There was a blog post and an article from Margaret Sullivan, the departing public editor of the NYT, within the past week – and both bear reading for an interesting look into a tough job in a rapidly evolving industry. What struck me were the parallels to higher education, from the evolving business model, to the stresses of people in the business, to the experimentation going on in the industry and the inevitable successes and failures along the way.
Sullivan notes that the business model for newspapers “is broken,” and goes on to say “the corporate way to describe it is to say the business is being “reinvented.” Down in the trenches, it’s seen more plainly: as turmoil, a struggle for survival and for its very soul.” This echoes so many of the discussions I’ve had with presidents, deans, and other administrators about how the higher education environment is changing and the stress is ratcheting up. Whether it’s presidents and provosts worried about finding new sources of revenue (without, of course, tarnishing the school’s brand), or business and other professional school deans worried about how no-cost MOOCs and low-cost alternative credentials are already beginning to erode their pricing power and demand for courses and degrees. It’s tough out there and getting tougher.
Sullivan goes on to say that the NYT “has been scrambling to find a sustainable business model to support its journalistic ambitions . . . It’s trying new things and, as some of them inevitably fail, it’s moving on to try others. . . The old business model, based on print advertising and print subscriptions, is broken. A new one — based on digital subscriptions, new advertising forms, and partnerships with other businesses and media platforms — is in the works. There are hopeful signs, high ambitions and lofty plans, but certainly no guarantee of success.” Sound familiar?