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What Newspapers Can Learn from Video Games

Pong_1Just about a year ago, CEO Martin Nisenholtz of New York Times Digital talked about the "Pong of Journalism":

"Pong was one of those magical moments in computing when an entirely new way of creating was popularized. It was  the spark that lead to a multi-billion dollar industry that today earns more revenues than filmed entertainment. It happened because the elements of technology came together in a way that enabled the creative community – in this case computer programmers (there were no videogame specialists in those days) to make an experience that was just good enough to engage millions of people."

The point of Nisenholtz's vision of value was to provide skittish investors with the basis for understanding why newspapers might actually be on the verge of a financial renaissance. Investors need good news - all they can see is the costs of newsprint continue to go up, Craigslist continues to create havoc with classifieds, ShopLocal is no CareerBuilder, and what to do with all of those damn blogs!!

On the anniversary of his presentation to the SIIA, I'd like to bring up a different videogame metaphor.

I think young people get the Internet because we've internalized videogames as part of our rites of passage. We understand that when Pac-Man eats a power pill he becomes - for a little while, at least - a more fearsome competitor, faster, and strong enough to (temporarily) banish his enemies. We knew that the power pill wouldn't let us become a Galaga-style spaceship or a Donkey Kong-style plumber - no, the little yellow guy was stuck with being who he was.

But take it from me - it's not that bad being a little yellow guy  ;)

Newspapers don't have to become something different in order to realize Nisenholtz's dream of profitability. They don't have to become uber-blogger conglomerates or a worldwide provider of classifieds. However, I think it does mean that they need to take a look at their newsroom and what it might mean in this vague new world...and remember that their integrity, however cheap it may seem today in the face of bloggers that can seemingly make up "facts" with impunity, is an asset not to be trifled with.

It's been 10 years since Hearst took a long, hard look at their innards to find out what it took to create new products. It's time to revisit that, with fresh eyes.

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