Responding to a ticked-off newspaper editor

By Steve Outing

Over the many years I’ve been writing my column for Editor & Publisher Online, I’ve managed to make a few enemies, it seems. As with any columnist, there are those that disagree with my opinions, and that’s to be expected. I also have pissed off a few newspaper editors. From their perspective, I suppose that I’ve promoted some ideas that they consider to be dangerous to the newspaper industry. From my point of view, some editors with traditional media mindsets get threatened when presented with ideas that they perceive as damaging the traditional business model of newspapers, even though they may be ideas that must be implemented if the newspaper industry is to survive the transition to digital.

Today I received the July 2008 edition of Editor & Publisher’s monthly print edition, and it included this letter:

Outing Mr. Outing

“Steve Outing bit the hand that feeds him a couple months ago when he wrote a column bragging that he’s so hip he’s cancelling his local newspaper subscription. Now he’s gnawing on that same hand (‘Stop The Presses,’ E&P Online, May 28).

“‘Recently I learned about a large tornado that was forming not far from where I live through an e-mail news alert from my local newspaper,’ he wrote Presumably, this is the same newspaper he cancelled his subscription to. In other words, he happily allowed those who didn’t cancel their subscriptions, and the paper’s advertisers, to subsidize a service that warned him of impending danger to him and his family.

“But he wasn’t writing to thank them. In fact, he complained that they should have called him on the telephone, and then went on endlessly about ways in which newspapers might better serve people like him, who contribute exactly zero to those papers’ revenue streams.

“Why Editor & Publisher continues to publish his work is beyond me.”

Mike Hudson
Editor, Niagara Falls Reporter

I am imagining Hudson reading my columns (though I’m not sure why he subjects himself to my thoughts) with clenched teeth, and not really absorbing what I wrote. When I stopped taking and paying for the print edition of my local paper, I noted that such actions will soon become mainstream. And I suggested that publishers should be thinking about how to serve non-print-edition news consumers, because just because you’ve lost a print customer doesn’t mean you’ve lost them; they’re merely switching formats from old (paper) to new (online and mobile). I further suggested that offering digital news services that offer convenience may be something that can carry a price tag.

Hudson chose to make his criticism personal, and suggested that I couldn’t afford the paper so that must be why I quit taking it. What BS. Newspaper readers are dropping print in growing numbers because there’s an alternative that works better for them. It’s not for everyone yet, but we’ll see growing numbers of people switching to digital news consumption in the upcoming years.

Editors like Hudson seem to have tunnel vision on this issue, believing that giving up on newspaper print editions is kicking the newspaper industry in the shins. What, news consumers are supposed to stick with a medium that is inferior to digital news formats just to shore up a dying business model? Dream on.

I don’t pretend to know the Niagara Falls market. Perhaps it’s a community that can sustain a healthy print newspaper for a while longer. Hudson must think so, since his paper has only a crude website. My community (Boulder, Colorado) is not like that; it has a highly educated and tech-savvy populace, and a thriving Internet industry. Its residents will need a good digital alternative.

I’m hoping that the editors of Boulder’s paper will not be as traditional-thinking as Hudson appears to be.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!