The Stick Your Head In The Sand Approach To Saving The Newspaper Business

from the cluelessness-abounds dept

Over the past few years, as the newspaper business got in deeper and deeper trouble, we seemed to increasingly hear some particularly clueless suggestions on how newspapers should save themselves — almost always revolving around some sort of backwards effort to put the genie back in the bottle, such as by all banding together, violating all sorts of anti-trust rules and colluding to charge for content. Of course, this also ignores basic economic reality on how people view information and news. It also, falsely, assumes that newspapers are the only source for news, and that in stupidly taking themselves out of the market, upstart competitors won’t fill the void.

Yet, it seems there’s no shortage of silly suggestions along those lines. Mathew Ingram recently pointed to two such examples, with the San Francisco Chronicle publishing journalism professor Joel Brinkley’s unoriginal suggestion that newspapers openly collude to start charging and the NY Times’ David Carr’s misleading profile of a tiny newspaper that has “thrived” by “ignoring the web.”

Along those lines, a few people have submitted a rant by another old school newspaper guy, saying that the internet is the “cause” of all of the newspaper industry’s woes, and that things would have been fine if all newspapers had simply stayed off the internet entirely. Now, obviously, these are journalists, rather than economists, but anyone with even the most basic understanding of economic principles or just the basic history of markets and innovation would know what happens to companies that ignore how a market is changing. The buggy whip makers didn’t thrive by ignoring the automobile industry. They went out of business.

The newspaper industry won’t be saved by putting its collective head in the sand (or by agreeing to some anti-competitive price fixing.) The newspaper industry will be saved by finally realizing that their “product” is their community of readers, and that anything they do to serve that community better is the future, not by clinging to a past when there was no real competition.

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Comments on “The Stick Your Head In The Sand Approach To Saving The Newspaper Business”

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Twinrova says:


I think you also need to take into consideration the number of newspapers around the country, and accept the fact many of these will no longer be around in the future.

Serving the community is a step in the right direction, but not every newspaper can afford to run this way. If you consider all the debt these companies have, I seriously doubt “printing” this news on the web for free (and hopefully gaining ad revenue) will save them.

Weren’t you the one stating the “give it away and pray” model was a bad one? I think you need to help this industry explore ways to save themselves, without charging them.

A few of your ideas are good, and I like them, but I can’t see every newspaper doing it to survive.

I thought of this recently when watching the local news (for the first time in years). I asked myself “Why do we need 3 stations reporting the same news?”

If I, as a potential consumer to the “new newspaper”, is your target, do you really expect me to hit 3 places for news relating to the community when all 3 are based in the same community?

Think about that for a second and then realize why these newspapers are freaking out.

Personal note: I do agree, partly, the newspapers should ban together, but not to charge for their “news”. Instead, they should ban together to combine all the resources together for distribution.

Think Craig’s List here. The newspaper industry could set up the same thing by allowing users to filter their news on location, item, etc. and everyone would be happy.

Just don’t call it the New York Times. It appears this newspaper has complete morons writing inaccurate columns.

Hulser says:

Re: Addendum

I asked myself “Why do we need 3 stations reporting the same news?”

Two reasons spring to mind…

1) When the system is working the way it’s supposed to, there are still differences in each network’s coverage of a story. I hardly ever watch network news any more, but I remember plenty of times where I switched from one channel to the next, saw the same story, but got a very different impression of the event based on the different coverage.

2) But the real issue is when the system doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. If you have one source of news — like it or not, there is still a considerable portion of the population for which the network TV is their main source of news — then it’s much easier to control or distort the message. Do you really want to take away the benefits of competition from the TV news market just because the end results tend to be similar?

Him ThtIs says:

Re: Addendum

“not every newspaper can afford to run this way”

-not supposed to. Free market: thrive or die like the rest of us. The market(us) will sort out which is the best value; and not everyone is.

“Weren’t you the one stating the “give it away and pray” model was a bad one?”

-While he may/may not have at some date stated so, recently he has been writing positively about such market strategies. They DO work and are how local newspapers tend to get started. That’s also how Craigslist & Yahoo became popular for example.

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