What Can You Be­lieve?

What is the fu­ture of the printed word? It de­pends on who you ask.

Newspapers & Technology Magazine - - Industry Insight - Kevin Slimp The News Guru

Idon’t know about you, but my life s e ems t o get busier wit h each pass­ing day. I just fin­ished pub­lish­ing my sec­ond book in a month, be­gan work on a ma­jor project to help raise funds for a press as­so­ci­a­tion, con­ducted more we­bi­nars than I can re­mem­ber over the past few weeks, and sum­mer con­ven­tion sea­son kicks in to­mor­row in Winnipeg, even though sum­mer is still a few weeks away.

My email is filled with mes­sages each day from pub­lish­ers and other news­pa­per col­leagues who want ad­vice about some­thing go­ing on at their papers. The ques­tions come from the tini­est papers with just one or two folks, in­clud­ing the pub­lisher, on staff, to folks run­ning large re­gional and na­tional groups.

If you think it sounds a lit­tle over­whelm­ing, you’re right. I re­cently read a bi­og­ra­phy of Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton and learned, not sur­pris­ingly, he of­ten felt as if he was in over his head. I know the feel­ing, Ge­orge. I’m sure many of us share the same emo­tion.

Like a lot of peo­ple in our busi­ness, I some­times want to throw my hands in the air and ask, “Am I re­ally mak­ing any dif­fer­ence at all?”

Then some­one like Joey Young, comes along. You’ve prob­a­bly heard of Joey, the “whiz kid” from Kansas who keeps cre­at­ing suc­cess­ful com­mu­nity news­pa­pers in de­fi­ance of the cho­ruses of “You can’t do that.” Joey has a habit of re­mind­ing me how well things are go­ing out in Kansas

Then there are the pub­lish­ers, edi­tors and ad man­agers lin­ing up at con­ven­tions to tell me how well their papers are do­ing, while ev­ery­one seems to be telling them they should be dy­ing.

I re­mem­ber hear­ing from the CEO of Adobe Soft­ware sev­eral years ago. He wrote to thank me for the work I had done to make Acro­bat a vi­able prod­uct. He told me, “What you did may have saved our com­pany.”

I was look­ing for an email yes­ter­day and was sur­prised to find a five year- old mes­sage from a busi­ness leader in New Or­leans who was ex­cited about a plan I had created, at his group’s re­quest, to lure a new daily news­pa­per to the city after their long-stand­ing daily news­pa­per moved to a dig­i­tal-first for­mat, aban­don­ing their tra­di­tional daily model.

I felt a rush of adren­a­line as I read the words he wrote five years ago, “I love it!”

Those of you who know me well know that one of my de­grees is in the­ol­ogy, and I love keep­ing up with what var­i­ous groups be­lieve. I of­ten say I have a lit­tle Quaker in me, even though I’m not Quaker, be­cause I love the Quaker be­lief that a sin­gle in­di­vid­ual, even when stand­ing alone against great op­po­si­tion, has a sig­nif­i­cant chance of be­ing right.

When I was be­ing told no one would ever print a news­pa­per ad or page from a PDF fi le, by the very peo­ple I thought would be most ex­cited about the pos­si­bil­ity, those voices didn’t sway me. That’s one of the things the head of Adobe thanked me for all those years ago.

When I read, as we all do, that news­pa­pers are dy­ing, it doesn’t slow me down, be­cause I know the truth.

Two months ago, a friend told me he at­tended a civic club meet­ing and the guest speaker was the daily news­pa­per edi­tor from his town. My friend told me he was shocked when the edi­tor told the group that newspa- pers were near death and they would be bet­ter off to find al­ter­na­tive sources, pri­mar­ily on­line news sites, to get their in­for­ma­tion.

My friend was sur­prised that I wasn’t sur­prised. It’s enough to get a guy down, but not me. At least not for long.

I just think about Roger Holmes and those papers in Western Canada and his work to move them back into lo­cal hands. And I think about Vic­tor Parkins in Ten­nessee, who I just got off the phone with, and his papers. He told me they are do­ing re­ally well, in­creas­ingly bet­ter each year.

I think about some of the big­gest names in the busi­ness who con­tact me to let me know they read my col­umns and agree with my thoughts that lo­cal man­age­ment of news­pa­pers is the only way to keep them suc­cess­ful.

Last night, I was on the phone with leg­endary news­pa­per con­sul­tant Ed Hen­ninger. We talk al­most ev­ery day. The con­ver­sa­tion moved to­ward the topic of news­pa­pers, as it al­ways does, and our con­cern for groups that con­tin­u­ally press the “news­pa­per is dy­ing” mes­sage.

Then Ed told me about one of the na­tional news­pa­per groups he works with as a con­sul­tant. He said, “You know what the dif­fer­ence is with them, and why I like work­ing with their group?” Ob­vi­ously I asked.

“The dif­fer­ence is, they leave the man­age­ment of their papers in the hands of the pub­lish­ers and staffs, and they have good news­pa­pers be­cause they do.”

I know I’m preach­ing to the choir, but some­times the choir needs to be re­minded they sound good.

The printed word isn’t dy­ing. You can find the books I pub­lish in book­stores and all the usual on­line re­tail­ers. The printed ver­sions out­sell the dig­i­tal ver­sions by a long-shot. Most of the stud­ies I find show a 4 per­cent drop in dig­i­tal book sales over the past year.

Why have some of our brethren fallen for the “print is dead” line? Well, that’s an­other col­umn for an­other day. My 800 words were used up 90 words ago.

Kevin keeps this story from 1995 on his o ce wall to re­mind him of a time when “ev­ery­one” said no news­pa­per would ever print a page from a PDF le.

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