Originally published as a comment on Drew’s post titled “Thank you Town Talk.”

Developing and reporting the news costs money, and for better or worse, the vast majority of blogs heavily rely on newspapers for their content.

Newspapers only have two options: They can continue to deliver their content online for free, while charging their print readership for the same content, and continue failing. OR they can wake up to the fact that their readership is PRIMARILY online and begin charging for online content as well.

The music industry woke up to this already, and though it may have not been popular at the time, I, for one, don’t have a problem paying for an album or a song. Sure, a few years ago, it was awesome to download whatever you wanted from Napster, but I also understand why it was important for the music industry to push for clearly defining the legal methods for online delivery of their product.

The solution isn’t as easy as a young, enterprising blogger simply replacing the newspaper; there’s not enough money in online ads to create sustainable, localized, and professional blog “news” sites, particularly in small to mid-sized markets like Alexandria.

The newspaper industry should band together and develop a suitable and affordable online delivery system, with the flexibility of allowing bloggers their right to reference their product (though they should not relinquish basic “fair use” standards; too many blogs are just regurgitations and/or aggregations of the paper’s daily content).

The future of news is online; it’s in the cards. But instead of viewing the newspaper industry as a dinosaur that will surely become extinct, we should view it as an industry with enormous profit margins and considerable resources that has yet to fully recognize or understand the explosive potential of the Internet in engaging consumers and has been, at the same time, undermined by a corporatist profit model that, instead of embracing the blogosphere, seems to despise it.

My DNC pal Athenae from First Draft is spot on when she writes:

If there was no Internet, if Craigslist disappeared tomorrow, if nobody ever blogged again, the greed, shortsightedness and selfishness that looks at a 40 percent profit margin and cries poverty – as was the case at some Gannett newspaper properties this year – would still smother newspaper journalism eventually.

The Town Talk can make a ton of money; by most standards, a 20% return is tremendous. Apparently, that is what they made a year ago (according to GannettBlog). But when you’re expected to make 30% or 40% returns, you’re forced to cut costs… and usually, the first people to get pink slips work in the newsroom. Without the resources to develop news stories, a paper loses credibility. This is doubly hurt when a paper takes divisively partisan editorial positions without balanced counter-criticism.

Basically, the industry needs to completely rethink its priorities and reorganize its corporate structure, perhaps opening up massive amounts of preferred stock to local investors in order to ensure sustained viability, independent of the success of a single corporate behemoth (I don’t know necessarily how this would work, but increased local ownership seems important).

Somehow, someone will read this and call me a socialist.

2 thoughts

  1. You socialist! Just kidding …

    Your analysis is spot on, particularly with respect to increased LOCAL ownership. Problem is that most folks don’t own stocks, and likely never will, mainly because they don’t have the extra cash lying around to buy up stocks.

  2. The problem is that newspapers put their stuff online for free starting up to 15 years ago. And that seemed smart at the time, and in a way it was. But good luck getting people to pay for it now. Frankly – and I say this as someone employed in the industry – most pay-for-net advocates fail to account for the generally low regard many people have for their local paper. It’s something they’ll read for free, perhaps, but won’t be inclined to pay for without a concurrent increase in quality.

    Of course, people are still buying local newspapers, when the coverage is strong and it’s not necessarily owned by a company that doesn’t care about it. Local ownership would absolutely help the industry without even that much of a major change.

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