Tolle on the Totter: Newspapers

The jobs people hire newspapers to do

[Editor's Note: HD, a.k.a. Dave Askins, editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle, is also publisher of an online series of interviews on a teeter totter. Introductions to new Teeter Talks appear on The Chronicle.]

Last Thursday, 23 July, 2009, The Ann Arbor News published its final edition after nearly 175 years in business. I spent part of that morning talking on the teeter totter with Brian Tolle about what people “hire” newspapers to do – besides provide them with news and information.

The notion of “hiring” newspapers – by subscribing to them – to do a “job” is a way of thinking about products that comes naturally to Tolle. He works in the field of organization development, providing consulting services to technology companies on the people side of the equation.

Tolle has a tolerance, even enthusiasm, for change and innovation. So when pitched the idea of reading a newspaper on a high-tech paper scroll, he did not fall off the teeter totter laughing.

When it comes to newspapers, here’s the kind of question Tolle is not likely to ask: Do you want national coverage? Do you prefer lots of pictures and charts? How about captions on the pictures? Should sports be a part of the newspaper coverage? Which of these two fonts do you prefer? How about horoscopes? Would you like editorials?

Instead, Tolle is more likely to begin with: Will you miss getting the newspaper? And if the answer is yes, he’ll then follow up with, Why?

On the totter, Tolle gives two examples of people who will miss their paper. They’ve hired the newspaper to do a job other than provide news and information.

As usual, the conversation on the totter includes a range of topics, and there is one revelation that will come as great news to potential future riders who wonder if there are “facilities” available. For details, read Brian’s Talk.