Monday, March 30, 2009

Minneapolis takes the plunge.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune editor Nancy Barnes this weekend took the wraps off a plan to reserve some -- non-breaking news -- content for paying customers only. God bless her. It's an important step toward a future business model based at least partially on the precept that not all content can be free.

The STrib is going to publish enterprise, investigative and feature work as "print exclusives" and run them on dead trees only. The paper's Web site will continue to have everything else.

Truth be told, I'm not sure online readers/viewers are losing a whole lot in the deal. Breaking local news and sports have been the biggest drivers of news Web sites like the Strib's, anyway. Videos and photo galleries are playing a bigger role all the time. That stuff will still be there. What's lost will be the kind of work that translates best into print, at least given the current design of most news sites.

And the newspaper becomes more valuable in the process, giving subscribers an incentive to keep paying us to produce this content.

Ideally, the Strib will eventually take this experiment one step further. The key is having a premium level of content for customers who pay; it's not a print vs. online distinction. So if you also offer the bonus material in a premium format online for customers who prefer to buy it that way, so much the better. Either way, they're paying customers -- exactly the kind we'll need more of in the future.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Newsrooms, niches face off for future of journalism

It's repeated so often it's almost a mantra of the news-preneurs, journo-bloggers and futurists: Journalism will survive; it's the newspapers we're not sure about.

Fair enough. I agree with that sentiment, more or less. Given the relatively high (and rising) demand for news, people and organizations will increasingly compete to provide information in a crazy array of flavors and formats. And since we should all be agnostic when it comes to forms of distribution, our big, strong newsrooms should be able to keep us in the game, right?

Maybe. It's an open question whether there will continue to be a place for a general provider of news and information like us, or whether the future will be dominated by niche specialists. That's what the Web is, at some level: Like-minded people from anywhere on the planet getting together and talking amongst themselves. So news providers of the future might be the ones who cater to those groups, going deep, deep, deep on a single issue. If you're the best source of information for one of those in-groups, users will pay for your content and advertisers will go through you to reach 'em.

So what about our a-little-bit-of-everything news shops? Hard to say. Our competitive advantage is being more local than anyone else. We can't do national politics better than Politico or sports better than ESPN, but we've got everything on the latest brouhaha at city hall or the inside-the-locker-room moments for the local major league team.

We care more about what's going on in this one place than anybody else -- or should. If anything will keep us alive, that'll be it. Even at a local level, niche providers from intrepid bloggers to citizen activists to journalism startups will give us a run for our money. But that's a fight we can win, with our history and resources and people.

What we should do, then, is cultivate our beat reporters and let their expertise show even more than we have in the past. Rather than attempting to broaden their appeal, narrow it. Let them go deeper, nichier and more wonkish.

Forget being all things to all people. But on the beats we decide to cover, our reporters should be the no. 1 source of information. They should be more plugged in than anyone else in all the local organizations and issues that matter.

Our reporters, in other words, should each become niche news providers in their own right. Our niches might all be within a narrow geographic band, but you need to pay attention to them if you want to know what's going on.

Achieve that, and users will pay for our content and advertisers will go through us to reach them. And that just might be enough to keep us in the game.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Industry news, good and bad, from Beantown

As is often the case in the current environment, today has been interesting in ways both good and bad. On the bad-news front, my former colleagues at The Boston Globe (along with other NYT Co. employees) were asked to take a pay cut and furlough days. That's a grim thing, primarily because it's another reminder about just how uncertain the future has become.

Today's better news also comes from Boston, where former Globie John Yemma is leading the Christian Science Monitor off the cliff by ending the daily print newspaper. I say "better" because, in this case, the Monitor is trying something that could eventually help the rest of us find a profitable way forward.

John points out, correctly, that the Monitor has a very different business model than regional dailies. It's international in scope, nonprofit and works within more of a defined niche. He fears many regional papers, faced with a different reality, will do what the Seattle P-I has done: cut to a skeleton staff and remain online with a product only vaguely resembling the old newspaper.

But project out a couple of years, and the basic plan the Monitor is putting forward might apply to the rest of us more than either we or John realize.

Like the Monitor, we could end daily print publication, and replace it with an in-depth weekly magazine or newspaper. We're still better positioned than anyone else in our markets to do a smart, deep and well-sourced weekly pub for readers who want to spend time with their news. As it is at the Monitor, the rest of our work, increasingly multi-media, will be delivered online, through mobile devices and via distribution partners. The basic news online will be free and ad supported; much of the rest -- context, commentary, enterprise, niche interest, etc. -- will go behind a pay wall.

