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.”

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One Response

  1. […] Should Focus on Compelling Online Content Posted on August 1, 2008 by lanceturner We heard this idea yesterday. Now Playboy Editor-in-Chief Christie Hefner shares her thoughts on the newspaper crisis […]

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