Know When to Fold ‘Em: When does outdated software & hardware become a financial burden?

boxeswideWhile in Minnesota last week, I had an assignment similar to assignments I’ve had many times during the past 20 years: to spend a day with a small community newspaper group, meet with the management and staff individually, then propose two optional plans with the same goal in mind.

The goal was to improve the editorial and production workflow, thereby improving the quality of the publication and efficiency of the operation. Sounds simple enough, and having completed similar assignments hundreds of times before, I felt up to the task.

Every newspaper is different, so I keep their particular needs in mind when offering advice. This group is in a process that many of us find ourselves in: determining whether to tweak the current workflow using the tools available, or to upgrade hardware and software throughout the organization to achieve monumental jumps in efficiency.

I understand the dilemma. Having owned several publications in the past, plus a couple of companies right now, I know what it’s like to make upfront expenditures in order to see longterm gains.

Perhaps you are in the same dilemma. Should I purchase new hardware and upgrade software at the same time, or will everything be OK if we upgrade software on our current machines? Would my staff be more efficient with training or is it a waste of time? If I train them too much, will they run off an
d find a higher paying job somewhere else?

The questions go on. What about camera raw? Will it improve my product or just slow down my workflow? Am I spending enough time on my digital products or am I possibly spending too much time on them?

Speaking of staff, do I have too many or too few? Are they organized in the most efficient manner? Should we create our website in-house or use an outside vendor? The questions could go on forever. It’s enough to bring on a panic attack.

Don’t panic. Let me suggest a few things to think about when faced with similar questions. Let us consider hardware and software today and I will discuss other issues in upcoming columns.

Q. Is my hardware too old? Is it all going to come crashing down?

A. Hardware is a delicate issue. One of the quickest ways to improve efficiency is to improve the tools we use. Why do you think Amazon is always investing in new robots and distribution methods? However, hardware isn’t cheap and no one wants to waste money.

I would suggeswebshortt newspapers look over their current hardware and ask a few questions. How old are my computers? If you are working on machines more than six years old, chances are they are getting pretty slow and produce all kinds of delays. I’ve noticed six years is kind of a magic point for computers. Yes, Macs can last forever, but like anything else they slow down in time. And Windows-based machines slow down more quickly than Macs. It’s just a fact of life.

I have four computers I primarily use in my work. One is an eight-year-old iMac. It still works and is fine for word processing and less intensive processes. But, I notice lately that it even slows down during simple tasks like checking email. I wouldn’t dare waste my time trying to crank out pages on that computer. Sure I could do it, but it would take three times as long as creating the same pages on my two-year old iMac.

Q. What can I do to get the most of my current hardware?

A. If hardware is slowing down your workflow but new computers aren’t in the budget, one of the easiest ways to get more from your machine is to maximize its RAM memory. RAM isn’t expensive these days and I’ve seen machines double or even triple in speed by upgrading their current RAM to higher levels. Most computers can hold 8 to 16 gb of RAM. Check to see how much your machines currently have and how much they can hold, and make an investment (usually under $100) to maximize the memory in each machine.
Q. Is my software too old? Do I really need to pay a monthly fee to keep from falling too far behind?

A. Maybe, maybe not. Approximately a third of the newspapers I visit are using the most recent design software. If you’re an Adobe user, that means the Creative Cloud version, which requires a monthly subscription.

Does this mean you’re behind the curve if you have older software? Again, maybe or maybe not. I don’t work for Adobe or Quark, so I have no reason to mislead you.

You don’t have to have the latest version of InDesign or Quark to be efficient. I have three versions of Adobe’s software on the machine I’m using right now: CS5, CS6 and CC. I’ve noticed no big difference in speed between CS6 and CC. That’s also the case on other machines I use. So if your staff is using CS6 software, speed probably isn’t an issue. If it is, you should check the RAM memory, as mentioned earlier. You may want to upgrade to Creative Cloud for other reasons but speed probably isn’t one of them.