Could that basic framework hold up? Yea, maybe. Will we be able to learn valuable lessons in the meantime watching the Monitor take the leap? That seems like a far easier question to answer.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Building a better Craigslist redux

Last week, I took up a light-hearted challenge from ReveneTwoPointZero to offer suggestions about ways to beat Craigslist at its own game. (This is critical because of the proportion of our revenue classified ads used to play, and how much we continue to want at least some of it back.) When the site came out with its proposal over the weekend, something very much like my suggestion was part of the package:

Make it the biggest and best marketplace. How? By aggregating CraigsList and every other local classified site, to provide one-stop shopping for every buyer.

And guess what? The Rev2.0'ers did me one better by including five other salient points: Make it easy to use, easy on the eyes, free, profitable and safe. Read their full post, and reader comments, here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Nothing like a punch in the face to focus the mind

Denver, Seattle, Tucson, Detroit, San Diego. Yesterday, it was our turn in Portland. Pay cuts of 5-10% for everyone on staff (15% for the three most senior execs), four furlough days and the freezing of our traditional defined-benefit pension plan.

Worse than the announcement itself was the sense of fear and desperation it seemed to unleash through the ranks. What if the advertisers don't ever come back? What if we never get control of our digital destiny? What if it really is the beginning of the end, as the gloating MSM naysayers have been predicting?

And a deep and abiding sense of anger, of course, that the owners and managers of the company didn't see this coming and somehow head it off.

There is a best-case scenario: All that fear and loathing manifests itself as motivation to innovate quickly and comprehensively. At some level, that's already playing out. The number of unsolicited suggestions I've received in the past 24 hours about ways to generate new revenue exceeds what came my way in the past two or three months. That's certainly a good start. Let's turn all these smart and creative minds at least partially to the problem of reinventing the newsroom and the news business for the next generation.

But now comes the hard part, which is a lot of nibbling around the edges, trying things that don't work out and otherwise innovating in place. It would be so much easier if one great idea could fix everything. If we could wake up one morning, see the brilliance of some new business model or form of distribution, and laugh about how scary it was there for a while. Not gonna happen, folks. At least not anytime soon.

So we're left with dozens or hundreds of small changes we have to give a shot. We have a window of opportunity -- while we're still receiving quite a bit of print revenue -- to reinvest in myriad other forms of (mostly digital) distribution. To experiment. To learn. We should be thinking like pharmaceutical companies, in that we need to have a whole bunch of projects in the pipeline at any given time. The more the better. Most won't work out, but that's fine. We'll learn, adjust and try again. At least a handful do need to work out, some of them in fairly significant ways.

Twitter, Kindle, RSS feeds, e-editions, Facebook, micropayments, other forms of for-pay content, online stores, creative use of digital archives, CDs and DVDs, speakers' bureaus, TV and/or radio stations, reader participation and interaction, visual storytelling, documentary film, niche publications, wholesale blogging, entirely new lines of business, etc. There are no wrong suggestions at this point. Only a lack of vision and willpower that is as much of a threat to our future as any external force. Eventually, if we're lucky, some of it will begin to coalesce into a new business model.

So, colleagues here and elsewhere, I feel your frustration. But don't look askance at the small innovations that come down the tube. Embrace them and offer more ideas like them. Because it's the little things, not the one great idea, that may ultimately save us all.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Gone fishin'

Really. Fishing. No new posts 'til Monday. I'm optimistic the industry will still be alive and kicking at that point...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Building a better Craigslist

A group called RevenueTwoPointZero is pulling together a bunch of new-journalism thinkers this weekend in Washington, DC, in an effort to solve some of the big problems bedeviling us all. One of their four founding charges is to "Create a better Craigslist." So I'm going to offer one completely unsolicited idea for them to chew on.

Let's start with the basic challenge. On the group's Web site, Alan Jacobson offers the following four criteria:

1. Make it easier to use (than Craigslist)
2. Make it free for the general public
3. Serve up context-sensitive, paid ads along with free classified ads
4. Provide a forum for feedback on sellers to keep ‘em honest.

Okay, fair enough. Here goes, Alan.

I'd build a classified-ad aggregator with a nice interface and a better search engine than Craigslist provides. Have your own classifieds there along with Craigslist,, and any other online auction or sales site that seems appropriate. When a user types in "Honda Accord," they'll get the top listings -- if any -- from each of those sales sites for that product. Meanwhile, you can sell display ads (from a local car dealer in this case, for example) to run elsewhere on the results page.

