Dow Jones CEO: “Turn That Racket Down, Whippersnappers”

On Monday, the World Newspaper Congress kicked off its 62nd round in India. Among the notable speakers from the first two days was the Dow Jones & Co. CEO, Les Hinton, laying the law down about the need for an era of paid content in the digital reality of news.

The more I read into his soundbite worthy comments (come on, who doesn’t love, “Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts”), I start to notice the core of his solutions have little to do with adaptation.

“Like an over-eager middle-aged dad, desperate to look cool, we ended up dancing obediently to other people’s tunes. For a while. You can almost hear the music – an algorithm and blues soundtrack – accompanying the harbingers of the new economy with the new rules of the new age.”

In this moment, Hinton, along with many others, still are convinced that the solution is to realign information seeking models developed by the developed behaviors of Internet use. Whether it’s continuing the argument of failing to charge for content a decade ago (Paul Jansen, CEO, SPH search, Singapore Press Holdings: “[In 1996], thought we really shouldn’t be given this away for free…We just followed everybody else like a sheep in a herd and did not charge so now we have to make up for our mistakes.”) or the grander arguments about search, the root of the problem is still history to these executives.

I did a pretty big rant last week on the search audience and why its a supplemental gain beyond revenues. However, even Jansen is pointing out the solution more so than what he refers to as a challenge:

“The problem with search is it understanding our customers better than we do.”

There is a solution somewhere between a pay wall and abandoning search, I just know it. A lot of it is going to be teamwork and actual engagement with the audience you already own. If you build loyalists to local content, that’s what you can charge for – not the high-level wires, but the unique, community content. The argument shouldn’t be coming from the top; it should be from the bottom.

I’m not an economics guy, never have been, but there’s a trickle-up method to developing successful online models. Online pubs have (mostly) grown out of the ground, not as offshoots of hierarchical media. Those sites started somewhere, and a lot of where the big online players moved to is based from the support of inbound links and search engine discovery.

These executives (especially Hinton directly) are making the metaphor for me, so I’m just driving it through the ground. They are at this point where they are basically saying they don’t like our rock and roll music and word-of-mouth/worth-of-link credibility. The old school newspaperman is walking into the club and saying, “what about the good old days of Lawrence Welk and when you used to pay for the newspaper for the ads.”

For my closing argument, I’m going to go equally vintage here and respond with an Allan Sherman parody:

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