Dan Gillmor

A Decade Since Andy Grove's Warning to Newspaper Industry

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.