As an industry, we'd have to concede that we've actually lost the classified-ad war. That seems easy enough to most of us, since it's so obviously true. But we'll have to talk gently into the night to executives in our advertising departments to convince them it's finally over.

Even when that's done, we'll have to get our legal eagles involved to make sure we're on solid ground scraping those other sites. But I'm convinced we could find a way to do it. Hell, other places have been aggregating from our sites for a decade or more.

Finally, we have to figure out how to leverage this new model to maximize our gain. Again, I have faith we could handle it. There are ways to provide incentives for classified advertisers to come to us, especially if our user numbers start to put us on more equal footing with the Craigslists of the world.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Best reason yet to offer Kindle subcriptions

What you see above is the e-reader from Plastic Logic, which the Detroit papers say they plan to lease to subscribers in place of print several days a week. On those days, readers will get a combined Free Press and News that runs 32 e-pages.

Certainly, everybody in the industry will be watching to see how they do in Motown. But the point for now is not to dicker about whether they'll be successful. Undoubtedly, they'll adjust and change things as they go. God knows how it'll turn out in the end.

The point is that future business models will likely include some version of this for the rest of us. Some portion of our distribution will be on some type of tablet or e-reader or not-yet-ready-for-prime-time e-paper. In Detroit it's Plastic Logic, elsewhere it'll be Hearst's supposedly in-development e-reader, and in yet other places it'll be other things.

But why not start experimenting now, in a low-cost and low-risk environment? At last count, only 22 U.S. newspapers were available for subscription on Kindle. That leaves about 1,400 other daily papers that probably ought to think about it.

It’s relatively simple, after all, to send an .xml feed to Amazon each night. And if nobody subscribes, you lose nothing but your IT guy's programming time. If several hundred (or several thousand) people subscribe to your paper via Kindle, you gain a slight bump in revenue and begin moving along the e-reader learning curve.

Plus, any subs you get count as paid circulation. (Not sure about the new "verified circulation" model.) A circ bump, no matter where it comes from, is a good thing these days.

Finally, there’s a “soft” benefit to giving the impression, both internally and externally, that your paper is experimenting and trying new things. Fewer than two dozen U.S. newspapers are offered on Kindle now, so there's still a chance to be an early adopter. So what are we all waiting for?

Well, somebody has to go first...

NYT Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. reportedly said, in a speech last week, that the Times has "renewed our analysis of how paid content can augment our core advertising business." And the paper's executive editor, Bill Keller, has said "a lively, deadly serious discussion continues within the Times about ways to get consumers to pay for what we make."

God bless them. If they can make it work, it might give courage to all the publishers out there who are afraid to experiment with paid online content. I'm not suggesting we should put everything behind a paid wall overnight, but finding ways to generate incremental revenue from readers should be on the table. As of now, however, no editor or publisher wants to stick his or her head out of the gopher hole first, for fear of being shot.

Of course, the Times has been down this road at least two other times. In each case, it eventually abandoned the effort. The question is whether the situation is dire enough now that execs there will be willing to bet their franchise on finding a way to make it work. In the end, that might be what it takes.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The 90/40 dilemma

The chart above is from the Pew Project's 2009 State of the News Media, sourced to the Newspaper Association of America and other research. The portion in red is revenue from online advertising; the gren(ish) portion is from print revenue sources. (Click on it to see a larger version, or go look at it and many others at the Pew site.)

The chart's numbers are updated only through 2007, but the underlying reality hasn't changed since. Roughly 90% of newspaper company revenue is still generated by print subscriptions and advertising, while only about 40% of its costs are attributable to printing and distributing the dead trees.

Kill off your print edition right now, in other words, and you're giving up virtually all of your revenue but keeping the lion's share of the costs.

I hear from new media types all the time that the first step to take in finding the future is to stop the presses. Go online only, or mobile only, or digital only. But as long as the calculus looks like this, you'll be hard pressed to convince many publishers.

Goodbyes and hellos

We all knew it was coming, didn't we? The Seattle Post-Intelligencer as of tomorrow will become the second major U.S. daily to stop publishing this year. It's especially painful because in many ways the P-I was the better of the two dailies serving the readers of Seattle.

But we don't really have the luxury to wallow in the pain of a journalistic voice being silenced. There's too much to do at all the other major metro newsrooms if we don't want to be writing our own obituaries. (And keep in mind that both the P-I and the recently deceased Rocky Mountain News were the weak partners in JOA agreements that made it unlikely they would have survived permanently, anyway. The changing business model and the recession merely precipitated their declines.)

