John Temple, the former editor, president and publisher of the now shuttered Rocky Mountain News, has been running a great blog about issues from the newspaper industry over the past few months. He consistently has been saying stuff that made me wonder why the Rocky Mountain News didn't seem to do the sorts of things he seemed to constantly talk about... and now he's explained why. He recently gave a talk at Google about lessons from the collapse of the Rocky Mountain News
in both text and video form. It's long, but well worth watching/reading:
You should take in the whole thing, rather than just reading my summary, but he basically goes over the last decade and a half or so of mistakes that the Rocky Mountain News made in terms of trying to figure out the online business. The key takeaways aren't that surprising if you're a regular reader around here. The company kept defining itself as a newspaper company, not a news organization (or, better yet, a community builder). Everything it did was based on how it would impact the paper edition. The focus was not on competing with web properties and services, but on the other major newspaper in town, the Denver Post. Things got so bad that when the Columbine Massacre happened, the newsroom refused to give any news to the web people, because they were afraid that the Denver Post would "steal" it.
It seems like pretty much everything was based on looking backwards, not forward. There was little effort to figure out how to better enable a community, or any recognition that the community of people who read the paper were the organizations true
The talk is amazingly honest, coming from someone who accepts a share of the blame for what happened, and should be required reading/viewing for anyone in the media business, new or old. The same game is playing out not just in newspapers, but in a number of other businesses as well. Like the Rocky Mountain News, those businesses are looking backwards and defining themselves on the wrong terms, while newer startups don't have such legacy issues to deal with.