Tuesday, April 9, 2013

WHO LISTENS TO PROPHETS WHEN YOU'RE STILL MAKING PROFITS

In early 1976, Barry Bingham Jr., publisher of The Courier-Journal and The Louisville Times, in Louisville, Ky., called the staffs of the two newspapers together for a chat. First, he informed us that the company was going computerized by buying a whoppingly expensive Atex computer system which would precluded any sort of pay scale increases because "equipment amortizes itself over five years and people don't." Needless to say, that pretty much ticked off everyone in the room.

However, before we got a chance to get too steamed, he began talking about something that left us all with dumbfounded, blank stares.

Within 10 years, he told us, we would be producing electronic newspapers that would be some how or other magically transmitted electronically to our readers. Frankly, we all thought that he had lost his mind, especially since he could provide only sketchy concepts on how this might come about.

Our skepticism and lack of comprehension did not, however, deter Bingham, who started delivering the same message to his fellow publishers around the country. Their reaction to his message was pretty much that same as ours, but they added outright ridicule to their skepticism and lack of comprehension.

Absolutely no one seemed to grasp Bingham's message and, frankly, no one really wanted to. After all, why should they? Print newspaper circulation was growing everywhere as were advertising lineage and ad revenues. Newspapers were building new buildings, buying new presses, hiring more staff and chewing up newsprint at a rate that left many in fear that forests in Canada and the U.S. Northwest would be denuded before the mid-21st Century to feed the hungry paper mills. Those were the days when editors used to complain that they had so much space to fill that they had to edit their papers with shovels.

I don't think that in 1976 the word "Internet" had even been invented and once it was, the newspaper industry -- which had always been quick to write about new developments of all sorts -- failed for decades to really grasp its impact, importance or potential.

Our scoffing ignorance of what Barry Bingham Jr. was trying to foretell, as we all know now, has come back to haunt the industry. Had we listened and tried to comprehend what he was talking about 37 years ago, we might not be in the state we are today.  Had we investigated and acted rather than being content to be fat, happy and stupid, we might literally own the Internet today, instead of being involved in chasing our tails trying to play a possibly futile game of catch up.

Oh well, its seems that no one wants to listen to prophets while they are happy with their profits.

                                                          -30-