The newspaper of the future
The vice president who had been responsible for hiring me the previous year, Colin Campbell Dawkins, had drawn an assignment for an interesting special project. By then it was blindingly obvious that I knew less than nothing about selling Ford automobiles to American consumers, so my copy chief had no objection when Colin delegated the special project to me. At the time, I was 22; Colin was 46, which sounded much older to me then than it does now.
The publisher of the Peoria Journal Star, Henry Slane, was frustrated. He wanted to break out of the stodgy, traditional rut that newspapers were in. He had gone to one of the major consulting outfits and asked them to look forward five, ten, fifteen years at what newspapers could and should become. They sent him off to a different company that did quite a bit of newspaper work. The result of the exercise (and the large expenditure) was some suggestions for font changes and a new layout for page one. As I said, Henry was frustrated. That's why he had come to JWT, where he figured he might find a more creative answer; and that's how I ended up with the assignment.
Earlier this week, I had occasion to be in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and I stopped in at Duke University, where one of the libraries houses J. Walter Thompson Company's historical archives. I dug out the papers I wrote for the newspaper project. They hold up pretty well. Almost forty years on, today's online newspapers still haven't achieved the degree of personalization I envisioned, but feed aggregators like Google News are a pretty good match for the model I described back then.
Hey, Google. I think you owe me royalties!