Sunday, May 31, 2009

"Old Rockers" and the Commercial Appeal

Posted By on Sun, May 31, 2009 at 9:27 AM

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Commercial Appeal editor Chris Peck gets all metaphorical in his column today, suggesting "Old Rockers" such as Three Dog Night (who played the Sunset Symphony) have something to teach the newspaper business. ("If the boys of Three Dog Night can still rock it, still conjure up good feelings from years gone by, why not newspapers?")

I see where he's trying to go, but man, Three Dog Night is a really bad example. Bands like TDN, The Moody Blues, the Doobie Brothers, etc. are nostalgia acts that travel around the country playing their "hits" from 30 years ago, night after night after night, mostly for old people. They don't have "chops," as Peck calls them; they have routines. They perform the same songs with the same guitar lines and even the same stage patter over and over again. As a model for the newspaper business, that's one helluva tone-deaf metaphor.

There are, of course, "old rockers" such as Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, David Byrne, Jim Dickinson etc. who are still reinventing themselves, writing new songs, trying new forms, challenging their audiences. If I'm looking for a longevity model for my newspaper — or any business, for that matter — that's where I'm going. But hey, that's just me.

Peck goes on to suggest that one of the "lessons" newspapers can learn from Old Rockers is to find the venues that work, i.e. "sitting on the grass outside a botanic garden or working with a symphony," not playing an "all-nighter at the Hi-Tone." Unfortunately for daily newspapers (and Peck's analogy), the people going to the Hi-Tone are precisely the audience (younger, hip, engaged) that newspapers need to cultivate. Three Dog Night and other nostalgia acts (and their fans) will soon be under the grass — along with businesses whose leaders think emulating their careers is a good idea.

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