Newspapers heading the way of Circuit City and other dinosaurs

In March 2007, Circuit City came up with a plan to confront softening sales and competition from online and offline retailers: fire the most talented, experienced employees.

Of course, those workers were the retail chain’s single most important point of difference from the legion of Internet retailers and general merchandisers, but in a single stroke, Philip Schoonover, the chief executive of Circuit City, wiped out that future.

For Circuit City, not so great. The “wage management initiative” erased morale, both for employees and the folks who shopped there. Sales sank after the one-time gain from the layoffs. And last week, the company sought bankruptcy protection.

So are newspapers reacting to their downturn as Circuit City did?

Having missed the implications of the Web and allowed both their content and their audience to be scraped away by aggregators and ad networks, newspapers are now working furiously to maintain audience, build new ad models and renovate presentation. But they won’t stay relevant to readers with generic content ginned up by newbies with no background in the communities they serve…

Newspapers confront tall, menacing seas in the coming year, but it is a sure bet that the ones that dump the ablest hands on deck will be among the first to sink below the waves.

I had a pretty warm spot in my heart for my local newspaper. Locally-owned. Well, the same family owned it through a couple of generations, bone-headed and otherwise; but, they kept it going and growing.

Then, they managed to latch onto someone with real Web savvy when newspapers were getting online – and he built the newspaper’s presence to prominence in-state and one of note and notice throughout the world of cyber-journalism. A much bigger world than New Mexico.

A month or so back, they let him go. Whining about diminished profit and sales in the print side of their operation, they divested themselves of the geek who built their online edition into a prize-winner.

Lots of folks have stopped paying attention to the online edition, now. Maybe not enough to cause a panic in the boardroom. But, those of us who care enough about communications and news and where this is all going – won’t even mention their name online anymore.

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