Jim Romenesko got an email from an ex-USA Today newspaper executive who was up in arms about comments made by the current editor-in-chief of the paper, David Callaway, who said that he could see the paper stop publishing daily in “five or six years.” This former ad-sales manager, Jim Gath, wrote a long rant on Facebook — which Romenesko also published on his blog. I’ve read a lot of pro-print and anti-digital invective from newspaper executives over the years, but this one takes the cake.
In a nutshell, Gath says the biggest problem with print newspapers isn’t a secular or systemic decline in print advertising because of the internet and competing platforms like Facebook. It’s the lack of executives with “guts,” he says. Oh, and also too many corporations that are run by “bean counters.” The fact that print media may be on the down-swing business-wise is nothing but an excuse, he says:
“That’s the excuse of losers. The excuse of hand-wringers who have no idea what to do. The excuse of the unimaginative. The excuse of those who don’t have the thrill of challenges & of competition coursing through their bloodstreams. The excuse of people who buy into the notion that ‘it just can’t be done’. The excuse of big corporations run by bean-counters.”
Gath goes on at length about the guts and determination of the early USA Today staff, from the “delivery people who drove through the morning darkness” to the people who slept “4 to a room for 3 hours a night just to get the paper out.” If it wasn’t about a newspaper, it would sound an awful lot like the big speech made in every cheesy war movie. I kept waiting for him to repeat the line from Animal House: “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? No!”
USA Today founder Al Neuharth got the “bean counters” in a room and “read them the riot act.” But the great franchise is dying, Gath says — because no one has any guts any more. There’s “No imagination. No competitive spirit. No drive.” Nothing about the way that advertising has changed with digital, nothing about competitive pressure from online platforms, nothing about the loss of a print-based monopoly or the evolution of information distribution. Just no one with guts, and too many bean-counters.
If I hadn’t seen it on Romenesko, I would have thought it was a post on Clickhole, the parody site run by The Onion. Unfortunately, it’s not a parody. At least we can rest easy knowing that Jim Gath doesn’t run a real newspaper any more.