Plus, there's a potential silver lining in this. The P-I is going to make a stab at inventing a new type of big city newsroom, working with an online-only platform. Quoting from the P-I's story today:

"Steven Swartz, president of Hearst Newspapers, said in the release the Web site 'isn't a newspaper online -- it's an effort to craft a new type of digital business with a robust, community news and information Web site at its core.'

He continued: 'The Web is first and foremost a community platform, so we'll be featuring new columns from prominent Seattle residents; more than 150 reader blogs, community databases and photo galleries. We'll also be linking to the great work of other Web sites and blogs in the community.'"

And from Colorado, word comes today that a bunch of the former Rocky journos are hoping to develop their own version of the same thing, called In Denver Times. In their case, they want to provide most news for free but will have a premium level of content for subscribers. If they don't get 50,000 subscribers to commit in the next five weeks, they'll pull the plug.

Good luck to both ventures. The rest of us in the industry should watch and learn and hope they succeed. The directions they're heading, regardless of the details in each case, are similar to ones we'll all be heading in some form before long. And for most of us -- unlike at the partially or fully shuttered newsrooms in Seattle and Denver -- that doesn't have to be a terrible thing.

While I wish both ventures well, I do worry about their business prospects. The journalists have their hearts in the right place, but it will be difficult to sell ads and develop a competent (and self-sustaining) business model from scratch. Which is basically what they need to do.

Both are leaving JOAs that largely gutted their own abilities to sell advertising. Even if ads don't make up as much of the going-forward revenue as in the past, they'll presumably want some level of ad money. Yet they'll be out there as newbies competing against their former reps in the sales trenches. Tough way to start a new venture in the best of times. And these times, needless to say, ain't so good to start with.

Friday, March 13, 2009

We should all be agnostic

When it comes to delivery devices, that is. We produce news and information, we tell stories that move people, we offer advice and put things in perspective, we investigate wrongdoing and keep an eye on the powerful. What we should not do is care particularly how the public receives all that good stuff.

Ink on paper has been a serviceable delivery device for a long time. Great. The Internet, accessed through computer screens, has proven itself to be useful. Wonderful. Mobile devices in one form or another seem destined to be the dominant distribution tool going forward. No problem. Some R2D2-like hologram system, or high-resolution digital paper that's flexible, portable and cheap? Outstanding. Let's use them all, and leverage them to get our work in front of as many people -- and in as many ways -- as possible.

The thing about the future is that it isn't knowable. Not really. So tethering our operations to the hardware or technology we think is going to be the next big thing is as bad as sticking doggedly to ink on paper. Eventually, technology will change, consumer tastes will evolve and we're going to be on the sharp end of the stick. Again.

So let's not obsess over finding the one big thing. Experiment and come up with strategies about how to leverage and learn from each new technological marvel. But don't fall in love with any of them. Because at the end of the day, we still want to do the same thing we've always done: Produce news and information, tell stories that move people, offer advice and put things in perspective, investigate wrongdoing and keep an eye on the powerful.

The thing we can't do is keep cutting our newsrooms to the bone while we go through this wobbly business-model phase. Cut everywhere else, if you must, but keep the reporting staff vital and strong and ready to do all those things in the future. Or else we really will be sunk, no matter which forms of delivery move into the mainstream.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Digital Newspapers: The New Reality

Newseum video worth watching. Nothing terribly revelatory, but it summarizes things and lays out the situation fairly succinctly.

And another video -- more scattered but no less interesting than the Newseum effort -- of J-school prof and new media type Jeff Jarvis.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On anonymous commenters and Candian journo-bloggers

The McMinnville News Register this week decided to end anonymous commenting on its site. They got it right. One can only hope that my own employer figures that out one of these days, along with other media Web sites. Raise the bar for discussion by making readers put their names behind their words. My hope is that we can continue to encourage people to comment -- and in many more creative ways than media sites are doing now -- but cap the racist, sexist and downright nasty tones that so often prevail in anonymous forums.

On another note, the Nieman Journalism Lab today gave a boost to Canadian blogger Morten Rand-Hendriksen and his recent post, "10 Steps to Save the Newspaper." Some interesting stuff in there, to be sure. His fundamental premise is that North American newspapers are dying a slow and painful death while their European counterparts seem to be thriving. It follows, Rand-Hendriksen figures, that we should think about being more like those journo-blokes across the pond.

