Step 1: Admitting you have a problem

What is our problem?

A few classes ago, I raised a concern to G.K. that it essentially doesn’t matter what new strategies and concepts people are trying so long as we don’t know journalism’s real problem.

The marketing chair at SAU always said, “A problem well-defined is a problem half solved.”

I don’t think anybody has taken the time to define journalism’s problem(s) as an industry.  Instead, everyone is busy cooking pasta, throwing it on the wall, and seeing which noodles stick.

First, I would suggest that the industry of journalism should be split into two components: content creation and business.  Each is co-dependent on the other, but each needs slightly different solutions.

MU Graduate Chair Esther Thorson shared her latest research with our class last week, showing us data that indicated a positive, direct correlation between money spent on a newsroom and revenue.

Quality newspapers spend more money and return higher profits.  So content creation is critical, but perhaps more dependent on business than vice versa?  Perhaps.

As for the business side, two great editorials in FastCo. and Inc. recently will help us here.

FastCo. writers Dan and Chip Heath proposed that it is essential for products to be needed. Crash course: if a product’s perceived value is higher than its cost of ownership (not price, cost), a consumer will buy.

The editorial provided a vitamin-aspirin argument.  “Vitamins are nice; they’re healthy.  But aspirin cures your pain; it’s not a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.” Furthermore, the article pointed out that the world doesn’t need a better mousetrap, it needs “a dead mouse.”  That idea touches on the myopia rampant in the journalism industry.  We have to view ourselves as something more, bigger than a simple news provider.

Inc.’s Jason Fried wrote his monthly column on byproducts earlier this fall.  His idea dovetails with the FastCo. piece.  “Whenever you make something, you make something else.  Your byproducts may not be as obvious as sawdust, but they’re there.”  Fried’s byproduct was knowledge, so his company began offering seminars and paying rent off the profit they made from sharing a waste product of their IT business.

Let’s pull these balloons into one cluster now.  Journalism has been myopic to this point. We need to open our eyes to possibilities at our fingertips, especially the ones we’ve completely overlooked as byproducts of our business.  We also must focus on providing people with aspirin, content they want and need and where they need it, not simply feel-good vitamins.

None of these ideas are solutions, but I don’t care about solutions right now.  I really don’t care about solutions to problems we may not even have.  Before we can be in the problem-solving business, we are required to possess problems to solve. I’m not convinced the movers and shakers of journalism have done their due diligence on that concept.

Feel free to dream up solutions.  I’ll occupy myself searching for problems.

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