locale throughout life.

I’ve personally lived in the Baltimore area for most of my life, and have no loyalty or affinity to the Baltimore Sun. But those who have lived here all their life (and maybe from another generation) have been directly impacted by the Sun and can’t cope with life without it.

In my life, I can’t answer the famous Palin question/non-answer “What newspapers do you read?” because I don’t. If there is a loyalty to a paper, it is the New York Times. Why? Because they adjusted to a world not based on the physical paper. They are no longer “the grey lady” and now represent something so much more, and have extended their base outside of the previously known and understood paradigm. (Of course, that won’t necessarily keep them out of trouble either, but I digress.)

It will not sadden me to see the Tribune company go. It is obvious to me that newspapers, like the Tampa Tribune, who don’t adjust to the 21st Century need to fail. That does not mean that the age of hard print should die. On the contrary, it is possible for news organizations to rise up around an open culture of information sharing and digital cultural change, and provide an offline (paper) offering as well. It’s not just a possible change. It’s a required one.

Also to be clear, Chapter 11 is reorganization… not apocalypse. The Tribune Company will likely spin off some of these assets to, hopefully, better digitally savvy stewards. It is possible for these papers to reinvigorate and jump into the 21st century as well. If not, they will be replaced by lighter, more nimble and astute media organizations that are digitally competent.

I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

Read More