Market Forces and Newspapers: Tough Times Can Breed Innovation

Over at the Think Tank, Blake’s thinking about newspapers again. And so am I. I’ve got many close friends who work on the general circulation, daily newspaper side of the publishing business, and it ain’t pretty. Many of them simply don’t know how long they will keep their jobs.

In his post, Blake notes the many (including Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial page Editor* Paul Greenberg) who think newspapers and the arts deserve their own kind of government bailout, which I find darkly funny. Consider the concessions Congress was demanding from the unions when the auto bailout was being kicked around earlier this month, then imagine what politicians might require of us inky wretches in order to prop up our own failing business model. Scary.

In lieu of a bailout, Blake sees the future of newspapers depending on free-market forces or, perhaps, a nonprofit business model.

Blake thinks relying on the former might result in the loss of community journalism — that we would lose the local reporting and news coverage that we readers won’t miss until it’s gone.

But of the latter, I say: Check out NPR. A nonprofit model hasn’t kept the beloved radio news network from laying off dozens of people and canceling shows during this bitter economic winter. Taking the profits off the table is certainly not without its charms, but I doubt it’s very realistic given the costs of solid newsgathering and reportage, no matter the medium.

No, I think an advertiser-supported solution remains the best option for news organizations migrating to the Web. I don’t doubt the transition will be difficult and that we might indeed endure a period of lost local news coverage. But I also believe market forces might hone the online newsgathering business model into something leaner and more reader-focused than the current model behind newspaper publishing.

(Check out the average general circulation daily newspaper, and really think about the content. You’ll be amazed at the things newspapers still do simply because that’s how it’s always been done. I think tough times often breed the best in innovation.)

I also see sites springing up like former Times-Record/Morning News business editor Michael Tilley’s CityWire, Scott Miller’s Argenta News and Dogtown Wire, and Dustin Bartholomew’s and Todd Gill’s Fayetteville Flyer — all online-only local news Web sites that have popped up as newspapers across the country trim pages and personnel. They are all intensely local, delivering news a local audience cares about in a way that’s relevant to a new generation of readers. And guess what? They’ve got advertisers.

Admittedly, these sites have a long way to go to fill the news void their print counterparts might leave behind. But it’s a step in the right direction. And as I’ve noted before, we’re likely to see more of these endeavors as newspaper layoffs continue, each focusing on their own niche.

More

Commenters weigh in on Blake’s post at the Arkansas Blog

(* Not THAT Paul Greenberg. And it’s ONLY satire. My apologies to readers, and my thanks to John Brummett for pointing out my utter incompetence!)

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