Shouldn’t businesspeople, you know, know something about business?

drdenny questions the business savvy of newspaper industry execs, and if anything, is kinder than he needs to be. I posted a comment in his entry, but wanted to drag those remarks out to the top here.

Right. They don’t understand journalism. Audiences. Nada. But, as you suggest, they also don’t understand some basics of business. This is like what I saw as a consultant trying to help clients from 2001-2004. Times get tight and the mandate becomes Thou Shalt Not Spend a Feckin’ Dime.

In short, businesses turtled into cost-based decision-making. Not return-based. Which is ironic as hell, since they all wanted you to make a hellish ROI proposition. And when you’d do it, they’d take your ROI prop and then make a cost-based decision. They didn’t care that spending $100K was just about guaranteed to return a $M. “We don’t have $X in the budget.”

This is where newspapers are. And you know what? It ain’t gonna work now, either. All those turtles continued getting their asses kicked as the only remaining source of profitability became cost cutting. There’s a great Dilbert where the PHB convinces himself that if they fire all the employees, they will theoretically achieve infinite profits. But in the real world….

Newspapers are in a death spiral. Revenues are down, so they fire more people to balance the bottom line. Which not only doesn’t do anything to address the larger dynamics eating at their circulation, but it also erodes the organization’s ability to think their way to solutions. Half as many people being asked to do twice as much work guarantees no space at all for creative problem-solving and innovation, and they aren’t going to spend or take a chance on genuinely novel approaches from outside, either.

I could help them. I really could. I may not have all the answers, but I have some ideas I bet would make some rain. I know other folks who could help them, too. But if I decide to spend more time on charity work, it will be for people victimized by Katrina, not people victimized by their own stupidity and timidity.


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