The Innovators Dilemma

Something I said yesterday that isn’t really about Dave Weigel that I do want to stand behind is that I think the odds are quite good that The Washington Post won’t exist in anything remotely resembling its current form in 20 or 30 years. It’s possible that some local news outlet buy the trademark, but realistically a digital world only needs so many general purpose English language news sources and there are many better-positioned brands and firms out there. The BBC, the New York Times, the Associated Press, and Reuters as is News Corporation’s family of brands. Beyond that, AOL-Time Warner’s family brands has considerable strength, so does the rapidly growing NPR.

That’s seven, which is a lot fewer than the quantity we have now, but by any objective measure it’s a lot. Figure that everyone is going to consume a fair amount of locally oriented media along with specialty media focused on areas of particular interest. How many general-purpose English language news brands is any given person going to want to follow on a typical day. One or maybe two I would think.

Beyond those seven I named of course you might see other survivors. But it’s going to be tough out there. Really tough. And in some ways it’s especially tough for an organization like The Washington Post. As you can read here, a large number of Post staffers loathe and despise both Weigel and Ezra Klein, the paper’s two signature efforts to obtain relevance in a digital age. In part that’s small-minded of them, but in large part it’s inevitable. Naturally the ethos cultivated at mid-sized urban daily is different from the ethos of the new media. That makes it hard to dip your toes into the new waters. But that in turn makes it extremely difficult to compete with smaller, nimbler organizations that can more easily succeed at opportunistically snagging talented people and not worrying so much about how it fits into the larger scheme of things.