You might even be OK with Adobe CS5 or 5.5. If things seem to be moving along nicely and you are getting your ads and pages out in a timely manner, you might be safe for now. I wouldn’t plan to use CS5 for several more years, but your operation won’t come crashing down in the near future duecomputerswide to software issues.

However, if you are using really old software like CS or CS2 (even CS3), your days are numbered. One day in the not-to-distant future you might walk in to learn no one can get their pages out. Even if that weren’t a possibility – and it is –  it’s taking at least twice as long as it should to get your product out the door using old software. CS3 was released just under ten years ago. Not many of us are driving the same cars we were in 2007. And if we are (I’ve had mine five years), we’re probably thinking about upgrading to a newer model.

It’s interesting we often update our cars before updating the things that provide our financial security. We forget that time is money. If it takes twice as long to get an issue designed due to old software and computers, the amount of time it would take to recoup the cost of new equipment is minimal.

As I tell my clients, I’ll be home in a couple of days. So do what you think is best. But if it were my decision, I wouldn’t wait too long before upgrading any older software and hardware.

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This story is about hamburgers. Nothing else, just hamburgers.

hamburger-cliphamburger-clipThis story is about hamburgers. Nothing else, just hamburgers. If you think it’s about something other than hamburgers, you are mistaken. This story is simply about hamburgers.

I am an honest-to-goodness stockholder in McDonald’s Corporation (MCD on the New York Stock Exchange). Yes, that’s right, the hamburger guys.

Because I’m a stockholder, I get things like annual reports, proxy statements, and I get to vote at stockholders meetings (although that generally takes place online). I even get letters from CEO and President Steve Easterbrook from time to time.

The rest of this story is fiction. Remember, it’s about hamburgers. Nothing else.

Let’s pretend for a moment I received my quarterly report and learned stocks had plummeted significantly. Further in the report, it was explained the reason for the decline was due to a drop in demand for hamburgers.

Shareholders had previously been told to expect a nice profit. So like many I was surprised to see a loss. The report went on to explain current research indicates college students and others in the 18-24 age range prefer sushi over hamburgers, thus resulting in an unexpected decline in the sale of the company’s staple product.

Wanting to see for myself, I dropped by a local McDonald’s and made my way to the counter. From the looks of the place, there really had been a downturn in demand. There was only one other customer in the store, and I had to wait for someone to come from the back to take my order.

“Looks like a quiet day,” I said.

“Today is actually kind of busy,” the teenager behind the counter responded.

I guess I must have missed the crowd, although it was 12:20, the peak of the lunch rush hour.

“I’ll have a Number One,” I blurted.

“OK,” he said. “That’s a McMaki with McMiso soup. Would you like hot tea or water?”

“Wait,” I responded. “I thought Number One was a Big Mac with fries.”

“Oh, we don’t sell Big Macs anymore,” he told me.

“OK, I’ll take a Quarter Pounder,” I told him.sushi

“We don’t have those, either,” he said. “We took burgers off our menu a while back.”

“Why would you take burgers off the menu?” I asked. “McDonald’s is a burger restaurant.”

He got quiet for a moment, then looked at me like I was a child asking where puppies come from.

“Studies indicate 18-24 year-olds prefer sushi over hamburgers. Sushi is quickly becoming the favorite fast food of Millennials.”

“But most people aren’t Millenials,” I shot back.

“For decades, McDonald’s has delivered award-winning hamburgers throughout the world,” the young man told me. “We now recognize that we must transform even faster to meet the ever-changing demands of patrons in the Millenial world.”

“But the place is empty,” I told him.

“Yes, but we anticipate a significant upswing in the number of customers who order online,” he answered smugly.  “It’s just a matter of time. We are creating synergy, utilizing the power of the Internet to transition to a more productive structure, maximizing streamlined resources and a reduced workforce which will result in record profits.”

I admit, I was lost. Up until this quarter, I always made money on my McDonald’s stock. Now, as a result of dropping burgers from the menu, I’m seeing a significant loss for the first time.

