The Free Press is Worth Saving

The Free Press is Worth Saving

After 20 years I had decided to run from a failing industry, vowing never to look back. Two years later I’m not only looking back, I’m running back to help.

Just over two years ago, I returned from a vacation in the Netherlands and typed up my resignation notice. While overseas, I had come to the stark realization that I needed to make a drastic change or the path I was on would lead to my death. Perhaps not physical death, but at the very least the death of my spirit and soul.

I had spent the past twenty years working for the various incarnations of a major Canadian news organization, from Southam to Hollinger, CanWest, and finally Postmedia. My brother Peter and I, along with numerous great people who joined us along with way, built a digital empire within the news industry. What started with nothing but a few off the shelf computers, a screwdriver, and fanciful illusions of grandeur turned into a large collection of amazing digital products and systems. I was proud to be the chief architect and director behind most of the technical wonders we produced. In the early days especially, we built the most amazing products out of little more than some string and a piece of chewing gum. We performed miracles, we made waves, and we made a difference.

By the time CanWest became insolvent in 2010, I had become jaded. What I had once believed was a bustling hive of creativity now seemed stale. Taking on a new role as Director of Innovation brought only a temporary reprieve. A combination of a clear mandate to “cut costs” along and my growing negative outlook towards my role within the company left me questioning not only my future in the publishing industry but also the future of publishing industry itself. I had once loved the publishing world, and the massive opportunities I had to help transform it from within. I grew up admiring the freedom of the press and the role it played in our day to day lives. In its place I saw soulless shells, scrambling for any penny it could get regardless of the cost to its journalistic integrity. I had enough and decided to leave it all behind and never look back.

For the past two years, I’ve been running my own company De Groot Ventures Inc, offering consulting and product development services to a wide variety of businesses both large and small. While it has done well, I still felt like I was missing a higher purpose. Like Lot’s wife, I found myself glancing back at my Sodom and Gomorrah, wondering if there was any hope of salvation.

Instead of turning into a pillar of salt, I fell in love again for an industry I had written off in disgust. I saw great people, friends and colleagues, trying their best to create something new from the ashes. Yes, there is destruction and decay, much of it self-inflicted by those too oblivious or greedy to do otherwise. I no longer, however, believe it is without hope, and so I find myself with an urge to return.

As each day goes by, there is a growing realization that this industry not only can be saved, but it must be. Civilization is much better off with a strong, independent, and free press, and I fear a world where that has been compromised or destroyed. Given my experience and insight, how can I do nothing while others work so hard to make it right?

I don’t believe I have all the answers, but I have ideas, and I am not willing to let it go down without a fight. I’ve made my mark in this industry before, and I have the experience and the will to do it again. This has been my niche for over 25 years, and it’s time to embrace it, warts and all.

My goal is to re-engage with those at the forefront of this battle to provide consultation and support. I’m looking to partner with news organizations of any size who are willing to take chances and test market some of my ideas and products. If that’s something that interests you, I encourage you to connect with me on LinkedIn.

I find it fitting that I’m writing this next chapter on a train from Rome to Florence. Perhaps it’s the European air or lifestyle which triggers these life-changing thoughts in my head. In a few short days, I’ll be heading home, both physically and metaphorically. As I do, I just wanted to say… I’m coming back! How can I help?