Ideas I like most:

* The Internet is a visual medium, so be largely visual on it. Scrap the text-heavy look and feel most news sites use now, and go heavy with Flash grafix, video, audio and the use of photos to tell stories. This doesn't mean we have to dumb it down. Not entirely, anyway. But it does suggest we'd have to learn to tell stories in entirely new ways.

* Start a weekly news magazine. Eventually, this may be all that's left for print anyway. Interesting idea.

* Start ventures and projects that fall well outside the traditional definition of news and newsgathering. Not sure how this would look, but it has potential.

* Let everyone be a critic. I like this a lot. We should implement this one tomorrow.

* Finally, and most importantly, become a broadcaster. We not only have more and better reporters and editors than local TV stations, we don't have the limits that are placed on them by regulations and that other old-school medium -- television. Let's turn ourselves into full-service Internet broadcasters and eat their lunch in the Web-video news future.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

There but for the grace of, well, somebody...

This "Teetering 10" list from Douglas A. McIntyre. The good news: My current employer isn't on the list. The bad news: Ten other papers are, including a sister publication (Cleveland) and a former employer (Boston).

Editor's Note: A repudiation of McIntyre's list came out a few days later on the blog Reflections of a Newsosaur.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Facebook journalism. Or not.

Joshua Benton posted this interesting, if not particularly scientific, survey on the Nieman Journalism Lab today. The most interesting part of all came in the comments. One idea the commenters seemed to like was to offer a basic level of news for free, while charging for "premium" information. That's a vague prescription for reform, but it would be significantly better than we have at the moment. Advertising would continue to be the primary revenue vehicle for the "basic" service, and user fees would become the primary revenue source for the premium services.

It's a thought.

Bottom's up

David Carr, in his Sunday column, stated the obvious: "At the best of times, newspaper publishers are not a risk-taking bunch, and these aren't the best of times." The list of the risk-averse goes far beyond publishers, actually. Many (if not most) of the people in senior leadership in any newspaper company were groomed, elevated and trained to be good stewards of mature businesses. Innovation and entrepreneurial spirit weren't part of the equation. And probably shouldn't have been at the time. But the times, as we know, have changed. The question is whether we can hold on long enough for a new generation to take over before many of our companies cease to exist at all.

So what do we do? Carr advocates collusion between papers in different markets as a path toward a sustainable future business model. It could work. But I think all those risk-averse editors and publishers and vice presidents of marketing are scared enough at the moment that they're looking wild-eyed around the country for anybody with a great new idea. Innovate, in other words, and everybody else will follow in a hot flash if it seems to be working.

We don't need to collude, or try to scrap the Newspaper Preservation Act. We just need to be bold despite our leadership, to find ways to innovate in spite of the systems we work within. When some of us come up with new ventures that start to get traction, the sheep will follow in short order. We will collude without ever having to collude. So much simpler that way.

Just for the record, Carr is right about free content, aggregators, commoditized ads and even the JOA law. It's just that we don't have time to be playing political games at the moment. Better to take control and start writing the industry's new business plan from wherever you happen to be sitting at the moment.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Electronic editions

Electronic editions are strange animals. These are the .PDF versions of newspapers that many newsrooms put online in addition to their regular Web sites. They're betwixt and between the old world and the new -- exact replicas of the print newspaper in a digital form. As a news consumer, I've never been a huge fan. If I want to read a newspaper, I'll read a newspaper. If I want news online, almost any Web site is going to be preferable to reproductions of a printed page.

But that doesn't mean there might not be legitimate reasons for a newspaper to offer an e-edition, at least during an interim stage while the industry sorts itself out. They're fairly cheap to create, for starters. We've already done 99% of the work gathering, writing, editing and designing the news in a format many customers are comfortable with. All that's required is to arrange to ship .PDFs of the final pages to an FTP site where a vendor can do its magic and put them up by morning. Oh, and to pay that vendor a fee.

The vendors that offer these things are getting better with functionality, too. So e-readers can download their daily papers as MP3s, or have them translated into multiple languages, or optimized for mobile, or clipped electronically by subject, or read alongside related multimedia content. They seem to be especially popular as tools for Newspaper in Education programs, making them available to teachers and students as curriculum aids. (And saving big papers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on newsprint and ink and distribution from the bad, old NIE days.)

