Here’s An Idea: Newspapers Should Shut Down Their Web Sites

This dispatch, from the Maui Times Weekly, showed up on the Alt Weekies Web site, and the thinking here is outside the mainstream when discussing how newspapers can survive the online transition. That said, we’ve heard variations on this idea before.

The plan? All newspapers should simply go offline. Scarcity, according to writer Ted Rall, increases demand. Newspapers have made news free and plentiful, which is why he says they’re going broke.

That’s only the first step.

Second, copyright every article in the newspaper.

“The majority of bloggers and Internet addicts, like the endless rows of talking heads on television, do not report,” notes the invaluable Chris Hedges. “They are largely parasites who cling to traditional news outlets. They rarely pick up the phone, much less go out and find a story. Nearly all reporting–I would guess at least 80 percent–is done by newspapers and the wire services. Take that away and we have a huge black hole.” And a lot of unfulfilled demand one can charge for.

Newsgathering requires extensive infrastructure. Beat reporters, freelancers, editors, stringers, fact-checkers, and travel cost a lot of money. (A week in rural Afghanistan costs at least $10,000.) Why shouldn’t newspapers–the main newsgathering organizations in the United States–be compensated for those expenses?

Every newspaper article should enjoy an individual, aggressively enforced, copyright. Radio and TV outlets that currently lift their news reports out of newspapers–without forking over a cent–would have to hire reporters or pay papers a royalty. Paying newspapers for usage, even at a high rate, would probably be cheaper.

Step three on the road back to fiscal viability: cut off the wire services. Nowadays an article written for a local paper can get picked up by a wire service, which sells it for a ridiculously low reprint fee to other papers and websites like Google. At bare minimum, newspapers that originate stories ought to require wires to charge would-be reprinters the thousands of dollars each piece is worth. Better yet, don’t post them in the first place.

Rall admits there are problems with this three-pronged strategy, including the possibility of anti-trust violations and accusations of price-fixing and collusion.

My thought: these are strategies that might have worked had they been put in place 10 years ago, before free news was everywhere and expected. To quote Tony Soprano, “You can’t put sh*t back on the donkey.”

links for 2008-07-30

Lu Hardin’s Gonna Take a Break From the TV Cameras

After several weeks of bad press, you wouldn’t blame University of Central Arkansas President Lu Hardin if he sits out this next round of UCA TV spots, would you?

Arkansas Business media reporter Mark Hengel reports in Monday’s paper that Hardin won’t be featured in the fast-growing university’s fall TV campaign. Hardin, of course, had been prominent in previous commercials.

But UCA’s advertising agency says the recent kerfuffle over Hardin’s secret deferred compensation plan had nothing to do with the new ads, which we planned in advance of the compensation controversy:

Ben Combs, president of Combs & Company of Little Rock, said the branding agency and UCA this spring decided not to feature Hardin in fall’s Center of Learning campaign. Combs would not comment on the university’s advertising budget.

“On this campaign, he was not scheduled to be in [the TV ads],” Combs said.

More on the campaign, and about what all this costs, here.

UCA, Jobs in Arkansas and Obamamania on ‘Arkansas Week’

It seems like an eternity since I’ve the pleasure to be at the round table, but tonight I’m back on AETN’s “Arkansas Week,” along with Arkansas Times columnist Ernie Dumas and University of Arkansas journalism professor Hoyt Purvis.

On the docket tonight: the continuing saga of Lu Hardin’s $300,000 pay package at the University of Central Arkansas, the state’s job market, the lottery and adoption proposals, and Barack Obama’s world tour.

Obviously, we’ve taped the show before today’s UCA board of trustees meeting, set to get underway within the hour. But there was lots to be said about Hardin’s salary mess, including thoughts on the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act and Dumas’ point that this was a story that, had it been handled correctly, should only have been a one-day story. Sadly, that’s not been the case.

Check us out at 8 p.m. tonight on AETN. You can get the podcast here later this afternoon.

UPDATED: The Associated Press’ account of the UCA board of trustees meeting here. Apologies all around, including from Hardin:

“With my expertise in this area, I should have known better. It was a mistake and I apologize,” Hardin told the board.

