Change may contrast with principles

Change may contrast with principles
By Ken Waddell
How much change can a person absorb?
That has to be a burning question in the hearts and minds of media owners large and small.
I have 40 years media experience, the past 20 being a full-time co-owner (with my wife) and publisher of two community weekly newspapers in rural Manitoba.
We’ve seen a lot of changes.
Back in the earlier segment of my 40 year association with publishing, we were typesetting by way of a headliner machine and I can’t even remember the name of the little machine that justified the text into usable, waxable strips of paper to be placed on a proof page. That was in the days of working on the University of Manitoba paper, The Manitoban. We published twice a week, 12,000 copies if I remember correctly. We had our own printing press, did our own typesetting, photography, the whole works.
In 1989, we started The Neepawa a Banner newspaper. It has grown to the point where we circulate 11,500 copies every week. Our smaller paper, The Rivers Banner has a circulation of 1800 or so. We started with the dawn of desktop publishing. Bought our first computer, a Mac Plus. It had an eight inch screen and I think it had a meg of ram and a 20 meg hard drove. My camera card exceeds that by a long way. We were one of the first community papers to adopt digital photography, full page pagination and to have a web presence. And yes, we gave it away for years but now we sell a few subscriptions.
There’s been a lot of changes in 40 years. But not so many as have come along in the last century or so of newspapers. A recent lecture by Maclean’s magazine editor-in Chief Kenneth White shows that newspapers in the 1800s used to get all their dollars from readership that is to say from paper sales and subscriptions. That has changed. Now advertising drives the industry. And that’s not without problems as the advertisers are dictating or try to dictate the editorial view of a paper. White contends that newspaper editors have become pretty timid compared to the old timers. I would have to agree. There’s not too much hard hitting about today’s editorials. That job has been taken over by the late night talk shows. If an editor said the things that Jay Leno or David Letterman have said, they would be strung up by their two typing fingers.
Editorial comment is coming now from the talk show hosts and they have been joined by thousands in the blogger world. There’s a problem though. On a blog you can any thing you want and who’s going to sue you. It’s pretty difficult to sue an anonymous blogger or an even more anonymous comment poster. It’s time to realize some basics of the old time newspapers and that is that if you are going to speak up you had better be prepared to back up what you have to say. Anonymous blogs tend to be gutless wonders. Kudos to people like Curtis Brown of the blog titled Endless Spin who puts his name and opinions out for all to see. He posts his picture, an occasional video and in Manitoba, at least, we all know who Curtis is and what he stands for. The fact that he’s way too liberal is beside the point, we love him anyway, and so we should.
All this discussion shows is that there has been a lot of changes. There’s more coming. The beauty of the media business is that it isn’t that hard at this point to get into the business.
You can start a media company just about anywhere especially if it’s largely computer and internet based. That’s the direction the media business is going. From virtual offices to You Tube to blogs to facebook, the media is open wide for all to partake.
The big question is how do you make a living at it. Or how do you sustain a corporation in the media business. Therein lies the lesson for everyone in the industry and especially for the big boys in the industry. A corporation might have whole stable of assets but if they don’t provide good content and they don’t make money, they will soon be gone. That’s something that hasn’t changed and never will. If you give people what they want and what they need in package that they understand, you will always find room for success. Some media types, both large and small have forgotten that principle.
Change is inevitable. Good changes should be embraced. Principles never change, we just keep coming back to revisit them. We should stay a while and get to know them better. Principles are good friends. Changes can be a tad fickle. We need to know the difference.

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