No, not news about lean, but lean applied to the news business and specifically newspaper publishing. Today’s Wall Street Journal has a couple letters to the editor regarding an editorial last week titled "How to Sink a Newspaper." I won’t bother to link to the editorial itself isn’t really relevant to the topic of this post.
The letters provided a complementary perspective on the future of print news. As the first pointed out,
Most newspapers, including your fine daily, correctly predicted that the internet would change the industry, and likely for the better.
It goes on to discuss the various models the print news media have employed to try to integrate online and print. Some make online news free, some charge, some create revenue through advertising, some (like the WSJ) through separate online subscriptions. With almost the singular exception of the Journal’s successful model that is due to its unique demographic, most models have at worst outright failed or at best are turning off readers when facing them with registration forms.
The second letter then unknowingly asks about value from the perspective of the customer… the reader… although the writer is looking at it from a green standpoint.
Most newspapers editorialize in favor of reducing carbon dioxide releases to the atmosphere. Their position is inconsistent with printing large Sunday editions that cover a wide spectrum of interests but are read only selectively, sometimes not at all, by their subscribers.
But it’s not quite that simple. A newspaper servers multiple customers. Obviously the reader is one customer, but the advertiser is another. A difficult balancing act to get the most advertising in front of the eyeballs of the most readers from the optimum demographic without upsetting that same reader.
I am an admitted news junkie, and traditionally I have been one of those people who enjoys reading just about the entire Sunday paper while sipping a cup of joe. Unfortunately it doesn’t happen too often anymore, and admittedly I now get most of my news online. A custom Google home page comes up whenever I start my browser, showing me the top international, domestic, local, business, and manufacturing news, as well as new posts from the roughly 100 blogs I monitor.
From a lean perspective the second letter writer implies what I need… news tailored for my needs. Difficult to achieve in a print model, but easy online. But since I am now used to already receiving my news online for free, how does a publisher make money? What extra value am I willing to actually pay for? I can’t think of anything.
So perhaps the news media needs to focus on online advertising. I don’t mind a few ads here and there, especially if they are inobtrusive like on the CNN website. I can’t recall having ever clicked on one, but someone must otherwise advertisers wouldn’t be paying for the ads. Unfortunately the ad revenue probably does not cover the expensive news gathering costs. Which means news gathering needs to be streamlined. The first letter writer opines with just one opportunity.
American newspapers spend $7 billion per year on operations like sports travel expenses. At the risk of giving free, common-sense advice to a man clearly in need of it, is there really any need to send sports writers across the country when every game is available on television everywhere in the country?
As the first letter concludes,
Publishers are good at writing editorials, but, apparently, are poor at running businesses.
That’s perhaps a little unfair as it is a complex business in the middle of an upheaval. Does anyone know of a newspaper using lean manufacturing methods to deliver exactly what each customer wants, and nothing more?