Study: Newsrooms, Slow To Adopt to New Culture, Discourage Innovation

Here’s an alarming nugget from a three-year study of 10 newsrooms by Vickey Williams, who is now part of the Media Management Center at Northwestern University. Her study, All Eyes Forward (available here), shows young journalists less willing to stay at newspapers that are slow to adopt their culture:

While a certain amount of turnover is expected and normal among the youngest practitioners of any craft — in pursuit of career advancement or reflecting a simple change of heart — these messages seemed different in both volume and intensity. A majority of younger journalists (age 29 and below) in nearly every pilot seemed to us to be saying, “We’re leaving because the changes we see as necessary aren’t happening fast enough.”

In short:

Newspapers have a history as top-down organizations where senior management huddles in conference rooms to decide what everyone else will do. Innovative ideas usually die on the vine or in bureaucratic red tape. And that’s frustrating for young folks who want to be change agents at newspapers and make a difference.

It seems that from every conceiveable angle, newspapers are losing in the transition from the print to online model. They’re cutting away at the very thing that makes them great (their resourceful, talented newsrooms), while, according to this study, inadvertently discouraging any new talent that rolls in. Ugh.

Of course it’s this new talent, these young journalists, who already understand the online realities that newspapers must confront and might very well hold the key to newspapers’ survival. Not properly tapping this valuable resource is a mistake any employer — particularly newspapers — can’t afford to make.

links for 2008-07-24

Newspapers Injure Themselves at a Crucial Moment

Another week, more bad news for the newspaper industry. Today, quarterly numbers for the New York Times:

With its profit and revenue both lower in the second quarter, New York Times Co. warned Wednesday that a troubling trend toward weak advertising sales shows no signs of abating.

The publisher of the flagship New York Times and other newspapers (NYT) reported it earned $21.1 million, or 15 cents a share, in the latest three months, down 82% from a net profit of $118.4 million, or 82 cents, generated in the second quarter of 2007.

The year-earlier earnings included an after-tax gain of $94.3 million tied to the sale of the company’s broadcast-media group, among other items.

Revenue in the latest quarter fell 6%, to $741.9 million, from the prior year.

On average, analysts surveyed by FactSet Research had been looking for New York Times Co. to report a profit of 22 cents a share on revenue of $755 million.

Total ad revenue plunged nearly 11%.

This, of course, is why major newspapers companies throughout the country are laying off workers left and right. And while print ad revenue dips and online ad dollars rise, online ads aren’t valued as highly as their print counterparts. The margins are stellar for online advertising, but the money doesn’t (yet) make up for the decline in print revenue.

So newspapers are caught having to make a tricky transition. They’ve got to invest more and more editorial resources in online, but they’ve got less and less money with which to do so.

A friend of mine works on the editorial side of a major metro daily, part of a national chain of newspapers. He’s survived one round of buyouts and fears another before the end of the year. He describes a dwindling newsroom that’s gripped by uncertainty. Stories are getting smaller and sections are getting cut. It’s a weird time, he says. And of course no one knows what’s going to happen.

Here’s what I hope will happen: Newspapers will realize that cutting editorial and content at this crucial moment of transition is the worst thing they can do. John Morton, a newspapers analyst speaking today on NPR’s “Day to Day,” says newspapers are shooting themselves in the foot by doing so, when establishing a strong editorial presence on the Internet is important to attracting readers and distinguishing themselves.

How newspapers solve this problem is the $64,000 question. But they can’t continue down this road. It might slow the bleeding in the short run, but how do you sell advertising around a news product that’s diminished or, just as likely, doesn’t even exist?

Of course some journalists, writing to the Columbia Journalism Review, question whether solid editorial even mattered to newspaper owners in the first place. But that’s a whole other issue.

More

A Chicago Tribune investigative reporter talks about why he’s quitting journalism [Day to Day]

Parting Thoughts: CJR posts letters from frustrated, venting journalists

The Rage of Squeezed-out Print Journos [Gawker]