Newspapers like the Philadelphia Inquirer need an attitude

It’s the attitudes that got them into this mess – newspaper executives thinking the party would never stop, but newspapers need to combine an appreciation and interest in learning the future with the confidence of being the most powerful news sources in the world.

Too many just seem to be running scared.

Of course,we know why many newspapers seem to be running scared. …Their staffs are scared.

The Rocky Mountain News is in so much trouble that they’re begging for help. The Dallas Morning News, the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The New Orleans Times Picayune, The San Francisco Chronicle and the Seattle Times. They have all gotten national headlines, not for great coverage but for fiscal struggles. Yesterday the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s parent company filed for bankruptcy.

The New York Times – which was somehow anointed as the online newspaper of record because bloggers won’t shut up about it – has gotten plenty of bad press, too, but, they’re also looked on as an innovator. Part of that comes from just what I mentioned, looking toward the future but continuing their attitude.

An established journalist and mentor-of-sorts of mine shared a story. He was talking to a buddy of his who was an executive with NYTimes.com. The executive mentioned a concept in which he was interested. My mentor asked him why didn’t he push to try it with on his company’s famed news site.

“We don’t practice on NYTimes.com,” the executive said.

That sounds bloody pretentious, doesn’t it? Of course it does. As much as I roll my eyes at this country’s collective crush on New York (more because it’s the home of media than any actual difference) and its related idolatry of the New York Times, that is the attitude any paper worth its weight ought to have. We don’t practice with our product.

Have some side projects, but that masthead of yours better not be on it. That attitude, though, has to, has to, has to be combined with an incessant pursuit for where the future will be, innovation, my friends.

NYTimes.com has a couple hundred programmers. Does the Philadelphia Inquirer have any? Philly.com, a separate company that boasts it has a nearer feel to a Web start-up than a newspaper, has a handful, but, well, is that the adamant pursuit of the future? Are they practicing?

While Philly.com may be successful compared to the Inqy, I still feel icky about Downtheshore videos being so near to the Inqy masthead. That feels like practicing. That feels like the Inqy doesn’t have that attitude that, Hey, 350,000 people read our Sunday edition, we’re the 15th most circulated newspaper in the country and the third oldest. We have a crap load of Pulitzers. We’re the most important and historic and meaningful news source in the fourth largest media market in the most powerful nation in the world.

A few weeks ago, the cover of the Inqy business section ran an Associated Press photo from New York. It was a picture of “For Sale” signs for a story on declining retail sales. Someone couldn’t take that photograph in Philadelphia? Sure there are cutbacks, but the Inquirer doesn’t have a file photo of something like that? It frightens me that the Philadelphia Inquirer seems to have long given in. They don’t have that attitude right now. They seem to give in. New York is a better city. Kneel and kiss the mofo ring of the Times and the AP.

It’s that Philly mentality of defeatism creeping in – and a particularly distasteful, dirty feeling when New York gets involved. But this is news. If the Inqy doesn’t really collectively think it does things that no one else on the planet can, well, then, I think we’ve already lost.

Photo from Green Apple.

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  • http://www.colinmlenton.com/blog Colin Lenton

    Excellent point, though I think the NyTimes does their fair share of practicing also. The videos most “paper” sites put up are embarassing, amateurish features that look as if they’re put together on less than a shoe string budget. Not to mention, they’re normally not on a subject anyone cares about.

    Engagement/Wedding videos on NYTimes front website? WTF?

    That said, you talk about brand a ton. Philly.com lost the brands of the Inq and the Daily News. Videos like downtheshore don’t mesh with the Inq brand, and don’t deserve a spot on their site anywhere near it.

  • http://www.christopherwink.com Christopher Wink

    But even I can admit their practicing seems different and is looked upon differently. Even TimeSelect, they aren’t laughed at in the same way and I have to think that’s because of a, well, a pretentious attitude that works for them.