“You may still order a burger,” said the young man, obviously noticing my dismay. “But you have to order a ‘Package Meal.’”

“What comes with that?” I asked.

“Six types of sushi, rice, soup, daikon and tea.” He paused, then continued, “Oh, and a hamburger.”

“Can’t I just order the hamburger?” I asked.

“No, we don’t sell hamburgers alone. They only come in packages.”

I was totally confused.

“Trust me,” he added. “You’ll be very full by the time you eat that. Much more full than if you ate a burger alone.”

“Can I speak with your manager?” I asked.

“We don’t have a manager any more,” he told me. “We have a regional manager in Ohio. I don’t think you can talk to her.”

He just didn’t get it. I didn’t want sushi and a burger. I only wanted a burger. Finally, in despair, I headed over to Burger King to get some red meat.

“I’m sorry,” answered the teenager at the counter. “We don’t sell hamburgers since we were purchased by McDonald’s.”

I sighed.

“You can, however, get a hamburger as part of our “Package Meal,” she added.

I guess the CEO of McDonald’s was right. Nobody is eating hamburgers any more. I stopped by Wendy’s. Same result. They had McMaki, but no burgers. Before walking away, I noticed the small golden arch on the employee’s shirt pocket.

Last week, I traveled to visit my brother-in-law in a small town in Georgia. He took me by a local cafe, and I was surprised to see hamburgers on the menu.

“Why wouldn’t hamburgers be on the menu?” he asked.

“Because nobody eats them any more,” I told him. “Everybody eats sushi.”

He laughed and ordered burgers for both of us. Wow, mine was good.

My brother-in-law introduced me to the owner on the way out. I asked him why he still had hamburgers on the menu.

“Why wouldn’t I?” he asked. “They’re my best seller.”

I was confused. As I drove home from Georgia, I noticed small-town restaurants along the road, and most of them had burgers on their signs. Didn’t they know?

Just 30 miles from my home in Knoxville, I stopped in Sweetwater, Tennessee, and had a burger at a local place. I spoke with the owner and told him about the burger situation in the big cities and suggested he might want to think about replacing burgers with sushi on his menu.

“But people love burgers around here. Why would I do that?” he asked.soup

I put on my best professor face. “Research indicates that Millenials prefer sushi over hamburgers,” I told him.

“Who did the research?” he asked. “No one asked me.”

His place was getting busy, and I said goodbye so he could take orders. I felt sorry for him. He had no idea how outdated his burger place had become.

None of this has taken place yet. I looked at my McDonald’s stock just now, and it’s up $2 so far today. I guess the burger thing is working right now.

Research does indicate, however, that 18-24 year-olds really like sushi. So I suppose it’s just a matter of time before I won’t be able to get a burger anymore.

Remember, this story is about hamburgers. Nothing else. Just hamburgers.

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Iris Chyi, John Oliver and hundreds of journalists leave me no choice but to write this column

ChyThose of you who write columns for a living know what I’m talking about. This is one of those days when I’m not sure what to write. It’s not that I lack subject matter. The options are almost endless, and I don’t have the inclination or space to cover everything in one column.

Let’s begin four days ago. I received an email from Iris Chyi, Ph.D, faculty member at The University of Texas School of Journalism and author of “Trial and Error: U.S. Newspapers’ Digital Struggles toward Inferiority.”

Dr. Chyi and I have corresponded over the past few years, primarily comparing notes on studies we’ve conducted concerning the health of newspapers. She and her colleagues in Texas take a close look at what’s going on in the metro newspaper world while I tend to spend more time conducting research among non-metro newspapers, although we share an interest in newspapers of all types and sizes.

Her latest research, based on numbers from 2007 through 2015, covers 51 major metro newspaper in the United States. In her email, she summed up the results when she wrote, “In-market online readership has shown little or no growth since 2007, and more than half of them have seen a decline since 2011.”

So when I read a story about the Toronto Star, which just made a (New Orleans) Times-Picayune style announcement that the newspaper will be reallocating resources toward the digital workspace, I say, “Good luck with that.”

