Evolution

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In four hours, I’ll be standing in front of a University of Delaware senior-level business class talking about change in the media. How did the Internet affect your business? What shall I say? I’ll be tempted to start with saying how the last three days of emails I sent never actually got to their destination and how it ruined my Thursday afternoon and my Friday morning and how I hate technology…but I won’t.

I was in their seats more than 25 years ago, listening to some so-called expert talk about the media.

My expert was “Dr. Don” Mogavero. The class was about politics and the media or some such thing, but we spent as much time talking about Rolling Stone magazine and its various off-the-wall interviews as we did political campaigns. There was no Internet, no emaill, no iPad, no Amazon; heck, CNN was pretty new back then. Change in the media? I’ll tell you about change in the media.

Then again, hasn’t media always changed? First there were messengers, guys on foot running between towns; smoke signals; town criers; pony express; telegraph; newspapers; radio; television; fax; email; websites; blogs; apps; push notifications…what’s next?

In our business, we’ve gone from that first printed newspaper about steeplechase racing. Twenty pages, a little color, half-paginated and half-“pasted up” on the boards with hot wax and film paper. The whole page got shot with an oversized camera, which spat out a negative, which got turned into a plate, which went on a press, which made the paper. Nowadays, several of those steps in creating the newspaper are gone as is – in many cases – the need to create a newspaper at all. Articles, photos, pages, pretty much everything can go on the Internet or turned into a PDF or some other format (with virtual pages that virtually turn) to be read on a computer or a phone or a tablet. Dr. Don would be amazed. 

On a less physical basis, the Internet and technology in general makes every business adapt. We started with a printed paper about steeplechasing, because it was small and manageable. We added, subtracted, maneuvered, took on other projects because the business world changed, our needs changed, our revenue models changed. The Saratoga Special, once an idea bantered around at holiday dinners, would be described by a business analyst as our “core” business. This new website would be our “growth strategy.” The steeplechase newspaper we used to do and the calendar we still do have been hit the most by technology, the former because it was a small super-niche market to begin with and the latter because people can create their own calendars (digital or tangible) from pretty much anything nowadays.

I was a journalism student at Delaware so didn’t take many (any?) business classes but I’ve learned that nothing really stays the same no matter what business you’re in. Gas stations used to have attendants, a bell that rang when you drove in, Full Serve and Self Serve islands, separate prices for cash and credit . . . now they’ve got Pay at the Pump with your card, music on the speakers, beer and beef jerky inside, advertisements on the digital screen you use at the pump and on and on and on. 

And think about racing. Racetracks used to be the only place to bet. People took the train to the track, wore hats and sport coats, bet at separate winds for the various increments, went to another bank of windows to cash tickets. Now look. You can bet from almost anywhere. People don’t go to the races as much, though they flock to Saratoga, Keeneland, Santa Anita, wherever for big events (though that’s another column). The point is, everything changes and moves and evolves and adapts. If you’re in business, any business, keep moving, keep changing, keep improving (hopefully). Be prepared and don’t be afraid. The most successful businesses, no matter what they do, will change as technology changes. 

When I think about technology and the media, I look at the piece of metal with my grandfather’s name on it from his days at the Newark Post newspaper. It’s just a few inches long (about the length of an iPhone) and includes the words (in mirror image) Wm. H. WAGGAMAN, JR. ……………..EDITOR. The “slug” came out of a linotype machine, the contraption used to create newspapers back in the day. Introduced in 1886, it was used for decades and transferred words to hot metal and and eventually paper to create a newspaper. It was state of the art at one time. Printing presses saved the slugs they used over and over – like the editor’s name. Then, it was an important piece of every newspaper. Now, it’s a paper weight and a reminder.