Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Paperless World

When I graduated from college, it took me forever to find a job. The savings and loans had all gone bust and the oil market had fallen on hard times. Much like the environment of today, work was scarce but I finally found a job working for a smaller firm in North Dallas. The second in command of this firm was a Jewish man by the name of Ross Mandel. Coming from New London and a predominately southern environment, I had never really had that much experience with a Jew. I had always heard the stories and stereotypical descriptions on how they were all very shrewd with business and for the most part, Ross was just that. He immediately took me under his wing and began teaching me the art of negotiations which was always kind of funny as I'm a designer and not much of a business man. But Ross would hear non of that as when it came to pricing out the goods, he was like a coach whispering numbers and percentages in my ear as I haggled with a printer or media company on the phone. I will always hold him in high regard as he was and is like a big brother. My Jewish big brother that made me understand business.

Ross said something one day while going to lunch that has stuck with me for the last twenty years. While driving in the car entering the tollway, Ross made the statement that in our lifetime we would experience a paperless world. Well we all jabbed at him and told him he was crazy. "You've lost your mind," we all told him as we lived and designed within a world of paper. I have been studying print now for my entire career and love everything about the printing process but these days I'm beginning to wonder if Ross Mandel had it right all along.

Over the last ten years, newspaper has declined like nothing I have ever seen before. It is enough to break my heart as I love the paper and good journalism. I love to write myself but I'm not all that great so I have a tremendous amount of respect for a person that can jam out story after story each and every day. To me, that would take a hell of a lot of creativity and I've only got a few bullets in my gun.

And it isn't just the paper that's falling down. I have all but stopped watching television and will only turn on the news when a storm is blowing in. My wife will order a series from Netflix and watch it on her laptop at night when everyone finally leaves her alone which is just plain weird when you think about it. I grew up with four or five channels as a kid and you could only see cable if you went to the big city. Now it's reached a point of insanity as you can watch anything and everything whenever you want. Networks struggle to peak our attention long enough to sell some ad space around ratings as more and more people turn to the computer to spend their time.

In the beginning of this year, I met a guy named Reid Slaughter. Reid started Park Cities People newspaper when he was just a kid. He's a few years older than I am so we would still like to consider ourselves kids even though we now have to pretend we're responsible adults. Reid sold the paper, produced TV for seven years, built and sold a magazine publishing company, then sold it all and went on a mission trip to make the world better. While on the trip, Reid met Jeff Hinson who had just sold his radio stations. Sitting in the Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, Cuba they began a conversation on the future of media, journalism and how we, the market, are receiving information. And more importantly, how we are not receiving information. After a year of research, they developed an innovative new approach that combines local journalism, business, entertainment, and philanthropy — all presented through video. And not just regular video, but stunning, cinematic short stories. Reid's vision was to break the mold of tired, one-dimensional promotional video (a staple of local television) and create beautiful short films that connect with audiences and move them to action. He interviewed almost a hundred videographers before choosing the handful of filmmaker/editors who form his amazing team. Jeff & Reid then built a multi-million dollar online platform (no banner ads, pop-ups or other annoying stuff!) and back-end system to house the content.  You+Media is the very first on-line video magazine focused on local markets. 

I don't think either one of them knew where this thing would go as it seemed to be more of an experiment rather than a business plan. One of those, hey I've got an idea, let's put vodka in this thing and see what happens. No one could have predicted that they would become one of the most networked and talked about web sites in Dallas with plans now to launch in five other major cities next year.

At some point, television is going to combine with the internet. In some homes, it already has but I believe that network television will have to reinvent itself as we'll soon live in a world where demand is king. You want it, you click it. And that can be anything from a show to a recipe to the family home movies. And within this world, there will be no paper so perhaps Ross Mandel was right all along.

But there are still some things we'll need paper for. Halloween is just around the corner and I've got four boys who love to decorate the trees.