Ken Doctor, a leading news industry analyst, is the author of “Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get” (St. Martin’s Press, Feb. 2). It’s a handbook for the digital news decade to come. Newsonomics.com, with its new daily 5Spot feature tracking the trends, is a new site that has launched with the book’s publication.
As news industry analyst for Outsell, a global research and advisory firm, and through his own Content Bridges company, he covers the transformation of the news media, as it moves from print and broadcast to digital, focusing on changing business models and the journalism created.
In his work as an analyst, consultant and speaker, he focuses on what’s being lost and what’s being gained and on how sustainable models of contemporary journalism can be built. He believes we are now entering the Digital News Decade.
A veteran of the digital news industry, he combines deep experience as an executive in news strategy, revenue models and journalism. His experience includes 21 years with Knight Ridder, as well as time spent in the worlds of magazines, alternative journalism and syndication.
I’ve seen the news business from at least six sides now – alternative press, monthly magazines, features, news, digital journalism and analyst – and each step along the path feels like an internship. Just as all technology is interim technology, all careers, today, seem more temporary than they used to.
Now I think I’m onto my sixth career. Analysts are simply journalists, I’ve come to learn, just paid by someone other than news publishers.
Literally, what I’m doing today as an analyst is built on that diverse set of journalistic experience.
I finished my longest career, with Knight Ridder, in 2005, having worked for Knight Ridder Digital for seven years, as vp/editorial, vp/strategy and vp/content services. That time exposed me to the early and ungainly workings of news on the Web.
Though my Knight Ridder experience of 21 years is fast slipping into history, I see how the hundreds of people within that company that I got to know well shaped who shaped my perspective on the business of news. Knight Ridder, for many years, was easily the silver standard in the industry, lacking the cachet of the Times and the Post, but speaking to a way of doing journalism right. Becoming a Knight Ridder editor meant something.
Among a few to note: Jim Batten, late KR CEO, who stayed late at work one evening long ago to convince me to stay with the company and promised career-making opportunities in the years ahead. Soon after, in 1986, Saint Paul Pioneer Press editor Deborah Howell met me at the Twin Cities airport. We immediately hit it off. I was able to acknowledge her in the Newsonomics book, and am further saddened that we lost her suddenly at the year’s beginning to an accident in New Zealand, just as that acknowledgment was being printed. The biggest Deborah: when you’re an editor with lots of responsibilities to your readers and staff, listen for the voice in the back of your head. If that voice is nagging you to double-check, or revisit, or re-think, don’t ignore it. A great journalism lesson, a great life lesson, well-used.
Her successor, Walker Lundy, promoted me to managing editor, in 1991. A Southern fish seemingly out of water in the true north of Minnesota, his homespun aphorisms often masked his deep insight. One time he said to me: “You know, Ken, I expect things to go wrong, and when they don’t, I’m pleasantly surprised. You expect things to go right, and when they don’t [too often in a newsroom] you’re disappointed.”
That comment didn’t make me check my eternal optimism at the door, but sometimes temper it with, shall we say, realism.
Much of that KR career was built on my formative years in Oregon, first as publisher and editor of the Eugene-based Willamette Valley Observer alternative weekly (1975-1982, RIP and available by microfilm in the Oregon State University library) see lots of parallels between those days and the emergence of the green sprouts of online journalism today.
Those early Eugene days were formative, too, because of my graduate journalism education at the University of Oregon. I gained pointers there that I still use as an analyst decades later. Lately, I’ve been fortunate to reconnect with the UO Journalism School, through Dean Tim Gleason, one of the nation’s pioneers in re-inventing journalism education in the digital age. As tough as things seem for the mid-career journalists of today, I’m enthused about the energy, skills and determination I see developing in the next generation of journalists.
On a personal level, I found myself in perpetual amazement of how digital media are changing – and largely improving – our lives. I lead a fairly digitally inflected life, from work, of course, to news, movies, restaurants and travel. The podcast is my multi-tasking best friend.
I find our travel adventures are further magnified by Internet assistance of all kinds.
My wife Kathy and I have been fortunate enough to begin visiting the wider world over the last two decades, from Turkey and the Czech Republic to India, Ukraine and Nepal. Our 12-seater flight to the top of the Himalayas reminded me of the human capacity for boredom – and need for adventure. As we flew parallel to The Top of the World, each of us, one at a time, was allowed to walk up front and see the sights from the front of the plane, standing just behind the pilot.
In a world, the view was breathtaking.
I said to the pilot, “Wow, that’s astounding.”
His response: “See it every day.”
That, in a nutshell, is the challenge of all web businesses find them confronted with today. No matter how much different, better and wondrous are digitally enhanced lives are today, compared to say, 1990, the expectations of digital consumers are apparently endless, and impatient. Meeting them is a near-impossibility, but I’m sure those who come closest will be the victors in what I call the Age of Darwinian Content.