There are no easy answers to the problems facing the newspaper industry, but before we can begin to talk about solutions, it's important to properly identify the problems. Oddly, a number of people seem to think that the problems facing the industry don't have to do with declining subscriber rolls and a failure to to adapt to the internet. Instead, they see a problem with the current ownership structure, whereby owners actually have to answer to shareholders and demonstrate growth. In light of News Corp.'s bid for Dow Jones, this concern has become more pronounced (particularly among journalism school types that are worried about the influence of Rupert Murdoch). One solution, proposed by journalism professor Chris Daly, is to get newspapers to pitch their readers on the company's stock (via Romenesko), sort of the way public television stations raise money through fundraising drives. The thinking is that if the readers were also the owners, their main priority would be good journalism. The most obvious problem here is that this idea doesn't strike at the root of the industry's real issues. There's no shortage of "good journalism" in the New York Times, but the company obviously needs more than that to reverse its fortunes. Another problem is that the two papers he's most concerned about, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, have ownership structures that are highly unfavorable to shareholders that aren't part of the founding family. So, unless that were changed, the new class of reader/owners wouldn't have much influence. Ultimate, any proposal that calls for newspapers to exist in some state where where profit isn't the primary focus is a white flag, an admission that the problems can't be fixed so they should just be swept under the rug. In the end, there's no getting past the economics. You can put newspapers in a charitable trust or under the ownership of some civic-minded individual who doesn't mind losing money, but if people keep canceling their subscriptions in droves, in the end it won't do much good.
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