Thursday, January 5, 2012

All the News That Fits, We Print

Admittedly, I'm a little late to the party: It wasn't until last night that I watched "Page One," the video documentary about life at the New York Times.
Or watched some of it. Most of it.

As far as I could tell, the point of the documentary was that the internet had destabilized the old-fashioned newspaper business.

This I already knew.

Today I went back to my speech file and dug out a talk I gave about 8 years ago--maybe more like 10--at the Stanford Publishing course. I was never asked back, so perhaps they had the same reaction to my talk that I had to the documentary.

But for what it's worth, here is the outline of that speech.

We've got through an old economy; an old new economy (of dotcoms); and now we're into the new new economy.

The old model told publishers to cut costs, that bigger was better, that history equaled staying power in the marketplace, that it takes time for brands to develop, that tangible assets are the way to keep score, and that there's really only 1 right way to be in business.

The new new model flips everything; turns all the old rules upside down: growth beats cost cutting, fast beats slow, agility beats history, instant karma beats old brands, intangible assets beat tangible assets, and doing things your way beats anybody's notion of 1 right way.

So there's the new game with the new rules:

1. Talent and ideas are the only scarce commodities. Readers are looking for what happens at the intersection of talent and ideas: energy!

2. Speed wins. The first one to the future wins the competition.

3. The customer is in charge. It's no use chiding them for wanting what they want; if you don't respect your customers, they'll simply go someplace else.

4. Need to know beats nice to know. When it comes to journalism, "interesting" isn't a compliment.

5. Don't sell a product; build a community. Every successful magazine (publication, Web site) creates a community that already exists but doesn't know it.

6. Great editors are great listeners, not great geniuses. Forget the image of the brilliant editor sitting in the corner office deciding what pearl of wisdom the readers deserve to get this issue. The goal is create a dialog with the reader, not subject the reader to a monologue. A magazine isn't a message in a bottle; it's a conversation.

7. Iterate, iterate, iterate. It's never done. That's the good news and the hard work. You get to start each issue, each edition, from scratch. You don't get to re-print your last issue and get that cover story just a little bit better. You get to try again!

8. Do you know what your brand promises? And do you keep that promise? Particularly in publishing, a brand has to stand for something. Stand for it, and then deliver it.

9. Content may be king, but context beats content. "The job of the leader is to make meaning," says John Seeley Brown. That's the same job of every publication.

10. In a time of enormous change, trust your instincts; decide now, analyze later. Change hurts, indecision kills.

Got it?
Start the presses!

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb