The interview marking U.S. 1’s 22nd anniversary, begun in the November 8 edition, continues this week. Our bright and eager young reporter is trying to get a sense of the state of the publication from its founding editor, Richard K. Rein.
Bright & Eager Reporter: Before we ran out of time and space last week, we were talking about management and you were saying that management was not really your strong suit.
Richard K. Rein: Correct.
B & E: And you suggested that the thoughts you do have on the subject pretty much come from the so-called Survival Guide section of your own newspaper. Wouldn’t you do better taking some management courses at Rider, or hiring someone who has?
RKR: We’ll never know because neither one is likely to happen. But I don’t think anyone would do badly practicing what gets preached in the Survival Guide section of this paper. It’s not what I would have imagined 22 years ago, but I do find these stories interesting. As I said before, there were four articles in a row in last week’s issue that spoke to major issues facing us in our industry.
The first one was about a career coach who counsels that people need to bring passion into their careers. People planning a career or hunting for the next job need to identify their true motivations, beyond sheer materialism, and try to find a path that will enable that motivation to flourish.
B & E: Surely you aren’t considering a new job, at least not at your age.
RKR: Watch it, kid, with the age business. And I am already excited about what I do for a living. But I am talking about the people we hire and the people we want to retain. We need people who are passionate about this business and we need to help them exercise that passion.
The second story that grabbed me in last week’s issue was about the advent of easy-does-it remote computing. With some free or nearly free software you can sit at home in your underwear and log into the computer at work. No neckties, no rush hour traffic.
B & E: I could go for that right now. I’ve got a great PC at home.
RKR: Sure you do, kid, and so does everyone else. The problem is finding the people who will report to work every day to do the hard stuff that keeps the operation moving. As I have written before, you could probably have an orchestra today with all the musicians performing remotely via teleconferencing. But the music might not have the same precision and energy that comes from everyone in the same room.
Our business is the same way. We need a small cadre helping to bring together all the disparate pieces that make up a newspaper. And face-to-face is still important. My guess is that money, while not the motivator, will be the equalizer. People who don’t want to come to the office will become freelancers, getting paid for what they actually do, whether they’re in their underwear or a tuxedo. People in the office will get the benefits, the steady paycheck, etc., in exchange for the daily grind and conforming to some sort of dress code.
B & E: I don’t mind coming to work every day. So that’s two points.
RKR: The third story was about World Usability Day on November 14, and the effort to keep things simple in the face of unparalleled technological complexity. I think this issue is huge for us in the Information Age. Right now virtually everything you read in this paper, including this column, can also be read on the Internet. Our role may soon relate to that information repository the way TV Guide magazine relates to television.
Our long-term selling point could be, yes, the information is there, but, no, you don’t have to put on hip boots to get to it, because we will bring it to you, once a week in a highly portable and familiar form. In other words, layout and editorial consistency — the things accomplished in the office by people working face-to-face to round out the rough edges — will become more important than ever.
My friends at the Daily Princetonian recently changed from a tabloid size (our size) to broadsheet (the size of the New York Times). I thought the idea was dumb, but within a few weeks I had to admit I was wrong. Bigger was better for the ‘Prince’ and more “usable” for its readers. Meanwhile, some of the broadsheet papers, including the New York Times, are cutting their sizes in response to budgetary pressures. Maybe that’s the wrong way to go.
We are not likely to change our format soon. In the meantime our claim to fame might also be that we are one of the few newspapers, one of the few communications companies, that still has real people answering the phones. Maybe I’ll be proved incorrect, but my guess is that this quaint little feature will become highly valued once again.
B & E: And the fourth story?
RKR: The fourth was about ethics in journalism, which have been turned topsy by bloggers, celebrity journalism, and bottom line considerations of conglomerate owners. But I’m not going to bore you with the details, because the phone is ringing, and someone has to answer it — with some sense that they care about what they are doing.