The newspaper industry is at the “peak of creative destruction,” according to Penny Abernathy, Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University North Carolina and former executive at the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
Speaking at the New York State Press Association convention seminar on Saturday, Abernathy borrowed the phrase from Joseph Alois Schumpter, an early 20th century, Czech-born economist and political scientist. His theory – which described the process of transformation whereby established companies succumb to the pressure of new technology – applies today to print media, she said. Industry leaders may take one of two approaches: The first is to retreat with “Chicken Little” pessimism that “the sky is falling”. Another is to “embrace change” and experiment freely. She said the best tact is “to walk down the middle” of the two courses of action so not squander resources or act too slowly.
Innovation and progress isn’t enough to save newspapers from changing consumer media consumption habits. Companies must shed legacy costs; the industry’s distribution and printing systems are outmoded, she said.
Professor Abernathy outlined a five-step strategy process as the “path of renewal” which involved defining our companies; defining our customers; determining whether we are in a cycle or cyclone; performing a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis; and setting a long-term strategic plan. The only part of her discussion that didn’t ring true was telling participants – mostly publishers and editors – to set three- and five-year plans. That seemed to contradict a statement earlier in the talk about how disruptive innovation has quickly evolved from being a once-a-century phenomena for the print industry, to something that now happens every 18 months. Pretty hard to aim so far in the distance when the target is moving that quickly.
For a copy of the presentation, click here. (Please note that at the time of this posting, the title slide on presentation had two numbers transposed; date should be 2015 and not 2105.)
For more on the NYPA convention, click here.