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Changing the game

Recently on the “Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” actor Brad Pitt discussed his part in the 2011 movie “Moneyball,” which is based on the book by Michael Lewis. I had seen the movie and my husband had read the book, so I knew what Pitt was promoting. It’s the story of how Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane put together a baseball team using math analysis instead of an expensive recruiting session to draft a star player. About two-and-a-half minutes into the interview, Pitt said something interesting. He described the movie as a story about taking a 150-year-old tradition and throwing it out the window. “Just because we’ve been doing it this way, for so long, does that mean it’s right?” Pitt said.

This could also hold true for the traditional media industry. If the New York Times and the Washington Post, for example, had never launched a newspaper before today, would they be doing it the same way they are right now?

It’s understandable that after 150 years, the newspaper and magazine industries have a hard time letting go of institutional knowledge based on long-standing practices. Knowing how to write a headline that will come off the presses and go down in history is, at the very minimum, invaluable. Meanwhile, spending thousands of dollars on an award-winning cover worthy of framing or saving in a poster collection is also a practice hard to relinquish.

Similar to the Oakland A’s, the best print media companies have seen their best players plucked to play for richer teams (Huffington Post). Much like print advertising is probably not going to make a huge comeback, Beane knew his budget wasn’t going to change. So he decided to change the game. Perhaps this is what the Washington Post is doing with its TV monitors in the newsroom tracking online reading. Similar to how the Las Vegas Sun merged its print and Web teams a few years ago, other media outlets are throwing tradition out the window. But these changes feel more like trying to keep up with the Yankees rather than leveling the playing field as Beane did.

In light of aggregation sites like Glam.com and DrudgeReport.com, which garner millions of eyeballs a day while producing no original content, it’s time to ask “what if we started from scratch?” – and that goes for business-to-business newsletters as well as radio stations.

–Rebecca Bredholt

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