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Newspapers’ big challenge: Learning to compete

The day was August 7, 1981. The Washington Post newsroom was jubilant. The Washington Star, only years earlier the city’s leading newspaper, abruptly ceased publishing that day. The Post had whipped it, toe to toe, first crippling it and then killing it under the leadership of brilliant Watergate editor Ben Bradlee.

The Post in just a few years had become a newspaper of legend. It was a legendary victory.
newsbug newspapers
They can and should survive going head-to head with their digital rivals

But not everyone at the Post was jubilant. Cooler minds saw trouble ahead. They were right.

Once the scrappy underdog, daring to challenge the order of things, daring to shock, the Post in an instant had become a 900 pound gorilla, the sole voice in Washington.

The dread among those cooler minds was that the 900-pound gorilla, with no one to scrap with, would doze off, go to sleep, in effect become like so many other papers in one-newspaper towns across America.

They knew this about newspapers: They are meant to compete. It’s in their DNA. Competition is vital to any industry, but it’s absolutely vital in media, and most so for newspapers.

Its absence leads to sloth, a disconnection with communities and, worse, arrogance, most especially arrogance.

In many ways the decline of competition–what those cooler minds worried about–laid the groundwork for the problems newspapers face today.

Back in 1981 newspapers were making tons of money, with profit margins running as high as 40 percent, But they had stopped innovating. They had become in effect unregulated public utilities.

It was now all about driving profits, and that often meant abandoning marginal, smaller advertisers for the big spenders. News operations were regarded as a necessary expense, the reader an afterthought.

That created a perfect environment for the digital players when the internet came along the following decade.

Attribution: Editors, medialifemagazine.com

Full Story: Digital Rivals

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