Then, there’s the John Oliver video story. You’ve surely seen this video many times by now. Like most journalists I’ve heard from concerning the video, my immediate response was, “Yes! Someone outside the newspaper world finally gets it.”

JohOliver

I’ve only had time to watch the 20-minute video twice, so forgive me if I’ve left out something important, but it seems to me John had three main points: 1) We need newspapers. They’re the only source of real journalism left. 2) The revenue model for newspapers isn’t working for the big metros any longer. 3) Moving resources and energy to digital (including a concern for “clicks” over “news”) has not been, and is not, the answer.

Folks actually wrote to me after watching the video and said they had just subscribed to their local newspapers after seeing it. To me, it seemed like the type of good publicity our industry needs.

All of this brings me to the third topic of the day: David Chavern, CEO of Newspaper Association of America (not to be confused with National Newspaper Association), being ticked off at Oliver over the video. He had some pretty harsh words for Oliver – Google “NAA” and “John Oliver” to read the details – and the public response to his criticism was both quick and pointed.

On a side note, 15 years ago I was the director of communications for a very large organization. One of my jobs was to make sure 1,200 spokespersons, located in different cities, kept from saying the wrong things in front of cameras.

When Chavern wrote a post Monday on the NAA website, accusing Oliver of “petty insults and stating the obvious,” he set off a flurry of negative responses to his own statement on social media. Someone should have stopped him. Obviously, no one did.

I’ve noticed something that isn’t exclusive to the journalism world. Earlier in the year, while watching presidential debates, I would look at the screen and say, “Do none of these people have communication directors?”

More than likely, they all did. My guess is some of those communications directors told their employers they shouldn’t say certain things, and others were scared to suggest they knew better than their bosses.

The response to John Oliver’s video was overwhelming. Hundreds of journalists wrote or sent links to the video to me before I had any idea what they were talking about.

A manager at one of the big papers in New York wrote, asking me to write to John Oliver and explain not every newspaper operates the same way. He asked me to share the data I had collected, showing community publishers are having really good years and print hasn’t been forgotten in the vast majority of newspapers across North America.

For too long, I’m afraid, voices that should have been heard in journalism have stayed quiet in fear of making their stockholders, publishers, deans, clients or whoever angry.

John Oliver was one voice, expressing thoughts shared by thousands of journalists around the world. Sure, he didn’t tell the complete story. That wasn’t his goal. Using humor, he suggested that it’s time to take our responsibilities as journalists and readers seriously. Because, as he so skillfully shared, good journalism is badly needed, and newspapers are the core of good journalism.

I’ve been writing columns aimed at journalists for 22 years. When I write one like this, my first thought is often, “I wonder who I will make mad this time.”

Fortunately it seems, my views are usually shared by many others and, like most journalists, I take that responsibility seriously. I appreciate the work of Dr. Chyi because it’s not the type of research that lends itself to huge grants from digital companies and foundations. They go more for the shiny stuff. It’s important, however, to be reminded of what is real, and folks like Dr. Chyi and John Oliver did that in August.

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Doggone that Joey Young. And doggone that Al Cross, too.

While we’re at it, doggone the managing editor of that daily in Tennessee and the journalist from the metro paper who kept me up last night.

I should have known better. After several long days, punctuated by late-night car shopping for my son who had a “fender bender” two weeks ago, the necessity of a good night’s sleep could not be overstated.

It’s my own fault. After more than 20 years of column-writing, visiting newspapers and sticking my nose in just about every crevice of the journalism world, I should know better than to get online at night when I need sleep.

It started innocently enough, when I shared a blog post by Joey Young, a young (30ish) publisher in Kansas. The post titled “Editor & Publisher Is Starting To Get It: Invest In Your Print Product,” sounded so much like a column I wrote three weeks ago I couldn’t help but take a peek.

Joey is starting to get noticed, and for good reason. I remember when he came to me three or four years ago at a newspaper Convention in Des Moines and asked if we could spend some time discussing his plan to get into newspaper publishing.

