1970s newspaper wisdom

July 9, 2007

In 1971 Har­vard Busi­ness School grad, Robert G. Mar­but, approached the Harte fam­ily who owned a Texas news­pa­per group, to ask if they’d back his pub­lish­ing ven­ture. They turned him down. Instead, they asked him to run the fam­ily busi­ness, Harte-Hanks. Mar­but took the com­pany pub­lic and in a year had taken it out of Texas and doubled its size to 27 papers.

Mar­but also brought in all the 1970s busi­ness school stuff you’d expect: cost con­trol, budget­ing, and plan­ning. And the lan­guage.

Mar­but knew what a news­pa­per was. It wasn’t ink, pages and prose, it was “a pack­age of het­ero­gen­eous inform­a­tion designed to appeal to a num­ber of mini-audi­ences, each made up of read­ers who share sim­il­ar val­ues.”

He was pretty clear about what a news­pa­per group was, too: “We con­sider ourselves inform­a­tion pro­viders for inform­a­tion con­sumers. This approach frees us to util­ize fully the tools of the con­sumer product mar­keter, provid­ing tailored products to meet unique inform­a­tion­al needs.”

Under Mar­but, Harte-Hanks papers became what For­bes magazine called “aggress­ive mar­ket­ing vehicles tailored for advert­isers.”

In 1976 he com­mis­sioned a huge piece of mar­ket research called Young People and News­pa­pers: An Explor­at­ory Study, to look at why 18–24 year olds weren’t inter­ested in read­ing papers.

Mar­but was wor­ried about the future, and what tech­no­logy would mean for his product. “The fact that the same tech­no­logy will be used by media oth­er than daily news­pa­pers will mean that oth­ers could enter the mar­ket­place for meet­ing inform­a­tion needs and encroach on the fran­chise of an estab­lished news­pa­per … new tech­no­logy will make it pos­sible for the con­sumer to get his needs met in a vari­ety of ways in the future, again set­ting the stage for con­tin­ued frag­ment­a­tion of media which could lead to fur­ther encroach­ment of the newspaper’s share of mar­ket.”

In 1997, Harte-Hanks sold its news­pa­per, TV and radio interests.

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