My interest in media dates back to my tour of duty with the United States Air Force in Korea in 1952-1953. At that time I volunteered with the Armed Forces Radio Network, and the K-9 Air Base weekly newspaper. From 1953 to 1956 I studied Media Sales as a student at the University of Illinois, and my first job was selling television advertising for a television station representative firm in Chicago in the fall of 1956 for $100.00 per week.
Initially I was a Sales Trainee, and departed the company some 29 years later as Chairman of the Board with almost weekly travel across the United States. That experience led to management positions with television stations in Miami, Mississippi, Alabama, Arizona, Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana.
I retired in 1998 following a series of General Manager assignments at four television stations. During those forty plus years, I was lucky to have experienced what is now called the “Golden Age of Television,” and witnessed the advent of FM radio, color television, and the explosion of cable television with the delivery of television signals via both land lines and satellite.
During those years the influence of television and radio networks changed dramatically from dominance to survival mode, and during those years of scientific innovation the newspaper side of the business went through a similar evolution. The media business before cable television was idyllic with little or no competition.
With that in mind, I have been observing the slow erosion of my local newspaper, and I am saddened to see a once dominant beacon of print journalism slide slowly from a once proud broad sheet to a ghost of its former self. Newspapers have been particularly hard hit by the shifting habits of their core audience, and significant new competitive forces such as the internet, and electronic gadgets like cell phones, iphones and various music devices.
In my local community the newspaper has a USP (unique selling proposition), because there is only one newspaper in our town, but they own and operate several AM/FM radio stations, and three television stations: a CBS network affiliate, a 24/7 weather channel, and a fully independent TV station. In addition all of their properties have websites. With all that dominance compared to their market competition, the newspaper still struggles, and has recently cut the size of the paper.
Overtime the paper has cut staff, some cartoons, and several features, and the paper gets thinner each month. Some days I think there are more obituary notices than news stories. One thing I have noticed is an increase in little details falling through the cracks, and this is to be expected when fewer people are doing the jobs that were once done by many more helping hands.
Just this week I drew the attention of the Managing Editor to their website’s Question of the Day, which was still asking: “Would Notre Dame beat Stanford,” five days after the game was played. I also noted that only 575 people answered the question over a period of one week. That is extremely poor participation to the question, and it is not surprising because it’s out of date, and the question was not promoted by all the paper’s partners.
Where is the BRANDING across all their platforms within the community? Would the “QOD” not be of interest on their television stations each day, on all their radio stations, and on their websites? To permit the same question to linger on the website five days after the game was played is sloppy attention to detail, which put the newspaper’s website accuracy into question.
If anybody in the newspaper business should survive, this is one should given the support partners within the same community, but the individual managers of the various business interests have to get on the same page and work together to jointly promote all their entities. It is natural to have newspaper people not want to work with television people, and radio managers do not want to be subservient to all the others, but if they all want to prosper and grow they should bury the hatchets and work together as one team. It is time for this organization to ADAPT OR PERISH, and they can do it by effective BRANDING.
NBC, who I worked with extensively over the years, has been extremely successful in BRANDING all their various businesses to include their parent company General Electric. I feel they do it to excess, but it has worked for them and pulled them through some very lean ratings seasons lately. Just think about last week's "Education Nation" series that crossed all station platforms.
In the months and years ahead we will see more and more newspapers fade from existence. Television will be changing, too. As we continue to upgrade our homes with Hi-Def TVs, 3D video is beginning to make its mark (just how successful that will be remains to be seen). I predict the next big change we see is that one of the major networks will drop their affiliates, and then distribute its programs solely to cable. The amount of money it will save will be substantial.
I am fortunate to have been retired for the past twelve years, but I was most privileged to have been there in the “good old days.” Media will continue to evolve, but it is yet to be determined whether it will be for the better or not.
Who would have believed even ten years ago that the Chicago Tribune would go into bankruptcy nearly two years ago?
With the increases in the competitive landscape today all companies must become more nimble and scratch for every possible dollar. Retirement looks better and better every single time I study the business arena in today’s competitive landscape. I just hope our retirement money lasts as long as my wife and I need it to.