Sometimes, in the destruction of one industry lies the seeds of another one.
But it is not easy to see.
In 1852, the discovery of domestic sources of oil spelled the death knell of the whaling business. In New Bedford, the Dubai of the 19th Century, the foundation of their entire economy was headed for the graveyard. The ‘captains’ of the oil business were unemployed, their markets destroyed, their ships, representing massive investment, sat idle.
It was the end. Or seemingly.
One of those Captains, a man named Hathaway, saw something else.
He used the ships that used to chase whales to the furthest reaches of the Arctic and the Pacific instead to head south to Georgia and Mississippi, where they picked up…. cotton.
He rounded up investors in Massachusettes, and even though their businesses were terribly depressed, got enough capital to open a small mill to turn the cotton bolls into cloth.
He built the first of what would become a massive explosions of mills in New England, kicking off a whole new industry and a whole new economy. Whaling might be dead, but between the ships, the shipping expertise and the hard-working people of New England, an entire new industry would be built – textiles.
Hathaway soon partnered with another novice miller in Massachusettes named Berkshire and together they founded Berkshire-Hathaway, a textile firm that would flourish until the 1950s, when the arrival of Air Conditioning made it more economical to build and run mills in the south, where the cotton came from (but that is for another day).
The Berkshire Hathaway company was one of the first acquisitions made by Warren Buffett. Today, his entire empire lives under this name, and a single share of Berkshire-Hathaway, if you could even get one would cost you $101,000.00, as of this morning.
Now, what does this have to do with newspapers and video?
Like the whale captains of the 19th century, newspaper owners find themselves under attack from a new technology, in this case the web.
Their once great printing presses threaten to become museum pieces, much as the whaling ships that sit in Mystic Seaport in Connecticut.
But like the Hathaways, the newspapers have a very valuable asset that they now must reconfigure to work for them in a different way.
That asset is their people.
Newspaper newsrooms are filled with people with 15, 20, 30 or more years of experience doing one thing: learning about their communities. And this is a resource that people will pay for – just not on paper so much any more.
As the economy tightens, the natural inclination amongst newsrooms under financial pressure is to pare back their staffs.
In doing this, you are undercutting the one resource that you have that is unique and of value.
What you have to do, as Captain Hathaway learned a long time ago, is to reassign your most valuable asset to serve what the market is demanding.
It wants information.