Pondering infinite purpose

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The true role of a community paper has been on my mind quite a bit over the last several days. It's easy to think the goal of the paper is to sell as many of those clean, crisp, freshly-printed sheets as possible, but I'm beginning to see that is actually not the goal.

You see, I was invited to attend a summit on the subject of leadership (don't be wowed. It was simulcast in Okoboji). There were enough speakers and experts in their respective fields so it will darn near be impossible for me to apply everything that was discussed. That said, what I've been thinking about was an idea put forth by author Simon Sinek the last day of the conference — the idea of finite versus infinite games. Essentially, it's the idea of a sports game with set rules versus upholding an ideology. One ends based on rules. The other continues based on a need.

To put it in context, Sinek recalled speaking at both an Apple event and a Microsoft event. Microsoft's executives largely talked about how to beat Apple, while he said all of the Apple executives talked about how to help teachers and students. Microsoft, at least in the past, were using finite tactics against a competitor engaged in an infinite game.

But these things are no good if they aren't applied. So, like I said, I've been thinking about what the paper's infinite game really is. It's not as easy as one might think. Sinek gave another example in Kodak. The company actually invented the digital camera decades before I thought, but he said it was kept under wraps for fear it would cut into film sales. So the technology was licensed out to other companies, but when those licenses expired, the company had nothing innovative the market didn't already have. Another speaker, paster Craig Groeschel said Kodak made the mistake of thinking it was in the film business. My mind said, “of course, they were in the photography business. They needed to think bigger about where their industry fit.”

I, of course, was also thinking too small.

Groeschel said Kodak's flaw was that it didn't realize it was in the memory business. So, here I am now, thinking to myself, we're not in the paper selling business. We're probably not even in the information business (although, I still agree credible information is the commodity we trade in). I think we may be in the experiential business. Granted, it's not that a subscription will get you a seat on an African safari, but hopefully our writing is as such that you feel, to a degree, like you witnessed local events you were unaware happened.

The mistake we don't want to make is believing that can only be done through written word. There are dozens of tools in the journalist's digital-age toolkit. So, whether we convey the experience through our words, through a photo page or through a quick video, I believe it's a story no one else can provide the community. It's the local story — the local experience. Folks like Dan Rather aren't going to tell our stories (he's still around, right?), and we must not forget that's why we local papers are doing this.