The role of newspapers in building an innovation economy

Submitted by Ed Morrison on Mon, 12/26/2005 - 12:46.

Over at Brewed Fresh Daily, George Nemeth asks an important question. Why is the PD's series on innovation only a week long? That prompted me to comment:

George, you've got it figured out. The newspaper can play an important role in changing the conversation in a region. A good example: The Indianapolis Star. They routinely run articles on new ideas like this one.

Contrast another city: Lexington, KY. There, the newspaper plays a neutral or negative role in regional economic development.

The PD could do us a service by exploring innovation and entrepreneurship networks in more depth. In the process the paper can raise important insights.

Here's a starting point: Two of the best articles on entrepreneurship I've come across were published in 2003. The writer compares the entrepreneurial climate between Richmond and Northern Virginia. Read the articles here and here.

Where do Cleveland and Cuyahoga County fall along this spectrum?

Here's another angle. According to Entrepreneur Magazine, Cuyahoga County ranks 19th among large counties in entrepreneurial climate. Read more.

What should Cuyahoga County be doing to catch up? (Hint: The recent County economic development strategy proposes the establishment of innovation zones around our colleges and universities. These are like Michigan's SmartZones and Pennsylvania's Keystone Innovation Zones.)

Here's yet another angle. Do some detailed profiles. Take, for example, the case of Mario Morino. I've listed a bunch of potential interviews here.

Entrepreneurship and innovation are stimulated by open networks of collaboration with colleges and universities embedded in these networks. To learn more about this view, read AnnaLee Sexanian's Regional Advantage.

You can read a summary of her thinking from a keynote speech she delivered to an IT conference in Stockholm in 1998. Read more.

The newspaper can play an important and positive role. But only if they make a positive commitment that exceeds by a factor of 2 or 3 the same commitment they have made to the Quiet Crisis. (I agree with your view on Forest City. I'm not sure what purpose is served with this series. It took the paper dangerously close to the role of a PR firm.)

In my view, the future of this newspaper hangs in the balance. Circulation for the PD continues to decline. That's part of a broader trend among newspapers. But there is a way to turn this around. Start by focusing on issues that matter to the public. (I doubt that few people actually read the Forest City series, let alone the blog, and the PD continued the Quiet Crisis series long after most people had enough.)

Use the blogs to keep your ear to the ground.

Ask Dick Feagler to start writing about Cleveland history. Hire a new columnist who is listening to the city. John Ettorre has written an excellent article "Why Feagler Ain't No Royko". (Come to think of it, John would be a good addition to Feagler.)

Here's some some advice to follow, not from me, but from an old newspaper professional: "Newspapers are not a business like others. The mission is to serve the public, not earn 25-percent profit margins. Newspapers that stay true to their mission will survive. The rest will be replaced by something better." Read more.

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You are part of the solution

Ed - I agree with your perspectives on the potential to change the conversation in the region, and how important that is. But I don't think the newspapers are the core to changing the conversation, although they can certainly help.

Steven Litt has done a great job raising awareness about the I-90 Bridge and transprotation corridors, and so have Gill at the Free Times and  Prendergast at the Sun Newspapers. But none of that compares to the impact Alsenas and Hauser have had changing the conversation.

People need to create things worth talking about, and get better at telling their own stories and other important stories they know directly to the rest of us - ideally in conversations.

That's a beauty of social computing - the ability to develop conversations and shared understanding about anything, over any time and distance. You are a great contributor - keep posting and commenting here as part of changing conversations about so much.