The phrase that keeps cropping up in all the stories has got to be one that sends a frigid icicle up the skirts of just about every major media CEO out there – Wall Street didn’t believe that they had a viable strategy to deal with New Media. Which, of couse, they didn’t. I’m not sure that anyone does. The very nature of the web makes it so that any long-term strategy you devise will either be hopelessly outdated by the time you can get it implemented through all the layers of Big U.S. Topheavy Corporate Blatherskite Control Freak Kulture. And that – only being outdated – is pretty much a neutral result. Worse yet, what seems to be a safe, good bet (the only ones that Big Corporate will ever, EVER make) can, by the time you get to market, be totally wrong. Bad wrong. Sad wrong. So wrong that it puts the stink on your company and drives your stock price to its knees.
So it appears that Knight-Ridder, despite relocating its corporate HQ to Silicon Valley, never managed to figure out what it was supposed to do about New Media. Wall Street said it had to do something. But what?
The Sacramento Bee (I’m not sure if this was triumphant chest-pounding, a nyah-nyah, or a sad head-wagger) wrote a nice round-up piece on the acquisition/merger/swap meet sales
* It failed to convince investors it had a long-term strategy for growth at a time of increasing competition from television, the Internet and other sources.
"It’s survival by continuous amputation," said Ken Marlin of Marlin & Associates, a New York investment banking firm that specializes in media deals. "Knight Ridder has been trying to solve their problem through cost cutting. You can’t get there through cost cutting. You have to get there through revenue enhancing."
Ah, of course. Mollify the investors by cutting the newsroom. Yeah! Thatâ€™ll do. When the product is under attack, make the product shittier! Genius!
If thereâ€™s a good visual metaphor for what is happening to Big Media these days, it lies in those old History/Biology films we were shown back in the 70s – where stop-motion dinosaurs wandered into the tar pits, thrashing around, sinking slowly into the tar, their ferocious growls being replaced by plaintive, mournful honkings.
Ridder became a pariah in the journalism world. Some prominent journalists and executives resigned in protest, including San Jose Publisher Jay Harris. In July 2001, an obscure, laid-off reporter in Akron sent Ridder a memo calling him a "witless dolt." The memo was leaked to the national media.
OK, that was a little mean-spirited. But, as my old bureau chief once asked, "Have you ever known a bunch as quick to stick the knife in, as a bunch of journalists?"
Iâ€™ve been told, anecdotally, that McClatchy may have been famously penurious. But theyâ€™ve never had mass forced layoffs the way K-R has done the last couple of years. The way ABC, NBC, CBS have done to their newsroom staffs.
Maybe the fact that McClatchyâ€™s stock is mostly shielded from the demands of the money-grubbers, might be a good thing. Maybe there will actually be a long-term view of what should be good for these newspapers, some of which are among the most fabled titles in the U.S.
But I canâ€™t help recalling the stories I heard from a friend of mine, who was sentenced to a weekend in his darkroom (back in the days when the photogs toiled in stinking darkrooms) wherein he had to count every stinkinâ€™ piece of lens tissue in the darkroom as part of a paper-wide inventory. Counting the beans in the cafeteria chili would have made more sense.
Still, the sale at least validates once again the mythic power of having to deal with "New Media" …