He was convinced others weren’t making smart moves and newspapers could attract a significant number of readers and make a profit, if given the chance. He asked for my advice and he took copious notes.

It’s not unusual for publishers to ask my advice. Over the past year, conventions have begun scheduling “20 Minutes with Kevin” sessions, where I visit one-on-one with publishers who schedule a block of time. In most cases, time runs out before I get to all the publishers.

At a newspaper convention in South Dakota a couple of months ago, a very successful young publisher, unable to get a spot on the one-on-one schedule, pulled me to the side and asked a very direct question about an important part of his publishing operation.

“I want your advice on something, and I want to know what you really think.” I could tell he had given serious thought about the question before posing it to me.

He asked how much emphasis should be given to the digital side of his newspaper. I could tell he really wanted to know my thoughts.

I paused, making sure I was giving him solid advice, then told him what I would do.

“Then that’s what I’ll do!” he responded.

I take it very seriously when a young or veteran publisher asks my advice. It’s easiest to give the popular answer. But the popular response isn’t always the best advice.

So when Joey Young asked for my help in Des Moines, I didn’t take him lightly. Little did I know he would, in just a few years, run multiple successful newspapers, both free and paid. Now I notice groups ask Joey to sit on their panels and speak with his fellow publishers about how he created successful, loved and profitable products.

I won’t spend any more time writing about Joey’s blog, other than to let you know it can be found at newspaperdisruptor.com.

Some won’t like it, so tread carefully. Joey doesn’t have anything to sell you. He will just share what is working so well for him in Kansas.

Now on to Al Cross. After posting a link to Joey’s blog on my blog, I heard from Al Cross, who became familiar with Joey’s rise in the community newspaper world a while back. Most of you know Al, but for those who don’t, he is the director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky.

I suppose it’s only natural, since Al and I both grew up in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee, we went around several twists and turns during our conversation, agreeing that Joey and his newspapers have a great future. Our thoughts then turned to our newspapers closer to home.

With 1:00 a.m. nearing, I summed up my thoughts: “Al, I just care so much about these newspapers.”

I wasn’t surprised by Al’s response, “I care about these newspapers, too.”

Times are a’changin’ in Canada

During a recent trip with my best friend to Western Canada, I was pleasantly surprised to hear from so many newspaper friends who learned I was in the area. In town after town, they welcomed us. A few drove hours to take us to dinner. Some brought gifts of local books, maps and homemade jams and gins.

My old friend, Roger Holmes, is a living newspaper legend in Canada and a graduate of the Newspaper Institute. I could write a dozen columns about his groundbreaking work, including developing the first affordable direct-to-plate system for community newspapers way back before anyone was giving much thought to direct-to-plate.

Not realizing we would be driving through his home of Wainwright, Alberta, we made a stop to visit his newspaper. Peter, his son and general manager of Star News Publishing, was the first to see us coming through the large windows. He rushed out to meet us, took us through the facility, then called several of the staff together.

“Do you know who this is?” he asked them. “This is the guru of the newspaper industry. This is Kevin Slimp!”

It’s no wonder everyone says Canadians are nice.

I learned I missed Roger because he was in Moose Jaw, looking over the daily paper there, which he had just purchased. He didn’t stop with Moose Jaw, apparently.

Peter explained they had just purchased two dailies, one major weekly, six small community weeklies and a number of specialty products in Alberta and Saskatchewan from one of the large national corporations, allowing these papers to operate locally. He showed me their newest press and we looked over their print products.

It’s no wonder I feel so much enthusiasm concerning our industry. About the time I get discouraged by something that is going on in the world of journalism, it’s time to hit the road and be reminded of the great things taking place in our business.

Joey Young gives us all hope. So does Roger Holmes. So does Peter Holmes. So does the young publisher in South Dakota and the managing editor in Tennessee. It’s becoming increasingly obvious Al Cross and I aren’t the only ones who care.