In two weeks it’ll be 10 years since Andy Grove’s on-stage conversation at an annual meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, in which he warned the industry of its impending financial meltdown. He wasn’t the first to warn, and hardly the last. But the degree to which he was ignored remains instructive, and sad.

Anyway, here’s what he said (excerpted from the transcript):

You’re where Intel was three years before the roof fell in on us. You’re heading toward a strategic inflection point, and three years from now, maybe, it’s going to be obvious. Things like newsprint giving you a little bit of a lift, a little bit of a hand, are going to run their course. You’re going to be in a profit squeeze, and it’s going to be a very, very difficult time, more difficult to adjust later. All of this sets up what to do. You have to ask what your microprocessor is in the Intel analogy. What is it that you can do for me as a reader that the Web pages or online coverage can’t do? I indicated what my preference is. I’m looking for depth. I’m looking for interpretation, and please don’t give me length instead of depth. A lot of magazine coverage does that. They think they’re deep when they give you a six-page article, and they’re just long.

From a publisher’s standpoint, there’s going to be huge push and pull. This requires more money at a time when margins are going to be under attack. Interpretation requires time and requires research and requires feet on the street, people on the phones calling, studying, going to the library, probably at a time when you’re financially being pulled in the other direction. And my history of the technology industry is you cannot save yourself out of a strategic inflection point. You can save yourself deeper into the morass that you’re heading to, but you can only invest your way out of it, and I really wonder how many people who are in charge of the business processes of journalism understand that.

Two notes:

1. ASNE asked Google CEO Eric Schmidt to keynote this year’s meeting.

2. I don’t know if he accepted, but the meeting was canceled.

4 thoughts on “A Decade Since Andy Grove’s Warning to Newspaper Industry

  1. Short and to the point. “don’t give me length instead of depth” – I want to repeat it to the one who are replacing the newspapers, and to my local TV stations. Treat people as if they have a few brain cells.

  2. I’ve only been considering this important problem peripherally, so please excuseany naivety in my comments. Noentheless, this might be a useful starting point for me to write them down. Being a physicist/computationalist by
    training, Grove’s microprocessor analog (which I didn’t know about) caught
    my attention.

    I believe the differentiator may be even more straightforward than Grove
    stated 10 yrs ago. It’s not what the newspaper (print medium) can offer in
    contrast to the web (online media) but rather, it’s what *real journalism*
    offers in contrast to the typically superficial commentary (both
    professional and amateur) that is the current hallmark of the web.

    In my view, the analog of the microprocessor is straightforward:
    *investigative journalism*, and it matters not whether the results of that
    form of journalism are presented in print or the web; in fact, I’d probably
    prefer the immediacy of the latter.

    I would claim investigative journalism is the most critical need today. I
    cite your own piece: “The Media’s Role In The Financial Crisis,”
    [tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com, January 23, 2009] in support of this claim.

    In terms of journalistic transitions, didn’t we see a successful transition
    into the new medium of TV investigative journalism, right through the
    Vietnam war? TV plausibly improved some aspects of investigative
    journalism, viz., moving images.

    Part of the problem is that that level of journalism has degenerated
    primarily because TV broadcasting and newspaper ownership has been allowed
    to condense into the hands of just a few vested corporate interests. I
    suspect this is also where your “Mega-Merger Thought Experiment,”
    [boingboing.net, MARCH 19, 2009] breaks down too. Information wants to be
    free, and to some extent the web gets around this limitation.

    Unfortunately, the question of “Paying for News,” [boingboing.net, MARCH
    19, 2009] remains unaddressed even after identifying Groves
    “microprocessor” for news. The only thing I can point to there is
    “HuffPost’s Investigative Fund” announcement yesterday
    [www.huffingtonpost.com, March 29, 2009]. Perhaps this is one of your “thousand experiments” in progress.

    This is a complex issue and many pieces will need to fall into place.

  3. Well, what would Andy Grove have suggested? Were there ideas here aside from “come up with something?”
    Doomsday predictions that end up being spot on are sometimes mere coincidences.
    Hollywood at one point was lousy with people seeking microphones to forecast the end of the movie theater when VCRs came out. So?
    I appreciate the shout-out from the last century but at this point it is starting to feel like piling on. Those of us in the newsroom were pretty much doing what we were paid to do. The fact that complacency and double-digit margins caught publishers and corporate “vice presidents of news” asleep at the switch doesn’t help me today. If the now-departing retail and classified ads were somehow returned to newspapers tomorrow, I have no doubt the world we now see imploding would simply be reconstituted. Secure establishments don’t upend the business if they can avoid it, even when warned.
    What concerns me more is – now what?

  4. Despite all the hand-wringing about poor journalism, entertainment
    presented as news, and political bias in reporting, I’ve always thought the
    reason for the ongoing demise of the printed newspaper is pretty simple.

    As I understand it, the biggest piece of newspapers’ revenue by far was
    the classified ad business. With the aid of the Internet, one man with a
    plain, text-only web site just about single-handedly sucked hundreds of
    millions of dollars away from them. Craigslist, and to a lesser extent
    eBay, along with all other similar sites, are the biggest cause of the newspapers’ financial troubles today.

    Starting in the mid-90s, newspaper pundits — including you, Mr. Gillmor —
    wrote column after breathless column about how the Internet was going
    to change everything. It would appear that newspaper executives and
    owners don’t read their own product, or pay no attention to it if they do.

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