Journalism in Romania: A Diogenean Essay (Part 6)

Journalism in Romania: A Diogenean Essay (Part 5)
July 10, 2013
How Not To Interview The President
August 1, 2013
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A Simple Conclusion

Feel free to dismiss all of this. After all, I’m from the US. What do I know? Things are different here. That’s what some people tell me.

Perhaps they’re right.  But judging from the reaction that I’ve received in private regarding this long essay, while witnessing so little public comment or debate, I can’t help but be dismayed by the sad state of the industry here. Nodding in a smug, self-satisfied way does not absolve a person from responsibility. Knowing while not acting is not an accomplishment to be proud of. Isn’t that precisely what journalists rightly criticize others for doing? Isn’t the argument of ideas, after all, at the very heart of good newspapering?

But perhaps people think there’s nothing they can do. Perhaps they falsely believe themselves too sophisticatedly jaded to try. Perhaps they’re completely beaten. It won’t do any good. The industry is dying no matter what they do.

There are certainly plenty of excuses. People don’t read newspapers. People do read newspapers – but only online. There are too many newspapers. People read magazines. People don’t read magazines. There are too many magazines. Distribution is broken. Distribution is too expensive. There are not enough distributors. Romanians don’t have money. Romanians prefer foreign (more expensive) publications. Yes, you have lots of excuses. There are always excuses. There will always be excuses.

As for writing more columns, I’m not sure what I will do. I was told at Capital they could try to ensure that no more product placements would be inserted into my columns. I appreciate that. I’m not sure if Dilema Veche will do the same as I never heard back after several requests. So for now, I’ll stop writing, for as corny as it sounds, my opinions and beliefs are not for sale – even if they’re sold after I’m done with them.

Now, I know I’m in a different situation than some others. I’m not obliged to write under contract. I don’t make my living from these papers so I have a freedom others don’t.  And I don’t want to suggest that everyone in this business here is lazy. They’re not. I’ve met many reporters, and even advertising and marketing people, who understand how to do their jobs.

What I have not seen (or even heard referenced by those in the industry) are strong senior managers who are able to (or allowed to) think themselves out of their shrinking box, a box they created, a box they themselves helped shrink.

If their publication is failing, it is probably because it’s either not needed or it is pursuing the wrong business model. In either case, it deserves to die. Hundreds of publications elsewhere have died. The world survives and people keep reading – they merely read something they prefer.

The reality is that more failures here might even do some good. It would free up some presses. Clean out the market. Open up some opportunities for others (probably foreigners) to come in and start something. Because the population is here and the demand is still here, indeed ready to expand if potential readers can be shown (and reminded) why they used to buy newspapers.

But to succeed, the basics must be followed and the principles of journalism must be remembered. So one more time, let me repeat these for the owners and top managers here.

You can do many things as the head of a publication to make money for your company. But all of them will be temporary – and eventually fail – if you do not first care for the most fundamental reason your company exists and then adhere to the principles necessary for success:

  1. Information is your asset. The more honest and interesting – the more compelling – you can make it, the more it is worth. (If it reads like a phone book, it’s not worth much.) Yes, your asset appears to be “product” when it’s presented to the public, but don’t be confused, that’s not where your profit comes from.
  2. Your integrity is what gives your asset its quality. Like anything else, people are always willing to pay for something of quality. This asset is what advertisers either do, or do not, want to become part of.
  3. Your distribution is your product. Whether you distribute by mail, at kiosks, through deliveries, on the internet, for free, or for a price, it doesn’t matter in attracting advertisers generally. They only care that enough people want to receive and read your information. This product – the ability to place your asset in the hands of consumers – is precisely what you are selling to advertisers.
  4. The level of your integrity, which either builds or destroys trust, directly affects your customers’ impression of your advertisers.
  5. The quality of your advertisers directly affects your customers’ impressions of you.
  6. Together, you and your advertisers, will either create a publication (your asset) that spirals upward in success or erode the value of your asset as you spiral downward to failure. The direction you go is entirely dependent on your management as it (and not the advertisers) is ultimately responsible.
  7. And finally (here’s just a little business principle in general to keep in mind): if you are not making enough money to pay your employees, grow up and accept the fact that fundamentally, it’s not their fault. You’re in charge. And you need them. They’re not the first ones to punish.

Now, if you don’t understand all this – or you are unable or unwilling to do it – then I simply ask: what are you doing there? You should quit. Really. You’re in the wrong profession. You must not be happy and I guarantee you’re not making anyone else happy. And you’re destroying the business – so you won’t even have a job for very long.

The fact is if you know what you’re doing – if you know why you’re in business – if you exist for the readers – and if you’re very good at what you do, then you can win. It’s not easy. But in fact, you can even make money. I don’t see that here now, but it’s possible.

Conversely (and I hope you remember this) if you exist for the advertisers, no matter how much they pay you, no matter how much they promise, eventually you will lose. Maybe someday, you’ll produce all their catalogs. But you can be certain of one thing: you’ll no longer have readers.

And finally, in the end, if you decide to sell your sister (whether it’s before or after she’s done with her boyfriend), you might think you are winning, but it won’t take very long to see everyone has lost.


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