On polar bears

Designer extraordinaire Roger Black has designed, helped design or influenced the design of many of the newspapers, magazines and Web sites we use daily. In a blog post yesterday, he has some chilling words for newspaper managers:

Newspapers will not pull out of this mortal glidepath until they get a lot more interesting. This is something that Rupert (Murdoch) has understood, presumably from birth. His attitude has always been to damn the institutions and give people what they like. This is what worked for Hearst and Pulitizer, and for Paley and Sarnoff. But today the traditional media polar bears (in newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, music, movies and books) seldom blame the product for their shrinking habitat.

Many bemoan the media baron Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of The Wall Street Journal; not Black: “Murdoch is its best hope. And, if anyone can turn around the news business, he can.”
(It is also interesting to read the “about” stuff on Black’s Web site. He explains, among other things, how he transformed his own business into a more nimble, flexible and lower-cost organization. He might have a few lessons for his clients there.)
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  1. Instead of giving people what they like, the media ought to think about giving them more of what they need.
    Maybe the challenge is to educate people so they understand why they need it, and make it interesting enough that they will pay attention.
    It takes more skill to make a Congressional debate about CAFE standards interesting than it does the latest Paris Hilton scandal.
    I think the media’s brain muscles have atrophied from feeding weak content to consumers, who are growing increasingly weak minded from being fed weak content, and so on.

  2. The problem I always seem to run into with newspaper people is that they’ve forgotten the word “and.”
    If you can attract an audience with page two girls, some tabloid crime coverage and all the other things the journalism priesthood hates, then maybe you can afford to do the watchdog journalism we all love.

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