It's possible to use them in other ways, too:

* Reducing circulation stops by making them available to vacationing subscribers

* Offering them instead of or in addition to redelivered papers for subscribers who have delivery problems

* Open them up to all subscribers during adverse weather, which can delay delivery across entire areas

* Make them available to school and public libraries

* Promote them as a more environmentally conscious way to subscribe

* Promote them to non-English-speaking groups, through the translation programs

* Make them available to readers looking for a single-copy purchase

* Offer them to would-be subscribers outside your (ever-shrinking) print distribution area

It's also possible to throw them in free for subscribers who already pay for print. Give those folks a bonus for sticking with us, allowing them to take advantage of all that new functionality. (Audio downloads, mobile optimized version, translation services, clipping service, etc.) And just make it easier for them to read the paper when they're not at home. Boost retention, in short. In this day and age, that's worth quite a bit all by itself.

Here's another idea from a newspaper executive who shall go nameless at a paper I won't identify for the time being: Use the e-edition to continue publishing features and services that get dropped from the print newspaper. Not running the business section every day anymore? Include it with the e-edition, anyway. Dropping classified ads on Mondays? Fine, run them with the e-edition. Losing space for 10 comic strips in the print newspaper? Put them in the e-edition. At a time when newspaper subscribers are legitimately feeling like they're getting less from us all the time, it's one bulwark we can throw up against defections.

At the end of the day, e-editions are not an answer for any of the big issues washing over the industry. This is just not an important part of any strategy to move forward. But these strange animals might be one more small way to keep in the game while we sort out those more significant issues. At this point, we should take every victory -- of any size -- we can get.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Rant of the day

I'm getting tired of the endless blog entries and articles and water cooler discussions about how The Wall Street Journal has figured out how to make customers pay for content online. It's true, but that's not really the point. A large percentage of the Journal's subscribers -- in print and online -- get the paper at work (or through work) and expense it to their employers. It's a unique model, and for more reasons than the paper's (very good) journalism.

That said, we in the big regional newsrooms absolutely, positively must come up with ways to charge for our content in the digital realm before too long. Right now, we're the recording industry in the age of (pre-lawsuit) Napster.

We have to continue to be the highest-quality provider of news in our markets, too, of course. We can't let that slip, no matter how small the newspaper actually becomes as advertising slip-slides away. Otherwise, we won't have anything to sell digitally or otherwise, and we're sunk.

But the bottom line is that advertising will not pay the freight in the future. Or not nearly as much as it's paid in the past. We have to reinvent our distribution model to put more of that burden on customers, whether they like it -- and whether we like it -- or not.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

This gives me the chills...

A Colorado Congressman is gloating over the demise of the Rocky Mountain News, saying the death of traditional journalism (his words, not mine) is generally a good thing.

For government and corporate officials looking for more of a free pass, with no pesky reporters asking questions and demanding documentation, that's probably true. For the rest of us, who depend on a little transparency in our leaders and institutions, maybe not so much.

Monday, March 2, 2009

One future bizz model, courtesy of Michael Hirschorn

(Read the full article here, which deals with the possibility of The New York Times killing off its print edition.)

"What would a post-print Times look like? Forced to make a Web-based strategy profitable, a reconstructed Web site could start mixing original reportage with Times-endorsed reporting from other outlets with straight-up aggregation. This would allow The Times to continue to impose its live-from-the-Upper-West-Side brand on the world without having to literally cover every inch of it. In an optimistic scenario, the remaining reporters—now reporters-cum-bloggers, in many cases—could use their considerable savvy to mix their own reporting with that of others, giving us a more integrative, real-time view of the world unencumbered by the inefficiencies of the traditional journalistic form. Times readers might actually end up getting more exposure than they currently do to reporting resources scattered around the globe, and to areas and issues that are difficult to cover in a general-interest publication...

In this scenario, would begin to resemble a bigger, better, and less partisan version of the Huffington Post, which, until someone smarter or more deep-pocketed comes along, is the prototype for the future of journalism: a healthy dose of aggregation, a wide range of contributors, and a growing offering of original reporting. This combination has allowed the HuffPo to digest the news that matters most to its readers at minimal cost, while it focuses resources in the highest-impact areas. What the HuffPo does not have, at least not yet, is a roster of contributors who can set agendas, conduct in-depth investigations, or break high-level news. But the post-print Times still would."

For the sake of argument, let's say Michael's right. Could this kind of a model work at regional papers? Maybe so. It's getting easier to imagine many things that only months ago sounded like wild implausibilities. To the extent regional papes dominate their markets for news -- which, by and large, they do -- they have the same kind of leverage the Times has nationwide.