Question: What is wrong with media today?
Tom Glocer: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with media today.
Maybe the thing that’s been wrong in general is that we’ve been so locked into definitions of what the medium is, and I’m thinking in particular of paper produced by wood pulp, that we forget to focus on what really matters, which is the quality content.
Everyone is quick to record the demise of some very well-known papers around the world, but where is the side bar that looks at what you guys are doing here in Big Think, some of the really interesting electronic services, the growth of blogs? It’s not all just the question of, there is this wonderful historically important newspaper content, which is going away, and everything else is amateur rubbish. I see the normal process of creative destruction going on, and a group of people in control of the commentariat lovingly holding on to wood pulp-based newsprint, and making the assumption that all journalism dies if that form of paper dies. I fundamentally don’t buy that connection.
Question: What will newspapers be like in 30 years?
Tom Glocer: I was at an off the record sgathering of a group of really clever people who get together once a month in DUMBO, in Brooklyn, to envision what given industries might be like 30 years out. It’s a group called Y Plus 30, run by a friend of mine named Sam Lesson. I was asked to come and talk about financial information markets, and we talked about that. Then of course the conversation turned to media newspapers, as it tends to, and it is an interesting subject.
So I was asked, what would newspapers be like in 30 years? To be provocative I began to ask the question, Well why does the “New York Times” need 600 or 1000 journalists? If you were starting today would you build such a really vertically integrated operation? Or could you imagine a new definition of a quality newspaper where you said, “Okay. I really want to read the Times about what’s going on in New York. I want to read the Times about Israel. I want to read the Times on international. I certainly want to read Tom Freeman. But do I really need to get my sports coverage form the Times? Do I need to get my business coverage from the Times?”
And if you start down that road, you quickly might ask, well, I’ll probably be pretty happy with Sports Illustrated or ESPN providing the sports coverage and Thomson Reuters or Dow Jones supplying the business coverage. Why do we have to think of a newspaper as a brand of content covering every element? No other business works that way, right?
When I fly on American Airlines they say on the menu, “We proudly feature Starbucks coffee.” That’s actually a good thing because American Airlines’ coffee is lousy, Starbucks is a bit better, and so I’m even happier about that. If they told me that Starbucks baristas were doing engine maintenance or flying the plane, I wouldn’t be happy.
So I think, it’s a question of just exactly the same thing which all of us in business have had to do for years, which is understand what our core competences are, understand where we add value and where we don’t. Thomson Reuters used to build our own hardware, our own operating systems, we used to operate our own private communications networks. I mean, you technically can do lots of things. The question is, do you really need to and what would you need to retain to really be true to the character and full potential of what your brand is about?
And so, with that as context and, granted that it’s not a little sound bite, I asked the question, what if you took the 30 very best journalists at the “New York Times,” and I recognize that you probably need a farm club system, so you can’t just take all the people that are grown up now. How do you develop talent? So, throw in another 30 or throw in another 60, however many you want. Couldn’t you grow something truly fantastic? Of course you wouldn’t have paper distribution, why would you ever bother 30 years out. So I could easily imagine a “New York Times” with 100 employees, just as if you were starting out in a film, the photo business, you could invent Flicker instead of inventing Eastman Kodak with 10,000 people in Rochester, New York. But of course because it involves a newspaper and an icon like the “Times” it sends titillating shockwaves across the commentariat--but it really shouldn’t.
Recorded on: May 29 2009.