A Cautionary Tale for Old Media

In 1990, four years before the first web browser was released, the executive editor of the San Jose Mercury News wrote a remarkably prescient memo to his bosses at the newspaper chain Knight Ridder, reports a Nov. 5 Business Week story about the state of newspapers, A Cautionary Tale for Old Media. “Typing at night in his breakfast nook on an Apple II PC, he envisioned that a global information network would emerge, giving rise to all manner of online communities. And he proposed an online service, Mercury Center, aimed, his memo said, at “extending the life and preserving the franchise of the newspaper.”

“If Ingle’s proposal had been enthusiastically embraced by Knight Ridder’s 28 dailies, perhaps the fate of the chain might have been different. As it was, an epic shift of advertising over to the Web would cut the economic legs out from under the Mercury News and other Knight Ridder papers,” said Business Week. “…. The collapse of Silicon Valley’s daily newspaper is in many ways the story of American newspapers in the 21st century. The industry has reached a near-crisis point. Many dailies are losing circulation at an alarming rate, and local newspaper ad spending fell 3.1% last year, to $24.4 billion, while Internet advertising rose 17.3%, to $9.8 billion, according to Advertising Age.

“But the shivers rippling through the Mercury News also serve as a dramatic example of what happens when industry leaders get complacent in the face of fundamental shifts…..”  The whole piece is well worth a read.