Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sometimes, it makes more sense to start from scratch

"It may be better for a newspaper company to think about killing the paper and rebuilding itself online."

That's from Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Rosenstiel was speaking last week on a radio show about the future of the San Francisco Chronicle following reports that Hearst might shutter or sell the paper, given its heavy losses over the last few years.

He's right. Sometimes it does make more sense to kill a thing and start over, than to rejigger it from within. This sometimes happens in Silicon Valley. You build a product on a code base. And you add to that code base repeatedly over time. Eventually, the code base gets so byzantine and so out of date, that you can't efficiently morph it into a product that works for contemporary needs. So you slowly phase out the old code base while you build a new one. And then you launch a new product that can actually do what customers need it to do.

Or take a more simple example. I had some friends who bought a house, primarily for the location. The house itself, however, wasn't great. They thought about trying to remodel. But finally they realized it made more sense to tear down the old house and build a new one. Sure it was painful (took forever). And sure it cost more. But there was no way to get the old house to the place they needed it. And now, years after moving in to the new one, every day of living there is a pleasure for them.

And that's how I feel about newspapers. I rips me up to watch newspapers try to shove new ideas into their old structure. For the most part, it's just not working. They'd get much further ahead if they just stopped, redesigned, and started over.

And yes, that would involve a huge amount of pain. But in the long run, we'd all be much further ahead.

Photo courtesy of Rick McCharles. Creative Commons license.

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