It's a good time to start a newspaper -- just not where you might think.
Now that my little prediction from a year ago that newspapers are dying -- the one that caused so much scandal then -- is received wisdom now, let me again take a contrary position:
One of the largest newspaper opportunities of modern times is about to open up, and smart employers ought to be snapping up newly-retired or laid-off reporters and editors as quickly as possible.
Two recent events got me thinking about this. One was the announcement by Robert Scoble that he would be leaving Microsoft to join the Silicon Valley company PodTech.net. That this says something about the growing influence of podcasting (just look at the explosion in new podcasts emerging from the Blogosphere) is a topic for another time. What matters now with this announcement is that Scoble, arguably the single most famous and influential corporate blogger, has decided to hang up his keyboard.
Scoble was a software marketing guy back in 2000 when he picked up early on the emerging blogging phenomenon and asked CEO Steve Ballmer if he might produce an online column for Microsoft. In the years since, Scoble has done a superb job of putting a human face on the Evil Empire, humanizing Bill Gates & Co. like never before. He did so with a careful balance of both flacking for and pointing out the errors of his employer.
Scoble also was refreshingly open and honest about himself in a way that, until his blog appeared, seemed antithetical to the Seattle. He talked about his personal life, his frustrations and victories, even his salary with impressive candor. And thus, his blog was a continuous reminder that Microsoft was not really an impersonal machine composed of true believers intent on ruling the business world, but rather just another organization of fallible human beings -- ambitious, lazy, arrogant, petty, and all the other human weaknesses -- who, at least for a while, had screwed up less than most.
How much was Scoble worth to Microsoft? Speaking as an old corporate PR guy myself, I'd say millions. You can't buy that kind of good publicity.
Unfortunately, Microsoft paid him a lot less than that, which apparently was why he was drawn away to Silicon Valley and the prospect of becoming a millionaire on stock options. I also suspect it was more than that: even when the executives of big corporations appreciate that a little teasing is useful for employee morale, (that's why King's kept around jesters) they don't like it, and they'll be damned if they much reward it. Robert Scoble was allowed to tweak MS from the inside, but he was never going to be honored for it by the people who signed his paychecks.
As he told C/Net: "Understand your company's culture before you start mouthing off. When you start breaking the rules, you better know you are breaking the rules."
The second event that provoked my thinking was a series of e-mails. I mentioned a few weeks ago that a reunion of San Jose Mercury-News reporters and editors was being organized in recognition of the sale, and presumed end, of the old Merc.